Symbolism and statements in quiltmaking

The latest issue of American Quilter magazine was in my mailbox a couple of days ago. In it are lovely close-up pictures of the top prize winning quilts from the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show in April. It’s definitely a page turner, and though I’ve seen other pictures of all of these quilts, it’s great to get a little more information about each one. One article in particular got me thinking today; author Marjorie Russell relates the following about Best of Show winner Sharon Schamber and her quilt, Flower of Life (the picture is on the American Quilter’s Society website!):

Sharon considers symbolism to be an endangered art in quiltmaking. The fleur-de-lis in the center of the quilt means “flower of life” for which the quilt is named. There’s a double golden Celtic ring that symbolizes the family and unity of marriage. The knots in the loops are for good luck. As for the symbolism, “This piece is who I am,” Sharon says. Family is very important to her…

Symbolism is “an endangered art in quiltmaking?” What? Do quilts these days have to contain symbols that mean “something” or make some sort of grand statement? Can’t it just be about the fabric, the pattern, the threads, the embellishments, loving what you do and the journey? How about the feel of the fabric fresh from the bolt or the fresh laundered scent as you pull pre-washed fabrics from the dryer? What about the view from the quilt shop door, with all those luscious fabrics lined up in a rainbow of colors on the shelves just waiting for you to pick your favorite, or the chatter of sewing machines and quilting friends when we gather? Can we not just enjoy the taste of success when the work of our hands turns out just right or even better than we envisioned and brings a smile to someone’s face? Is it supposed to be more complicated and meaningful than this?

Don’t get me wrong, Flower of Life is a stunning quilt and well deserving of its honors, and it’s great that the quilt means so much to her. I just disagree with the whole necessity of making a statement or pouring symbolism into your work so that it means “something.”