It’s Monday, just before lunchtime, and there’s a buzz at the State Capitol’s rotunda that’s usually reserved for opening day of the Legislature. Portable tables and power tools line its perimeter, and at the center of the hubbub, Cynthia Sánchez leads the show.
“My session is beginning now,” Sánchez, the executive director of the Capitol Art Foundation, says with a laugh. “During the legislative session, we go dormant,” she explains and adds that now, thanks to a series of outreach programs and tours, is when her department (of which she is the lone staffer) kicks into high gear.
She’s in the midst of hanging New Mexico: Unfolding, a quilt-centric exhibition of mixed-media fiber art, which opens this Friday.
The excitement, Sánchez says, spawns from the few-and-far-between nature of Roundhouse art shows.
“We only have two per year now because of budget cuts,” the curator of the 650-piece strong Capitol Art Collection says. “We used to have four; then it went down to three, and now we have two.” The next show, Sánchez says, revolves around book art and is slated for September.
She hopes this one, which keeps her department’s tradition of featuring exclusively works by New Mexicans, redefines the concept of fabric art.
“A lot of people come in with a preconceived notion of ‘quilts,’ and they think of them as utilitarian, but this medium is really pushing boundaries,” Sánchez says, as she starts to determine the order in which the 52 quilts that compose the show will be hung.
Elevating them from crafter status, she considers what the people behind these quilts have achieved to be fine art.
“What they’re doing really, is painting with fabric,” Sánchez, who was responsible for jurying the pieces for the exhibit last February, says. “They’re doing similar things to what people who use mixed media and paint do, but they’re using fabric—which makes it even more amazing.”
Betty Busby, head of the local Studio Art Quilt Associates exhibition committee, agrees.
The worldwide association, Busby says, is 31,000 members strong; 86 of those hail from New Mexico.
She points out that the medium has “grown astronomically since they have loosened the restrictions on traditional quilting.”
“We can use different techniques, use different materials and have different imagery,” Busby says, “and instead of making large bed quilts, we can make smaller ones that are just meant to be art.”
Also notable, Busby says, is the prevalence of men in the once female-dominated realm, thanks to artists like Placitas-based Rod Daniel, who has several pieces in the show, some with nontraditional themes such as vintage trucks.
Sánchez hopes the show pulls double duty and lets spectators know about the nonprofit foundation’s year-round endeavors.
“We are a nice sampling—a one-stop shop that feature works that all the museums do, but in one spot. We’re free and it’s museum quality,” she says. “One time,” she reminisces, “I had a visitor come in and say, ‘This is not a legislative building with an art collection; it’s a museum where they make laws.’”
For Busby, the “fabulous setting” ensures that fiber art will continue to grow. She considers the range of styles in Unfolding—which includes 3-D pieces with high relief and more traditional ones “with a modern twist”—a good augur.
Asked what audiences can expect from the biennial show, she smiles and quickly fires back: “Not your Grandma’s quilts.”
New Mexico: Unfolding
4-6 pm Friday, April 12. Free.
Capitol Rotunda, NW corner of Paseo de Peralta
and Old Santa Fe Trail, 986-4589