Art quilts by Conway woman on display

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published January 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Deborah Kuster of Conway has been selected as one of five artists for the Arkansas Women to Watch Exhibition 2013 at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock.

CONWAY — The late Art Linkletter knew “kids say the darndest things” and parlayed their comments into a popular feature on his radio and television shows and later into a book by that title.

Conway artist Deborah Kuster knows it, too, and has taken quotes from her grandchildren as inspiration to create some of her art quilts.

Kuster, an associate professor of art who teaches art education at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, is one of five Arkansas female artists whose works are included in the Arkansas Women to Watch Exhibition 2013 currently on display in the Underground Gallery at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. The exhibit, sponsored by the Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., has textiles as its theme. The exhibit will remain on display through Feb. 22.

“Many of my current works are inspired from quotes from my grandchildren,” Kuster said. “As young children combine their thought processes with their new verbal vocabulary, the outcome is often unexpected and sometimes quite profound.”

Two of Kuster’s four art quilts in the exhibit relate to her grandson, Caleb Steck, 10, and one to her granddaughter, Mackenzie Steck, 8. They are children of Julie Steck — Kuster’s only child — and her husband, Adam, who live in Mineola, Texas. The Stecks also have another son, Zachary, 4. “I just finished one for him,” Kuster said of her youngest grandson.

One of Kuster’s art quilts has been seen before in a Little Rock exhibit. Deal With It was created in 2011 and was featured in February 2012 in the Studio Art Quilt Association’s regional exhibit, Connecting Threads, which was also on display at the Butler Center.

Kuster said she will participate in the SAQA regional show again in March.

Deal With It refers to a quote from Caleb when he was about 6.

“I wanted a pipe cleaner and asked him to get one for me,” Kuster said. “He came back and handed me a wad of stuff and said, ‘You’ll just have to deal with it.’

“I love using these words or sayings that have multiple meanings,” Kuster said with a smile. “They just go through my mind. They help me connect to a memory. Then I start the process of weaving, piecing, arranging and sewing my quilt, just like the pioneer women created their quilts.”

Kuster’s second quilt relating to Caleb is titled A Miro Dream Come True.

Created in 2007, this is one of Kuster’s earliest works.

“I was messing around with dream paintings like Miro and Matisse created,” Kuster said. “I’m a big fan of Miro. He used crazy eyes and ears in some of his paintings.

“This actually began as a painting, which I cut out, then quilted it and put a border around it. It’s a little different than my other works.”

The quilt also has Caleb’s quote stitched into it, unlike the others on display.

“It relates to Caleb, who was only about 3 at the time and had gotten a googly eye caught in his ear,” Kuster said.

She said Caleb had been jumping on the bed and somehow had gotten a googly eye (like those used in craft projects) in his ear.

“He whispered to his dad, ‘There’s an eyeball in my ear.’”

Kuster’s quilt relating to her granddaughter is called Save My Spot. Created in 2011, it features photo transfers on fabric as well as hand-woven fibers and ribbon. The quilt was machine-pieced and -quilted.

“When she was a baby, Mackenzie sucked on a little blanket,” Kuster said. “She would wake up in the night with a soggy blanket and would try to find a dry spot to suck. She would say, ‘Save my spot.’”

The fourth quilt in the show, Living Off the Land, was also created in 2007. It relates to Kuster’s husband, John.

“When we lived in Texas, we lived in the country,” Kuster said. “We’d take long walks and loved finding treasures.

“John would say, ‘I love living off the land.’ He asked me if I was ever going to make a quilt for him, and I did. This one shows the little treasures we found, with an X marking the spot.”

Kuster said she is “honored” to be in this exhibit.

“It’s traveled across Arkansas all year long,” she said, noting that the exhibit opened in February 2012 at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

“I received an invitation to submit photographs of 15 or 20 pieces of my work,” she said. “They chose five artists for the show, and each of us has four pieces on display.

“It’s been really fun for me. I was really honored to be selected to represent Arkansas. This came as a total surprise to me. I think this exhibit is a sampling of what I do.”

Kuster is now in her 11th year at UCA.

“I teach art-education classes and a fiber-arts class in the spring,” she said.

Kuster said she only creates four or five pieces of art a year, and she does not sell them.

“This is what I do,” she said. “This is what I am. They just match me. They are piecing and sewing; they are my family.”

Kuster, who holds a doctorate

in art education from the University of North Texas, said her interest in weaving began when she took a class in weaving while she was working on her degree. She said she was so entranced by weaving that she went on to purchase her own loom.

For more information about the exhibit, call (501) 320-5700 or visit www.butlercenter.org. The center is at 401 President Clinton Ave. in Little Rock and is a department of the Central Arkansas Library System. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The center is closed Sundays and holidays.

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