Ann Baldwin May’s quilts are like abstract paintings
Adventurous and prolific, quilter Ann Baldwin May has never met a piece of fabric that didn’t excite her eye. The West Side resident first tried her hand at quilting in 2008. Several one-woman shows, many awards and 300 quilts later, May is still on a roll. Anyone who has ever experienced the tactile pleasure of piecing together and sewing fabric for a quilt knows the seduction of this craft. Working in eclectic genres, from abstract to folkloric, May designs her art quilts by sourcing remnants from fabric stores and recycling outlets and then begins to decide what works with what.
“I started out doing traditional squares, but quickly realized I wanted to do something more artistic,” says May of a recently quilted wall hanging in which green rectangles play against sunny-hued circular shapes. “I added circles, coordinated the colors, and then had fun with thread painting embellishment,” she says. “It’s all experimentation. I just start with color and then add textures.” The results are distinctive and playful.
In her most recent pieces May has moved fearlessly into abstraction. “It’s all machine quilted,” she says, turning over the pieces so I can observe the free-form shapes made by the stitching. May likes to pick up “repurposed materials from FabMo in Mountain View.” Are these wall hangings or are they quilts?, I ask of the roughly 3 by 3 1/2-foot artworks. “Technically they’re quilts,” she explains. “Because they involve three layers plus stitching.” Yet they resemble abstract paintings.
May likes to begin her quilts by assembling the bottom, inner batting, and cover layer, and then arranging the design pieces until she likes the way they look. “Then I lay a piece of Tulle netting over the entire piece, which holds everything together. I pin the layers and then do free motion quilting.” That free motion thing is what makes her work distinctive.
The results are visually exciting, the free stitching creating undulating curves and wavy arpeggios against the set patterns of the fabric. May’s Husqvarna computerized sewing machine lives in a cozy workroom off of her kitchen. “It magically adjusts to the thickness of the fabric.” Does she quilt all the time? I wonder. “If my husband’s out of town,” she says with a grin.
Admitting to having no formal art training, the Palo Alto native got a master’s in teaching Spanish at UC Irvine before moving to Santa Cruz.
Recent retirement from her 30-year bilingual teaching career in Watsonville, triggered May’s productivity. Wondering how she would stay busy, she decided to get serious about her quilts. “I really get inspired by international fabrics,” she confesses, showing me some colorful wall hangings richly appliqued with Mexican beads, jewelry, braid, and antique rebozo insets.
In addition to her “underwater fantasy style” and sculptural Mexican-themed pieces, May is intent on perfecting her abstract designs. “I want to create a recognizable style,” she reveals. “To me this is just so much fun, but I am challenging myself.” She’s challenged her way into a one-woman show at next October’s Pacific International Quilt Festival in the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Giving me a tour of some of her styles, May notes that “people seem drawn to all my styles. That gives me confidence.” She also confesses, pointing to quite a few examples, “I’m into lizards.”
May will show her work at the Pajaro Valley Quilt Association annual show on Feb. 21-22. “The guild is a great place to meet other quilters. They have over 300 members in this county and all levels of quilters are welcome.” Is it all quilting all the time? “I did take a break at Christmastime.”
The Pajaro Valley Quilt Association show is from 10-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21 and 10-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22 at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Info at pvqa.org. PHOTO: Quilter Ann Baldwin May departed from traditional squares to experiment with color, texture and outside-of-the-box shapes. CHIP SCHEUER