A year ago, or so, I started envisioning architectural installation quilts – deconstructing and subverting the notion of what a quilt is, while simultaneously celebrating the convention of a quilt as comfort and shelter. I believe place has an inevitable and indelible imprint on creativity and the forms of its expression. I grew up surrounded the utility buildings that support Midwestern agriculture and I’m still inspired by those clean, no-nonsense shapes and lines.
I hope to someday realize my Gewandhaus (cloth hall).
Erick Wolfmeyer roots his work in the conventions of traditional quilt-making while he expands the visual and conceptual boundaries of the medium with each new piece.The work celebrates the excavation of the soul through the work of his hands.
2018 From the Artist’s Collection (solo), Le Carrefour Européen du Patchwork inSainte-Marie-aux-Mines, France 2017
Rerum Novarum (solo), Pearson Lakes Art Center in Lake Okoboji, Iowa
Quilted Expressions, Blanden Art Museum in Ft Dodge, Iowa
Art Quilts of the Midwest Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, Iowa
National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky
International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, Nebraska
Sum of Many Parts: Quiltmakers in Contemporary America
Crealde’ School of Art in Winter Park, Florida
The Foundry Art Centre in St Charles, Missouri
Jones-Carter Gallery in Lake City, South Carolina
Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska
Argenta Branch Library in North Little Rock, Arkansas
Washington County Museum in Portland, Oregon
A Piece of Me, Catich Gallery, St Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st-Century America
State Historical Museum of Iowa in Des Moines, Iowa
Beijing Museum of Women and Children in Beijing, China
Wuhan Museum in Wuhan in Hunan Province, China
Dalian Modern Museum in Dalian in Liaoning Province, China
Guangxi Museum of Nationalities in Nanning, Guangxi Province, China
Yunnan Nationalities Museum in Kunming in Yunnan Province, China
Shanghai Museum of Textile and Costume at Donghua University in Shanghai, China
Material Men: Innovation and the Art of Quilting, Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, Washington
Quilters Guild of Dallas in Dallas, Texas
American Quilters Society Expo in Des Moines, Iowa
Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, California
“What We Keep” (pattern), Magic Patch, Les éditions de Saxe (France) “Erick Wolfmeyer: Des quilts autobiographiques,”Quilt Country, Les éditions de Saxe (France) The Making of an Artist: Desire, Courage & Commitment, Kristin Congdon
Künstler-Porträt, Quilt- & Textilkunst Patchwork Professional (Germany), Dorothee Crane
Art Quilts of the Midwest, Linzee Kull-McCray
The Buzz St Ambrose University newspaper, Brooke Schelly
“Bent but Not Broken: Quilting in the Great Recession,” Quilters Newsletter, Mary Kate Karr-Petras
Des Moines Register, Michael Morain
“The Sum of Many Parts,” Quilters Newsletter, Mary Kate Karr-Petras
Uppercase blog, Linzee Kull-McCray
Surface Design News, Luke Haynes
The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st-Century America, catalog
“Why You Should Know Him: Erick Wolfmeyer,” Iowa City Press-Citizen
Few objects are so loaded with meaning as a quilt, and it is hard to imagine another item that can encompass so many varied emotions. The quilt as an object can represent any number of things, both tangible—such as warm cover or wall art—and intangible—such as comfort or grief. As a medium for creative self-expression, the quilt offers seemingly endless options for articulating ideas, representing feelings, and working through internal issues.
Certainly that is what Erick Wolfmeyer has found with his painterly, abstract quilts. As he searches to know his origins—his mother relinquished him for adoption when he was seven months old. And he only recently learned the identity of his birth father (who died in 2005), Texas songwriter Jerry Lynn Williams—the quilt provides him a supple vehicle for coming to terms with his puzzlement and sense of loss over his biological heritage.
“All of my work is in some way my ongoing attempt to answer three of life’s most basic questions: ‘Where did I come from?’ ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I going?’” he says. “Putting the pieces together in a quilt is, for me, like putting the pieces together in my life.”
Wolfmeyer had no previous sewing experience before 1998, when a friend showed him the basics so that he could make a baby quilt as a gift. While he is self-taught as a quilter, he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and he says that has informed his understanding and use of color in particular.
