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Fractions, Fabric, and Art: Quilting in Somers

Katonah Museum of Art announces show featuring Northern Star Quilter's Guild works opening Feb. 24.

A quilter never forgets her fractions. So says Patricia Calautti, president of the Northern Star Quilter's Guild based in Somers.

She should know. Calautti has been quilting since she was a young girl and what was once necessity--she was one of seven children growing up in a South Dakota family who made her own blankets--has turned into a passion that is bringing new attention to an old art. 

In her second year as president of Northern Star Quilter's Guild (NSQG), Calautti, an 18-year Somers resident, and fellow members are working on community outreach, bringing the work of the group's more than 230 members to the larger public. The result is an exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art running from Feb. 24 to June 16, 2013 called "Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Evolution."

NSQG will be collaborating with the Katonah Museum of Art on programming, outreach, and marketing. KMA has offered NSQG the vestibule area to exhibit small quilt works that will be offered for sale, confirmed KMA Director of Curatorial Affairs Nancy Wallach. 

The show offers a kind of formal validation of the group, which organized in 1981 and whose members come from as nearby as Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties, and as far as Woodstock, NY, Massachusetts, and New Jersey for monthly meetings at Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers. 

Quilting, by all accounts, has enjoyed a resurgence similar to knitting and perhaps for the same reasons: the economy has sparked a need to find creative outlets and the inundation of technology in our lives has driven us to hand-crafted arts. And Calautti points to a moment in the late 1980s when machinery and tools became more readily available to the public, making it easier to create. 

Recent shows like "Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts" in March 2011 at the Park Avenue Armory showcase the breadth, history, and sheer beauty of quilts, and acknowledge quilts as art.  

"Quilting is to a quilter was canvas is to a painter," said Calautti.

Don Gough of Somers agrees. One of the few male members of the guild, Gough leads the Landscape Techniques Group, one of six special-interest subgroups that focuses on a specific technique. "It's very similar to painting," Gough explains. 

A lifelong artist who has experimented with woodworking and painting, among other arts, Gough turned to quilting when his wife, Eunice, was creating a Christmas quilt about five years ago. 

"I said, I don't like the color you picked and she said, You don't like it, make your own," he recalled. 

Landscape quilting involves creating an image using different shaped fabrics cut specifically to meet the color needs of your image which are then fused together to make a larger quilt. Most landscape quilts are used for wall hangings. Gough created one quilt of a portrait of Louis Armstrong. "It's gotten to be art," Gough, who jokingly refers to himself as a textile artist when people raise an eyebrow over his hobby, said.  

On Saturday, Sept. 15, NSQG members will travel to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in Oaks, PA to see their own miniature red-and-white-colored quilts inspired by the Armory show on display. Locals can enjoy a large-scale display every May, when the guild hosts 1,500 people at Kennedy Catholic for its annual Quilt Show. 

But showcasing their art isn't the only mission of Calautti and the guild. Twice a month 25 members meet to create "Comfort Quilts" that are lap-sized blankets for hospice groups and other groups helping those in need. The guild also worked with Katonah Elementary School to help children create quilts for Friends of Karen, and has already completed 13 of 24 planned quilts for the Ronald McDonald House at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. 

"There is great charity in the hearts of quilters," said Calautti. 

The Northern Star Quilter's Guild kicks off its 2012-13 season Tuesday, Sept. 18 when landscape quilter Gloria Loughman visits from Australia to address members and lead a workshop the following day. To join the guild or find out more, go to www.northernstarquilters.com

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