Friday, May 11, 2012

Judging the Judges

About a year ago, someone called me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in judging a quilt show in my area.  I was pleased and flattered, but my first thought -- and then immediate answer -- was that I'd never judged a show and really didn't know anything about it.  I will cut a long series of events and phone calls short, but the upshot of the situation was that I hooked the show people up with a friend of mine who is a well-trained and very experienced quilt judge, and then she invited me to observe the judging with her and another experienced judge. 

As these things happen, that fascinating experience turned into other opportunities.  Curious, I asked those judges how one learns to be a quilt judge, and ended up signing on to help them resurrect a judging course that used to be offered on the west coast, but hasn't been available for years. 

Fast forward to now.  I've had the opportunity to shadow-judge numerous times, and I have found the process tremendously interesting.  I have been greatly encouraged to observe the complete respect, appreciation, and objectivity with which the judge's I've seen have approached the quilts they judge.  I'm also assisting Helen Powell, Jody Ohrt, and Dawn Licker, the judges behind the West Coast Quilt Judging Academy, as they prepare to offer their quilt judging certification course in October, 2012.  The course will be offered at Pacific International Quilt Festival, in Santa Clara, California, and should be an amazing opportunity to get instruction, tips, and lots of hands-on mock judging experience with knowledgeable quilt judges. 

I have to admit that I've had a lot of questions, and a little bit of ambivalence, as I've embarked on this new learning experience.  I mostly make art quilts, and we all know the rumors about (or have experienced) the "poor relation" status that art quilts get at some shows.  Almost every art quilter I know has a story about how some carefully thought out design aspect of an art quilt was remarked upon unfavorably by a traditionally-minded quilt judge applying traditional quilt "rules."  Still, I figure there's a need for quilt judges who know and respect art quilts, so that's the approach I've taken.

And, as I said, I've shadowed a number of different judges over the past year, and every one has impressed me with her genuine effort at not basing her decisions on subjective views, on really appreciating every quilt before her, and recognizing that art quilts need to be judged with a view to the artistic decisions of the maker.  It's been a humbling experience, as well, to see so many quilters put their work forward to be evaluated and shown.  I have to admit that, even with quilts I don't intend to show, what I've learned has made me slow down and take a bit more care with my own quilt process along the way. 

If you have any interest in entering any show, you might try to get involved in watching the judges.  Volunteer to hold quilts or be a scribe, so you can watch and listen to how the judging works.  I'm betting that you'll learn a lot and look at your own work in a new way.

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