He has a deep respect for the quilting tradition and his quilts pay homage to those of Amish quilters, but his major influences come not from quilters but from painters such as Mark Rothko, David Hockney, and Keith Haring and he thinks of himself as a painter in fabric. His boldly colored, geometric quilts support that viewpoint, but he nevertheless views his work as a collaborative effort with the women who hand quilt his pieces—a group of rural Amish women who ask to remain anonymous according to their own cultural traditions.
Erick photographing a field of poppies north of Iowa City, Iowa, which provided the inspiration for his current project, the colossal-sized Poppy Field. Photo by Greg Cotton
Although he does not see himself as part of the “quilt world,” it would be hard to imagine a quilter more fully immersed in the art form than Erick Wolfmeyer.
He has a fulltime job as a bus dispatcher and field trip coordinator for the school district in Iowa City, Iowa, but all his spare time and money go to making quilts. His 10’ x 12’ studio is one of only four rooms in his home—a 565-square foot railroad lineman’s cottage built in 1900. He has no internet and no TV and he purposely limits outside distractions.
Although he has a lot of friends, he spends the majority of his free time working on quilts, one at a time. His current project is colossal in size (8’ x 24’) and one has to wonder how such a small space can accommodate all that fabric and where the finished quilts are stored once completed.
The 10’ x 12’ studio where Erick worked on the 8’X24’ Poppy Field.
Wolfmeyer clears up those points this way: “I am most intimately and deeply engaged with the process of making the quilts and am not especially attached to them once completed. In fact, they are somewhat of a burden to store in my small home. I store them rolled up on batting-wrapped PVC pipe and then covered with muslin drawstring bags made by a friend’s daughter. I am always elated to sell them and see them go to the right home. My quilts have a whole life of their own, once created. Some hang in friend’s homes, some have travelled museums all over the U.S. and China, others hang as part of public (library, museum) and private collections. It’s very humbly gratifying to know my work is so meaningful and of interest to others.
“For better or worse, whatever I’m giving up I hope translates into the legacy of my quilts,” he continues. “My goal is for them to stand on their own as true works of art.”
That they do. And in the process of creating them, the quilts are helping Erick Wolfmeyer find answers to his most basic questions
I was pleased to spy a bit of my quilt Portmanteau in Michael McCormick’s magazine Quiltfolk Issue 02 – Iowa. Each issue of the magazine is less a periodical and more a luxurious book as the publication contains no advertisements. My quilt is seen in the feature on the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, Iowa. Portmanteau was there for the exhibit Art Quilts of the Midwest, on loan from the permanent collection of the Iowa State Museum in Des Moines, Iowa.
Here is the original transcript of the interview questions I answered:
Information About Me…
I am a 49 year old, single man living and working in Iowa City, Iowa USA. My full-time day job is as a dispatcher and field trip coordinator for the local school district’s bus service. I started as a part-time school bus driver in 2007, but have worked as full-time office staff since 2010. It can be a very demanding and intense job while I am there, but one I can leave at the door and it affords me generous time off and a modest living. I have a dog, named Laffy Taffy, who I brought home with me from the local animal shelter nearly five years ago. She is a great companion and makes her home in my studio, which is what would otherwise be a living room for most, in my small 565 square-foot home. Built in 1900 as railroad lineman’s cottage, it is only a few hundred feet from the railroad tracks that form the south end of my property line. My Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in Photography from Washington University (1990) no doubt has significant influence over my approach to quilting, particularly to my understanding and use of color. My creative drive is both a contemporary necessity and the direct result of my lineage – as I continue to unwind the obfuscation of my biological heritage that resulted from my childhood adoption.
