Most people have the same reaction the first time they see one of Pauline Barrett’s art quilts: one hand on their hip, the other on their chin, perhaps a finger across their lips. They ponder her work. Then comes the question: “Is that a painting?”
Even after being assured it is indeed a quilt, they still don’t quite believe it and study it more closely, sometimes touching it to be sure.
Barrett’s quilts are essentially paintings made with fabric and embroidery instead of oil and canvas. Using techniques she developed, Barrett creates innovative art quilts by manipulating fabric and thread in new and experimental ways. Like the paintings they are often mistaken for, her quilts are created for hanging on walls.
Born and raised in the Virgin Islands, Barrett and her family moved to the United States in 2003. Her mother-in-law was in the military, and she and her husband wanted their children to have more time with their grandmother. After a short time in Missouri, they came to Fort Hood.
The move from the Virgin Islands to the United States was a big adjustment for the family. “The island where I’m from, the whole island is 24 miles,” Barrett said. “Texas is huge.”
Barrett is self-taught as an artist and a quilter. She began drawing as a child, and her desire to reproduce the beauty she sees around her is a lifelong passion. She made her first quilt eight years ago. She learned about quilting from watching “Simply Quilts” on HGTV. An episode about baby quilts inspired her to start making blankets for her son.
“I wanted to make a baby blanket for him,” Barrett said. “I had to teach myself to sew.”
She also saw her first art quilts on “Simply Quilts.” This form of artistic expression would allow Barrett to work with a challenging medium that captivated her.
“Seeing that, I thought, ‘That looks like something I could do.’ Then I started trying to figure out, ‘How do they do this?’” Barrett said.
After making more baby quilts, she felt ready to challenge herself and began turning her sketches into art quilts.
Using textiles as an art medium helped Barrett stand out as an artist. She exhibited her first quilt in 2008 at the International Quilt Association show held annually in Houston. Her quilt, “Caribbean Country,” was selected as part of the ‘Town and Country’ touring exhibit held across the United States. Having her work accepted as part of the prestigious showcase was a pivotal moment for Barrett.
“After that one got accepted, it motivated me to start making more things, so I just started drawing like crazy,“ Barrett said. “I began just designing whatever would come into my mind.”
The extraordinary quality of work by other quilters on display at the 2008 quilt show also motivated Barrett.
“When I went to the quilt show in Houston, that was the first time I’d ever been to any quilt show,” she said. “I was just amazed at the variety of quilts and the detail that went into them. Some of them were just breathtaking.”
Encouraged by the positive response her quilt received, she began working seriously, challenging herself to learn new and better ways to express her ideas. In 2011, she submitted three quilts for sale through the Texas Art Quilt Association. All three sold.
People and events often inspire Barrett, showing themselves through imagery in her quilt work. But Barrett’s primary source of inspiration is the outdoors.
“I love nature and landscapes,” she said. Her quilt of a black swan, called “Black Beauty,” is a complex combination of piecing, embroidery and fabric dyeing and painting.
Barrett’s three sons, Mitchel, 17, Jahmyah, 8, and Jahquan, 5, and her daughter Qydezia, 15, are another source of inspiration and support. Qydezia recently designed and created her own art quilt as a school project for Black History Month.
For more information, go to www.paulinebarrett.com.