Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Ruth Callahan listens to the fabric for guidance as she creates a quilt.
“I really do talk to them,” she explained as she demonstrated some of her fiber arts, on display through Sep. 21at the Thompson Loggia Gallery in the Haggerty Art History Building, University of Dallas (UD). “It’s a form of meditation for me. When I do my art, I am focused on this one thing. I’m almost in a zone. Three hours can go by and I don’t notice it.
“Maybe understanding how the fabric works and how the space works… it has to be right for me. And the colors give me so much joy!
“I keep rediscovering things to love in each piece.”
Callahan has worked for the last five years as a transcript clerk for UD. A longtime stay-at-home mom, she returned to school for degrees in anthropology and museum studies after a divorce. Interacting with students keeps her energized, she said, since they seem so much like her own children, now grown.
“I always had an understanding that my children were their own people, all along,” she said. “As toddlers, they might not have made any sense, but I viewed them almost as visitors from another galaxy. So we had an inside joke – I told people they were aliens from Alpha Centauri, here to observe our lifestyle.
“That’s the story behind this piece,” she said, turning to one of the mounted fabric squares, characterized by egg-shaped creatures with googly eyes. Its title: ‘From Alpha Centauri, With Love’.
“These are their supervisors back on the home planet.”
Most of the quilts in the show, ‘Meditations From Alpha Centauri’, show off Callahan’s expertise in hand quilting, although the smaller squares are machine-stitched. A few of the pieces contain examples of utility quilting, utilizing a thicker thread and bolder designs. Working with the Quilt Guild of Arlington and the Et Cetera Art Quilt Group, Callahan has expanded her understanding of the art of quilting, which she taught herself.
“My grandmother was a strong woman who made her living as a tailor,” said Callahan. “So I did learn sewing from her – but not quilting.
“There were some quilt tops that my mother passed down to me and I thought, ‘I ought to do something with these’. I’ve always been drawn to fiber arts, which by the way, they DON’T teach her in the UD Arts program. Maybe they’ll add them someday.
“Anyway, I read some books about quilting and just started putting pieces together. You know, this involves a lot of math to plan your grids! So I made a lot of mistakes, but I kept at it. My weekends are my favorite time now for sewing, if I’m not with my family.
“I’m just thrilled that some of my pieces have won honors at a few quilting shows.”
Creating this show was almost an accident, according to Callahan. The Chair of the UD Arts Department, Dan Hammett, saw a few pictures of Callahan’s creations and invited her to mount the show, the first in a planned series of exhibits to highlight works by faculty and staff.
The public is invited to see (and hear?) these works for themselves, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday/Sunday from noon to 5:00 pm. A closing reception will be held on Friday, Sep. 21, 4:30 – 6:30.