When and Why I Started…
I made my first quilt in 1998 while living in northern California and vacationing with friends in Sisters, Oregon. They’d just had their first child and I wanted to make him a quilt (he’s now a freshman in college!). I bought my first pattern at the local quilt shop, which at the time I didn’t realize is well known for its annual outdoor quilt festival. My then-boyfriend back in California showed me the basics of sewing and I was on my way. I hand-quilted it myself along with most of my early work, but quickly realized I could not continue to both make tops and hand quilt them myself. Over the years, I was fortunate to find and develop critically important relationships with two different hand-quilting brokers who take my quilt tops, batting and backing and then distribute them to hand quilters. Initially my work was quilted by traditional quilting bees – groups of women who met in church basements in northern Iowa and quilted together to raise money for benevolent purposes. Now, my quilts are all sent to a Mennonite broker in northern Indiana. Once received, she calls me to discuss quilting specifics, then she sends them on to be single-needle hand-quilted by one of her cadre of rural Amish women who ask to remain anonymous according to their own cultural traditions and strictures. I am dedicated to the tradition of hand-quilting. If I were unable to get my work hand-quilted by others, I would either hand-quilt it myself, change my approach altogether, or maybe just quit. All this to politely say I am not a fan of machine quilting. It has its place, and I too have lightly and simply machine quilted small pieces I knew would be used and washed repeatedly. However, so much of the machine quilting I see is what the head curator of one of America’s major quilt museums once quipped to me, “tortured fabric.” Machine quilting can completely alter the very nature of all the wonderful qualities of fabric – the way it breathes, drapes, hangs – it’s gentle supple fluidity. I know this is not a popular thing to say, but I’m not interested in being some kind of quilt celebrity, touting this or that product or riding on the novelty of my gender – I am interested in quilts purely as an art form. I started quilting mostly as a curiosity, but continued quilting as a poultice for a very poor decision to return to graduate school and live with my parents in my early 30’s to save money. It was a disaster and quilting gave me my only shred of sanity. I eventually moved to Iowa in 2001 (where my hand quilters were at the time) got a full-time job in retail, and continued making quilts. I sold my first quilts that same year, much to my astonishment, and have been making (and selling) them ever since. I do not, nor do I aim to make a living from my quilts. It is purely an avocational endeavor. It is, for me, a kind of spiritual practice. I find the act of sewing – the repetitive nature of it – soothing. If art were my religion, color and geometry would be my theology and sewing my prayer and meditation. I have, however, been very fortunate to sell the majority of my work, which has provided the means to continue making more quilts. I am always humbled, shocked and amazed when I sell a piece, and assume it will be the last piece I ever sell. For about ten years I sold at a nearby annual quilt show in the small town of Kalona, Iowa (known for its large Amish population) as well as at a local retail shop that specialized in selling antique as well as new quilts. Now, I sell directly to collectors upon their expressed interest in my work. I have all my quilts professionally appraised by an American Quilt Society (AQS)-certified quilt appraiser in St. Louis, Missouri. She has become a close friend and represents a significant turn in my quilt career by having helped me understand the value of my work. I am most intimately and deeply engaged with the process of making the quilts and am not especially attached to them once completed. In fact, they are somewhat of a burden to store in my small home. I store them rolled up on batting-wrapped PVC pipe and then covered with muslin drawstring bags made by a friend’s daughter. I am always elated to sell them and see them go to the right home. My quilts have a whole life of their own, once created. Some hang in friend’s homes, some have travelled museums all over the US and China, others hang as part of public (library, museum) and private collections. It’s very humbly gratifying to know my work is so meaningful and of interest to others.
