Quilters Past And Present 'Painting' Her Life In Fabric

September 16, 1990|By Lynn Williams

Jean Hoblitzell grew up on a farm in Glyndon, and rode horseback through crisp, browning late-autumn fields, watching the sun set in a blur of purple.

It's all there, in her quilts.

Somewhat later, Jean Hoblitzell was an architect in New York, moving through a hard-edged urban grid of straight lines and jutting angles.

That's all there, too, in the quilts.

Ms. Hoblitzell, a contemporary quilt artist whose work is on display this weekend as part of a four-woman show at St. John's Episcopal Church in Glyndon, has a lot in common with those traditional quilters who created an art form out of scraps of cloths and thousands of tiny stitches. She, too, cuts shapes from fabric and sews them together into a patchwork of color and texture, balance and harmony. But instead of developing into such time-honored patterns as Drunkard's Path or Sunbonnet Sue, Ms. Hoblitzell's patches take shape into textile "paintings" that remind viewers of the work of Piet Mondrian and assorted abstract expressionists.

Although frequently rooted in a single simple idea -- a circle or series of circles, with radiating spokes dividing the field into planes of color -- her machine-stitched quilts have the same kinds of inspiration as do paintings, and reflect the life experiences that shaped them in their color palette and subtle imagery.

Ms. Hoblitzell's work has gained a higher profile since being featured in "The Guild," a source book of craft artists, and she finds that many of her custom clients are happy to give her complete artistic freedom. But she will also do more conventional quilts -- she calls this kind of work "feedsme," patting her stomach -- based less on personal expression than on the tastes and color preferences of her clients.

"I work on various levels," she says. I work a lot with designers and consultants. Right now I have a big job in Boston with a consultant. But I also do a lot of wedding and anniversary presents, things that celebrate a special time in somebody's life."

Ms. Hoblitzell also sells her quilts at crafts shows across the country (including the American Craft Council's winter crafts market in Baltimore), and her work is available through Gazelle in Cross Keys and the Knight Gomez Gallery.

Unlike her two business-minded sisters, Ms. Hoblitzell grew up with an artistic bent. She designed and stitched needlepoint as a child, enjoyed ceramics in high school, was interested in sculpture -- and had dreams of becoming an architect.

"I've always been spatially inclined, and I know I see three-dimensionally," she explains.

During her years at Cornell, she not only learned the architectural ropes, but discovered the craft that, unknown to her, would be her eventual career. During her walks, she would see quilts in store windows, and would be "pulled right in." Eventually, she took a course and learned how to make her own.

"It's kind of a joke in my family that I graduated from five years in architecture school with a professional degree, and for my graduation present I asked for a sewing machine," she says with a grin.

During the two years she worked with a New York architectural firm, Ms. Hoblitzell made custom quilts. After marrying and moving to Charlottesville, Va., where her husband was studying for a business degree, she not only worked as an architect and made quilts, but taught quilting at a local shop. When her husband was killed in an auto accident, however, the young widow decided to return to the Baltimore area and make quilting her primary focus.

Ms. Hoblitzell lived with her father for two years while she established her career, and rented a studio at the Mill Center. She now shares a home and a South Baltimore studio-office with boyfriend Chris Glotzbach, a manufacturer's representative for a furniture company.

Her company is called Jean Hoblitzell and Associates, but she cheerfully admits that this corporate-sounding name is a polite fiction, cooked up to make her business sound "more professional" to fabric distributors and the like.

"The associates are me, myself, and I. We get along very well," she jokes.

She does have one colleague, though; JoJo Lee, the mother of two small daughters, who quilts the completed tops at home, and who comes in once a week to help with the sewing.

PD "She calls me Miss Honey, because all I think about is my honey,

and not my money," Ms. Hoblitzell says.

"My prices are high, but I still don't make much money," the artist explains. Quilts range from $35 to $60 a square foot, and a completed queen-size quilt can cost $1,500. But the work, which involves both design and construction, is time-intensive; the artist can only make about 20 full-sized quilts a year.

"I care about each piece. I've tried caring less, but it hasn't worked," she sighs. "Little decisions sometimes become very important. In the end, that makes the difference. That's what gives the quilt the extra life, the extra pop."

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