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An Unexpected Artist Date

Last Friday I took myself on an artist date, to use the lingo of Julia Cameron. I hadn’t planned on it. I thought I was just going to pop in on a quilt show where a lovely woman from my church, Gertrude Sherman, had three quilts on display. Feeling rushed and oppressed by my to-do list, “get in, admire Gertrude’s quilts, and get out” was my plan.

The show was held at the cavernous Dulles Expo Center, where I had previously been to a few home & garden and RV shows. I paid my $10 admission fee and picked up the hefty program. Scanning the list of exhibitors, I found Gertrude’s name and began to hunt for her quilts among the many aisles and partitions.

I quickly tracked down Gertrude’s quilts, my favorite being the one she called “Everett’s Ties” (pictured here), which incorporated ties belonging to her late husband as well as family pictures. But as I passed other quilts on my way out the door, I found my steps slowing. I began to allow myself to be dazzled by the wide variety of color and pattern, to see the vision of each quilter made manifest in material form. I imagined the time it took to choose the pattern (or to draw up an original one), to select the fabric and thread, to lay it out, to painstakingly make each stitch. I thought of the many hours the quilter devoted to her craft, head bent over her sewing in an iconic pose struck by many generations of women before her. What possesses someone to put in the countless hours that each quilt demands? And what lesson lies in that devotion for me?

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron defines an artist date this way:

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. (p. 18)

I had intended to go to the quilt show with a friend, but at the last minute she was unable to go. In the end, I’m glad it worked out this way. If I had been with her, we would have been talking, we would have made pronouncements about which quilts we found especially beautiful, and I would have skimmed along the surface of the show, never really seeing anything. Alone, I wandered purposefully among the

quilts, and took myself through the special exhibit, “Inspired by the National Parks,” three times, each time lingering longer over the quilts that spoke their stories to me. Although my pictures do not do them justice—how the quality of light plays through the designs, for example—I am sharing a few of them here.

After looking at every single quilt in the show, I wandered the aisles of vendors selling supplies: sewing machines, bundles of fabric, quilt racks, tote bags, books. I noticed who was in attendance at the show: women of middle age or older wandering the hall in small groups, enthralled with everything they saw. I noticed the passion in their examination of the quilts, their excited chatter over especially dazzling specimens. I noticed it all, and felt myself full of enthusiasm for the act of creation—not for quilts this time, but for writing, my own medium of expression.

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