What I am Up to at the Moment…
At the time of this interview, I currently have quilts in two exhibits in Iowa. Three of my quilts, including the debut of my 2016 self portrait quilt, Face of A Stranger, are featured in a group show with two women quilt artists at the Blanden Art Museum in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. The second exhibit features my quilt Portmanteau from Linzee Kull McCray’s book turned exhibit, Art Quilts of the Midwest, currently at the new Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset, Iowa. Portmanteau also toured six museums in China throughout 2012 with a US Embassy-sponsored exhibit, The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21-st Century America. I was fortunate enough to be one of two quilters invited to go to Shanghai for the opening and ten days of educational outreach. I will also be one of eight international artists featured in The Making of An Artist: Character, Culture and Circumstance, by Kristin Congdon, slated to be released Spring 2017. My only regret about that book is that it will contain some inadvertent misinformation about my story, as I only recently began to learn the truth of my paternity, via DNA testing. Perhaps I will get another opportunity to someday fully tell my story with the truth as I know it at that time. I have learned that all of our lives are so much more fiction than we realize, and what I want more than stories, is the truth. Quilt-making is my truth. My work contains my authentic life over the span of months or in some cases, years it takes to complete a quilt. After finishing my 6 x 8 foot self portrait quilt Face of A Stranger (2016), I moved on to creating large-scale, colossal quilts (~8 x 24 feet). The fist one, Cross Quarter Embrace, is currently being hand-quilted. I plan to debut it at my first solo show late Summer 2017 at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji, Iowa. The piece will have taken almost three years from conception to completion and explores the desires and tensions around forming human bonds. The quilt, as has been the case with other pieces of mine, proved to be somewhat prophetic as during its creation, my birthmother reappeared in my life unexpectedly after a 23-year absence, I spent some time with her last summer at her home in southern California, and before the quilt’s completion she was once again estranged. The quilt becomes a sarcophagus of sorts for early childhood loss and ongoing emotional trauma, for those that pass in and out of our lives, as well as uncertainty, hope and optimism for the future. I am one 33″ square away from completion of my second colossal-scale quilt, Dreamer. It is made of 33″ tone-on-tone one-inch strip concentric squares. There are 27 squares altogether, made mostly of fabric from my modest-by-most-standards fabric collection, arranged three high and nine wide. The title, Dreamer, is a reference to dreaming of a warm, colorful desert in the midst of the bleak Midwestern winter, but also contains reference to America’s struggle with immigration policy. I have a proposed commission to address after this piece is completed, and no shortage of other large-scale works I’d like to see to completion. Most all of my ideas come from the question: “what if?.” Sometimes I have an oblique vision of a quilt while doing some mundane household task. Often the why’s of any particular piece are too personal to share and mostly it’s simply for the satisfaction of seeing an idea come to its fruition, and all the concomitant joys therein. All of my work is in some way my ongoing attempt to answer three of life’s most basic questions: Where did I come from? Who am I? and Where am I Going?
My Plans for the Future…
In this political climate, who can say? Now, more than ever, it seems imperative to continue to create and bring truth, joy and light into the world. And, it has also become all the more difficult. Because I fund all of my work from my own modest income, finances can be a barrier for thinking too far into the future and too boldly. The colossal quilts are, not surprisingly, quite expensive to create, but my hope is they might be the entree into more art museums where the work can be viewed critically shoulder-to-shoulder with other fine art. I am not in competition with anyone other than my own goals and ambitions, and I try to keep them in check with a large, regular dose of humility. I have at least two (or more) colossal quilts I’d like to complete, all part of my concentric square theme/obsession. Each piece always leads to ideas for the next, or often several more. There’s so much time to think, dream and process while making a quilt – I have more than one lifetime of ideas. It’s the pull to start on the next piece that often gets me through some of the tedium of making the current one. If I am fortunate enough to continue working into old age, as I would hope to do – no matter what the specifics – I would like to continually challenge the boundaries of the medium and expand the exhibition of my work. Perhaps it is all hubris and folly – I will likely never be satisfied by any such end results since the truest satisfaction comes from simply making the quilt.
Every year around my birthday (July 10), I attempt to find what we used to call “summer apples,” typically a Lodi. This year I found them at Stringtown, an Amish grocery just north of Kalona, Iowa. The apples are yellow-green in color and are much more tangy than fall apples. My paternal grandmother, Nannie, was known for her cooking. Her house always smelled of something delicious. Nannie and Papa raised chickens and had a “summer apple” tree that grew up over the chicken house. The chicken egg yolks became the best homemade noodles ever, and the egg whites, Angel Food cake. The fallen apples provided a nice treat for the chickens. Every summer I looked forward to Nannie’s summer applesauce and count it as one of my all-time favorite foods. It’s easy to make. The only special equipment required is a food mill. I found mine as a freebie give-away on someone’s curb at just the time I was looking for one to make applesauce. Ah, serendipity!
wash about five pounds of Lodi apples
cut and core, do not peel
toss apple slices in cold water to prevent browning
bring to boil with just enough water so apples don’t stick to bottom of pan –
it takes surprisingly little – do not overdo on the water – cook until soft
use food mill to process apples (peel still on) into large mixing bowl
add sugar to your preference – I usually use 1 cup
chill and enjoy – I like to freeze small tubs to enjoy in the dead of winter,
if I can wait that long to eat it…(I usually can’t – hey, it was a nice idea!)
