Interview with quilter Jinny Beyer by Dr. June Freeman, 1982

Published: Friday, 18th March 2011 09:40 AM

Jinny Beyer is an American quilter known for her “Ray of Light” medallion quilt, which she created using her simple drafting system. After winning the Great American Quilt Competition, Jinny became a worldrenowned quilter, writer, lecturer, instructor, and designer of fabrics. She draws much of her quilting inspirations from her experiences in Nepal where she first began quilting in 1972. Presently, Jinny lives with her family in Great Falls, Virginia where she has opened her own studio.

In 1982, Jinny Beyer was interviewed by Quilter’s Guild member, June Freeman, during her travels in the U.K. The following is an excerpt from this interview in which Jinny’s views of American quilting in terms of traditions and craftmenship are explored.

June Freeman: Do you see yourself as a traditional American quilter who made variations on traditional styles, or do you see yourself as belonging to a new school of American quilters?

Jinny Beyer: I consider myself traditional in that I'm piecing the work in a traditional manner and using traditional blocks, not contemporary free-form. But I think I'm contemporary in that I'm not just copying designs or colours that have been done in the past.

June Freeman: You use a number of traditional designs.

Jinny Beyer: My early quilts are done in traditional design. In the later ones I don't take a traditional design. I usually make my own. But because they're block-style quilts people might consider them traditional. I like structure, whether it's the structure of a medallion quilt, or block-style quilt. Structure allows freedom but yet you've got a framework to work in.

June Freeman: Are you involved in the American debate about quilting design? It would involve a feeling that quilting was developing some of the ideas of the fine art world in terms of colour, technique or optics.

Jinny Beyer: I don't worry about what a quiltmaker is doing in terms of how it relates to the art world. As far as my own work is concerned, I don't think whether I’m making something artistic. I make strictly for me. I don’t do it to satisfy someone else, I do it to satisfy myself. And when I look at another quilt, I look at what that person's trying to do. I think that's what folk art is all about and why quiltmaking is a folk art. I think all quiltmakers are artists. There was a saying I read that ‘he who works with his hands is a labourer, he who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman, and he who works with his hands, his mind and his heart is an artist.’ I think that says it. I think anyone who really loves what they're doing and expresses something within themselves is an artist.

June Freeman: Would you want to disclaim quilting as a craft then and assert that quilting is an art?

Jinny Beyer: I consider myself an artist and craftsman because there's skill in the creation of a good quilt. But there's also a person's own expression coming out which I think is art. If someone buys a kit of a quilt and makes it and does an excellent job of the workmanship they’re a craftsman. It’s not art because that person has not put any of herself into it. But when someone takes an idea and expands upon it and puts their own self into it, it's art.

June Freeman: And do you feel there's scope for doing this within the traditional block-style and medallion style quilt?

Jinny Beyer: I feel there is, but people who're breaking out of that structure are expressing themselves in their way. I don't think you can say one is good and one is bad.

With thanks to Dr. June Freeman and Jinny Beyer.

This post was written by Museum volunteer Chelsea Starke.