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Persistence Pays, Transforming Fibers

Persistence Pays, Transforming Fibers

Every day I enter the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Riffe Gallery, I am awestruck with the radiating intensity of works before me, and continue to be delighted the material is fabric—quilts. The exhibition, Quilt National 2017, is made up of fresh contemporary art quilts. The soft, delicate materials are wondrously transformed, unapologetic and ambitious, built up through fiber layers and lines of thread, with time and effort used to create strong dynamic works of art. Many proudly display their bold configurations of saturated colors, rich with new playful forms. Some are subtler and invite us to take a closer look where you may discover worlds of decisions collectively creating inventive compositions. I am carried through the gallery with the works’ configurations of unpredictable abstract and whimsical shapes. The determined and audacious pieces are clearly a testament to the makers’ steadfast dedication.

Quilt National 2017 marks the Dairy Barn Art Center’s 20th biennial of producing this extraordinary art quilt exhibition, and the eighth collaboration with the OAC Riffe Gallery. The quilts on view have been created in the past few years by artists across the globe, and the OAC Riffe Gallery is currently presenting about a third of the entire exhibition on view.

Quilt making has an abundant history spanning cultures around the world, and Quilt National has been an important contributor to the contemporary conversation in Athens, Ohio, and beyond for artists since 1979. Since Quilt National’s inception, 9,946 artists have submitted 20,463 quilts for consideration. The Dairy Barn has exhibited 1,552 quilts by 798 artists selected by 20 panels of jurors. Quilt National has toured Canada, France, Japan, and the U.S., visiting 68 museums and sites in 32 states.

I know that it takes many people with great persistence to create something like Quilt National and for it to have such prestige and longevity. One of the most determined and influential was Hilary Morrow Fletcher, a name well-known in the history of Quilt National for these traits. In fact, she inspired an annual award given to those who show great persistence through applying – the Persistence Pays Award. Hilary had been involved with Quilt National for more than 25 years as a volunteer and then director. Clearly, she made significant impacts in the quilt field locally and internationally. Her passion for quilts took her around the country raising awareness of the artform through lectures and discussions.  

Hilary passed in 2006, yet her legacy lives on in many ways. Though I never had the pleasure to meet Hilary, I feel honored to have met and discussed her legacy with her husband, Marvin Fletcher. I asked Marvin to help us understand the significance of his wife’s work and how it continues today.

KW - Where did Hilary’s admiration for quilts originate from?

MF - Her first real contact with quilts came when she viewed Quilt National ’79 at the Dairy Barn here in Athens. She was struck by the innovation and artistic achievement.

KW - How has her legacy continued?

MF - Her legacy has continued in several ways. The collection that we did together, named the Marbaum Collection after our fathers—Martin Marowitz (Hilary’s father) and Justin Feigenbaum (my father)—has continued to expand as I have continued to buy quilts. Eighty-seven of those quilts have been donated to the San Jose (CA) Museum of Quilts and Textiles. In addition, Quilt National has continued to grow and expand, given the impetus that she gave it while working at the Dairy Barn. I have also become a member and officer in Studio Art Quilt Associates, a group dedicated to the promotion of the medium. Hilary had been an officer in the organization.

KW - Can you expand on the Persistence Pays Award and Endowment?

MF - Hilary always was excited if someone who had tried to get into Quilt National finally accomplished this. After Hilary died in 2006, the Dairy Barn decided to honor her memory by creating the Persistence Pays Award. This is given to the quilter(s) who tried the most times before they got accepted into Quilt National. In addition, it follows in Hilary’s detailed recordkeeping while working at the Dairy Barn. The Endowment is basically the money that people donated in her memory after her passing in 2006.

I am grateful for Hilary and Marvin’s courageous work that continues to support this important artform. In her honor, I invite you to keep being persistent in the work you do, whatever the (art)form may be. And if your work happens to be transforming fibers into quilts, the opportunity to submit your work to be considered for Quilt National 2019 is June 1 through September 5, 2018. Visit for more information on submitting and visit the OAC Riffe Gallery to see the remarkable Quilt National 2017 on view through April 14.

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, across from the Statehouse on High Street in Downtown Columbus. Like the Riffe Gallery on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Kim Webb 2017-18 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow

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