Art Maker: Jeff Rutherford, quilter

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  • Not just for women: Jeff Rutherford, who wrote firction when he was younger, works on a quilt in his Florence home. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Rutherford, who wrote fiction when he was younger, took up quilting about 18 years ago. Here he works on a piece at his home in Florence. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jeff Rutherford sometimes listens to loud music when he quilts, but he also calls the process “Very meditative … with the hum of the sewing machine, and multiple descisions to make.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 3/13/2020 9:06:59 AM
Modified: 3/13/2020 9:06:45 AM

Like any number of people, Jeff Rutherford sometimes likes to listen to loud music. The difference is he’s as likely to be making a quilt to that music as dancing to it, and he’ll sometimes work song lyrics into his fabrics.

But Rutherford, who lives in Florence and is the president of the Northampton Modern Quilt Guild, also calls quilting “a very meditative process. I always have multiple projects going at any time. I’ve been known to stop sewing one quilt, and begin working on another project within a few minutes. I like that quiet, meditative place with the hum of the sewing machine, and multiple decisions to make on the work in progress.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Jeff Rutherford: I’m currently working on a mystery quilt designed by the quilter and teacher Bonnie Hunter. A mystery quilt means that you sew pieces of the quilt not knowing what the final quilt will look like. Her quilts involve a lot of small pieces and intricate, traditional quilt blocks. I enjoy her annual mystery quilt, and I usually play and experiment with the quilt’s colors and color palette.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

JF: Music is a huge inspiration for me. When I’m sewing, I’m either blasting music — Lucinda Williams, ‘80s new wave, hardcore country, rap, dance/EDM mixes — or I’m listening to podcasts. Word quilts are pieced quilts that feature letters and words. I made one quilt featuring lyrics from an Iggy Azalea song. I think there will be many more word quilts featuring song lyrics in my future.

I’m also inspired by color. I wasn’t satisfied with the color combinations in the first few quilts I made after I started in 2002. I favor bold, colorful fabrics, often in solid colors with no design.

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

JR: I usually have a gut feeling when a quilt is done. If I’m working on one with a specific pattern, I definitely know when it’s finished. And sometimes I just tire of what I’m working on at the moment. I’ll take a break and circle back to it later.

HL: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

JR: Jack Edson, a Buffalo, N.Y., artist, makes illustrative/pictorial quilts of American artists. He makes amazing pictorial quilts that often incorporate traditional quilt blocks. For years he also used a fairly old, entry-level sewing machine, and he often uses fabric scraps that people give him. His work is a reminder that you can make stunning art without sinking a fortune into a state-of-the-art sewing machine and all the latest fabric lines.

And Timna Tarr, a South Hadley artist, is a nationally recognized quilter. Her use of color is stunning. I’ve studied many of her quilts in-depth, and I still can’t always figure out how she achieves the color that leaps off of her quilts.

HL: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you’ve attended and enjoyed?

JR: Two Friends, the EDM/dance DJs. I saw them DJ/perform in Boston. It was a night of sweaty, dancing fun, and re-energized me creatively. I also recently saw Squeeze perform in Northampton; I’d last seen them in Atlanta in 1985. Music energizes me and feeds back into my quilting and creativity.

HL: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

JR: I’d be creating art of some kind. In my 20s (before I started quilting), I wrote a lot of fiction. I had some short stories published. But quilting has now taken over the majority of my creative life. I’d probably be writing a lot more if I wasn’t spending so much time sewing.

HL: Dream dinner party — who would you invite?

JR: Keith Haring (how I wish we could have seen what art Keith would be creating in 2020), Stephen King, Keith Richards (someone who has lived a creative life on his own terms), Rev. Howard Finster (I met him briefly in the ‘80s. Acclaimed folk artist from Georgia. His artwork was featured on Talking Heads and REM album covers).

— Steve Pfarrer

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