Artist quilts her way to Japan

Burr’s “Ezekiel’s Wheels” won a Bronze Award at the ninth Quilt Japan Exhibition. - submitted photo
Burr’s “Ezekiel’s Wheels” won a Bronze Award at the ninth Quilt Japan Exhibition.
— image credit: submitted photo

Work to be displayed at prestigious quilt show in Tokyo

The busy hands of one artist will take her to the other side of the Pacific.

Of the 72 quilts that will be exhibited in Japan in one of the most prestigious quilt shows in the world, two were made by Whidbey Island artist Marianne Burr.

Burr, a resident of Coupeville, was notified in October that she is a double-prize winner in the ninth Quilt Japan Exhibition, which opens at the Tokyo

Metropolitan Art Museum on Feb. 6. Burr was one of more than

700 worldwide entrants for the show.

Burr and her husband Robert Wilkins will attend the awards ceremony in Tokyo in February.

“I daren’t think about it or else I can’t eat or sleep,” Burr said, trying to keep her excitement in check.

In the contemporary category, Burr’s “Ezekiel’s Wheels” — a work that’s 53-inches square in size — won a bronze award. The prize is given to only five works at the exhibit.

Burr is also the recipient of the Quilt Nihon Award for her “At the Market,” a 50-by-63-inch piece — named for the well-known Japanese publisher Hiroko Kon. Kon, who is the chief editor of Quilts Japan Magazine (an offshoot of Nihon Vogue), will be present when Burr receives the coveted award.

“I am so very honored to have three notable Japanese jurors and Michael James of the University of Nebraska pick both of my entries,” Burr said. “And then to have each quilt win an award is almost surreal.”

James was particularly taken with Burr’s entries and remembered being very enthused by them.

“While they adhere closely to the overall conventions of the quilt, especially in their dependence on borders to enclose and complete the main pattern areas, they demonstrated a kind of visual vigor and visual spontaneity that was hard to find among the competition,” James said. “There was a freshness and a quality of having been ‘drawn’ freely and vigorously that I enjoyed, and that is not the norm.”

With entries from 16 countries, the Quilt Nihon Exhibition, as it is called by locals, is one of the most highly respected fiber exhibitions in the world. It is uncommon to have two quilts created by one artist “juried in” to the show.

After the initial exhibit in Tokyo, the show will go on tour for two years to various museums. The tour so far is scheduled to include the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Ky. and the Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Burr is not a traditional quilt artist, which may explain why she snagged the award in the contemporary quilt category.

Burr’s selected works are hand-stitched on original designs which she paints in multiple layers on to silk; a labor-intensive technique she began developing in 2002. She adds a middle layer of wool felt and a final backing of cotton fabric. The pieces require several months of delicate labor.

Burr, who said she has been an artist of various media for as long as she can remember, never considered entering her fairly recent work with textiles in international quilting shows.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that these pieces were eligible for the larger quilt shows because they are not traditional quilts.”

Burr’s quilts are not the

conventional type; individual patches or blocks stitched together and then quilted. She was surprised when artist friends encouraged her to enter them.

Her first juried show was “Visions 2006” in California where Burr won the La Jolla FiberArts Award for artistic ability and innovative technique.

There she was again encouraged, this time by a Japanese quilter who told her, “You must enter the Quilt Nihon Exhibition.”

“The Japan show is the pinnacle. You just don’t expect this,” she said.

Recently, quilters in the Northwest have taken note of Burr’s textile work.

In the spring of 2007 her solo show “Variety is the Spice” drew record crowds at the LaConner Quilt Museum.

Burr leaves the first week of February for Japan and said she will only be there for a quick visit to see the show.

“By the time I get back it will all seem like just a dream,” she said.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or

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