I’ve been following the $100,000 Quilting Challenge with interest since I heard about it earlier this year. A bit of background: Quilters enter their quilts in one of ten categories; 40 semi-finalist quilts are published in the $100,000 Quilting Challenge magazine, ten in each of four issues per year. From these 40 semi-finalist quilts, one quilt is chosen to win the $100,000 (partially by public vote and partially by NQA Certified quilt judges). The winning quilt is later auctioned to benefit charity, after all 40 quilts tour the big quilt shows for a bit. Seems like the Miss Universe Pageant of quilting, no? Or maybe American Idol Quilting?
I heard about the whole brouhaha a bit late, and the first 40 quilts had already been chosen and published by the time I got my hands on the magazines. I looked at all the quilts in the magazines, and I couldn’t honestly say that any of them were “the one, the only,” and worth that much prize money. When the winner was announced, I was nonplussed. Don’t get me wrong, Bella is a beautiful quilt, and probably deserving of honors. If Linda McCuean had shown this quilt at the other quilt shows, it might have won ribbons and cash there too. But is it worth $100,000? Is the quilting really that good? Frankly, from the closeups that I’ve seen, there are many other quilts out there that are just as well done, and maybe even better. Obviously, Bella wasn’t competing against those other quilts in this particular venue, but I think the point stands.
When I began to see ads for longarm quilting machines and thread featuring Linda and her quilt, I was reminded of the lucrative endorsement deals that promising sports figures get from companies like Nike and Pepsi when they are “discovered.” I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was a bit taken aback. Maybe it was only a matter of time before that kind of thing invaded the quiet quilting world.
I also couldn’t help but wonder two things: how was the publisher making any money on this gig, and how much would this “best of all quilts” go for at auction? Of course, the publisher is getting advertising money from all this, since the magazines are full of ads for quilting stuff, and the prizes for the semi-finalists are presumably donated or sponsored by quilting product companies. But let’s think about this auction thing: The company has already given away $100,000 for this quilt. The charities that are set to split the auction money are the Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy and Spina Bifida Associations, which is admirable. However, how much money will anyone really pay for this quilt? The auction page states an estimated value of $48000-$99000! Wow! I’d like to know what quilt appraiser they got to tell them that this quilt was worth that.
I’ve had a few of my quilts appraised, and the highest dollar value of any of my quilts was $5,200 for Butterfly Houses. Mostly, I think that had to do with what it would cost to replace the quilt if it were lost or stolen, based on how many hours it took me to make it, since it was an insurance appraisal. When I had Material Marquetry appraised in 2004, I asked for a market value appraisal and an insurance value appraisal so I could see the difference, and at the time, there wasn’t much of one. I think the market value was around $3,500 and the insurance value was $3,300 or something like that. If I were to have the appraisal redone today, it might be worth more based on the fact that it’s won awards, been published, and been exhibited at some desirable venues.
But when you think about it, did any more work go into Bella, the $100,000 quilt, than goes into a quilt like Material Marquetry? Is Bella that much “more,” in either design or execution, than some of the other prize winning, best of the best quilts we’ve seen in the last few years? And I know that if I were to auction Material Marquetry, I’d probably be lucky to see $1,500 in the end. Granted, I’m a quilting nobody compared to Linda McCuean, but the kind of market that will pay huge amounts of money for traditional quilts is just not there, in my opinion.
I do know of quilts that have sold for tens of thousands of dollars, (Caryl Bryer Fallert’s work being a prime example) but all the ones I know of are more along the lines of art quilts, as opposed to traditional quilts, and that’s another whole can of worms really. Traditional quilts don’t bring in the kind of cash that art quilts do, and then you get into that whole debate about what is quilt and what is art, and why it isn’t the same thing. I’ve sold my quilts in the past, but not for anywhere near that kind of money.
Back to the auction: who would this high bidder be anyway? The only logical use for Bella is to hang it on a wall somewhere if you’re going to put out that kind of money for it. Every year at the AQS Quilt Show and Contest, four or five quilts win big money purchase awards, and these quilts earn a permanent home in the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society Collection as the finest examples of the quiltmaker’s art, to be preserved and shown for generations to come. I can’t imagine someone other than a museum ending up with Bella, because there’s nothing to do with it except preserve it and show it. What would be the point? But is there a museum out there that can afford it, or can go through the auction process to get it? Only time will tell.