I have the pleasure of working with the PLAC on my first solo show, Rerum Novarum (of new things). I will exhibit a total of 8 quilts, 4 of which have never been publicly exhibited, including the debutof Poppy Field (8’x21′ colossal-scale quilt). The exhibit will also include my 6’x8′ self portrait Face of a Stranger. Opening & artist talk: Thursday August 31, 2017 5-7pm.
The Monte Pearson gallery is a beautiful space for the Rerum Novarum exhibit. I am inspired by the namesake’s hand-written statement which is posted just inside the gallery:
“It will be the artists who lead the final revolution – a revolution within each person’s soul – until we realize that freedom is not something which is fought for, but something which is found in trusting and loving – as we trust and love each other – we’ve all got to find that freedom within ourselves to create – to tell them all – let them see the masterpieces of man – and realize what they (each one) holds within himself…we must break down the barriers not by fighting or even by education… Understanding is all it takes – It is the artists who have lived the longest – for they show the human heart and that is what lasts the longest.” -Monte Pearson, May 18, 1970
I could not have put this show together without two of my best friends,
Frankie Holt (left) and Greg Cotton (right). It took us 7 hours to hang and light the show!
Special thanks to Greg who braved the heights on the ladder!
Rerum Novarum (of new things) Artist Statement:
Making art is a privilege, one to which I have dedicated the past 20 years. I use conventional construction methods to produce unconventional quilts, challenging the line between craft and art. I welcome self-imposed limits as a disciplined path to explore infinite possibilities within the medium. All of my work is completed in a 12 x 12 foot studio in my 565 square-foot home. I could not complete my quilts without collaborative assistance from anonymous (by tradition) Amish hand-quilters. I am deeply committed to sustaining the art of hand-quilting and eternally grateful to the earnest labor of women I will likely never meet, but whose stitches animate my work.
After completing Face of a Stranger, a 6 x 8 foot self-portrait made of nearly 7,000 one inch pieces, my next project continued to push the boundaries of the medium in both size and content. Poppy Field is intended to be the first in a series of large-scale quilts. At 7.5 x 21 feet it subverts the very notion of a quilt. Billboard proportions aim to deliver a confrontational, immersive, fugue-like visual experience for the viewer. Encoded within the compositional layers of the abstract geometric design is a symbolic sarcophagus containing thirty years of struggle to unearth my biological origins.
Themes that consistently run throughout my work are time, memory and place. My quilts spring from memories and experience, as well as capture them, especially as each piece is such a time-intensive undertaking. In contrast to the unpredictability of day-to-day life, the work gives me a strong sense of comfort and place in conception and design, the meditative and repetitive process of construction and finally, the finished piece.
brief video overview of the show
The opening was a success with a well attended Q & A session with Visual Arts Director Danielle Clouse Gast.
Cross Quarter Embrace v2
Was thrilled to have my aunt Alice Lee Solter (far right)
and my parents Larry & Maxine Wolfmeyer in attendance
The many friends and family in attendance were by far the greatest reward, including a surprise visit from Lori Cerny and Tracy Wilkerson – friends from my summers in Custer State Park (1989-92) .
(left to right) Larry & Maxine Wolfmeyer, Erick Wolfmeyer, Alice Lee Solter, Frankie Holt, Greg Cotton, Michelle Wieseler, Raymond Caffee, Ella & Richard Cotton, Alan Wieseler, Tam Caffee
It was wonderful to see Poppy Fields on the wall. Dreams realized.
My work is scheduled to be included in a group fiber exhibit, featuring four Iowa fiber/quilt artists, curated by Eric Anderson of the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I will be premiering my self portrait Face of a Stranger (2016) as well as showing One Life (2013) and Humans Race (2012).
Opening Reception Saturday, January 28, 3-5pm with Artists Talk at 3:30pm.