dutko_120The word 'quilting' brings to mind a rich tradition of structured patterns, folk art, and modern interpretations of the historical medium.  But fiber artists like Sally Dutko have been taking the medium to an entirely different level.  Dutko creates multimedia pieces that are more painting-like than quilt-like, delightful renditions of a vision that is unique and fun.

"I don't think of my work as too close to traditional quilting at all," Dutko says.  "This medium is called 'art quilts'.  It does use the stitching as the near-final element of the piece.  The stitching is also part of the surface design so it can blend with the painting, the dying, the beading, the mixed media elements to create an interesting, compelling surface."

dutko_giftoftime'Gift of Time' uses a real wrist watch along with fabric and stitching.

Dutko's Lansing studio is part workspace, part gallery that is a regular stop on the Ithaca Art Trail.  Spacious and well lit, the walls are bursting with displays of her work.  Each piece has a distinctive point of view, using many elements to create composition and texture.  She has shown in many regional and local art shows in New York and Memphis, and belongs to Art Quilters Unlimited in Florida, which has shows around the southeastern United States.  She currently has work in the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center's curent 'Quilts = Art = Quilts' show.

dutko_studioHer studio incorporates an open workspace with a gallery. At right: When Art trail visitor come to Dutko's studio she cuts pieces from her scrap bags and asks them to put a piece on a panel she has set up in her studio. She ends up with a collage filled with shapes that people cut out. She sews them together to make a banner of all the panels. Dutko has done this every year she has participated in the Art Trail. The first banner is on display at Center Ithaca.

She says she has always sewn.  Her career has led her from painter to graphic design, sewing clothes and art quilting.  As she has continued working on fiber art it has come full circle back to a painterly approach, but using multi media including fabrics that she dyes and paints herself, found objects, and even the written word.  Sometimes she transfers her photographs onto fabric to use within her pieces.  Dutko says she never wants for inspiration.

"I really get inspired by anything and everything," she says.  "I don't have a single source that I look to for ideas.  I have a wealth of ideas in my head all the time.  I am very lucky that way.  I've never experienced a block.  it just comes out in volume all the time."

Dutko grew up in Rochester, and went to school in New York City at Cooper Union, majoring in painting.  She worked in the city as a book designer at Viking Press before moving to Ithaca, where she worked as a graphic designer at Cornell.  For a while she made clothes for herself and her children, which morphed into art quilting.

"I've been sewing since I was four years old," she says.  "In high school and college I made all of my own clothes.  Many years ago I got into garment making in a more serious way, and then into quilting.  I have been in a lot of groups in this area, quilting and doing fiber art work."

dutko_happybaggage'Happy Baggage incorporates items Dutko has picked up in her travels.

Fabric patterns, found objects, and even the stitching all become part of her compositions.  One piece, called 'Goddess of the Vine' was made for a show at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars this summer.  The stitching provides texture, while also defining grapes and other elements.  'Happy Baggage' also uses stitching to define leaves, and incorporates souvenirs and tidbits that Dutko picked up in her travels, including stones and a bead, a gourd, turquoise, pumice, and coins from France.

She has done a series of 'characters' that show female heads or faces with a particular theme.  Other works have incorporated shibori dyed fabrics and bleached fabrics to create exciting patterns that give her ideas.

"The fabric is very inspiring to me after I've painted it and dyed it, it gives me all sorts of ideas on how to make a composition, how to create a piece, a feeling, a person, whatever composition I'm about to work on,"she says.

dutko_goddessofthevine'Goddess of the Vine' was created for a show at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars this summer.

Dutko uses a sewing machine to do the stitching, which only affords a close-up view of small pieces of the work at a time.  The challenge is to keep the overall composition in mind while working.  She solves this by putting pieces on a wall and stepping back for what she calls a 'check-in' to see what it looks like in the stages of its composition.  On most pieces she works free-form without drawing the basic composition first.  She does that sometimes on big pieces, drawing a very rough indicator of a composition using pins.

In addition to her work Dutko has been very active in local artist groups.  Dutko is a long time participant in the Ithaca Art Trial, and is a founding member of the 'Quilt Divas', a group of fiber artists that was founded a decade ago.  The members meet once a month to critique each others' work and to talk about surface design and fiber art.

dutko_sallySally Dutko

She has participated in 'Project Runway'-like events hosted by the Ithaca Quilt Guild as a contestant and an organizer.  Contestants were given three hours to create a piece.  In 2008 she was the featured guest on 'The Quit Show', a popular Web TV show.  Sshe spent several days in Colorado filming the episode, on which she had to make a 'challenge piece' out of six ugly fabrics chosen by one of the hosts.

Dutko's work continues to evolve as she brings a painter's eye to fiber art.  The new pieces continue to use different media, but have a painterly feeling to them.  She says that the future of 'art quilting' is rosy as it becomes increasingly acceptable in the mainstream art world.

"I think the future of this kind of work is very bright," she says.  "People are now starting to realize this kind of work is like painting in fabric.  A lot of it is starting to get into galleries and museums.  It's gone quite a ways from the idea of traditional quilting.  It's becoming more mixed media art, which I think is very interesting and a lot of fun.  That kind of art is more acceptable in galleries and museums."