In Ohio's biggest art circles, in shows at universities, museums, the Ohio Arts Council, the Ohio Craftsmen guild, one name keeps popping up as representative of northwestern Ohio.
Joan Rigal of Waterville.
Joan Rigal of Lucas County.
Joan Rigal of “outside Toledo.”
Joan Rigal is an artist, but not the usual kind. She doesn't paint or sculpt. Her medium is material: fabric, thread, yarn, silk, stitches, done into geometric folds and deep dimensional, Amish-influenced designs. In art talk, she “does fibers.”
“I'm a fiber artist. I make quilts for the wall,” says the smiling 68-year-old.
This month her work will appear in an Athena Art Society Centennial show, adjunct to the popular Toledo Area Artists show at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Mrs. Rigal also is opening a one-woman show July 16 with more than 30 of her works in Dublin, Ohio; her quilts are part of three Columbus art shows this summer.
Quilts are an ever-evolving medium, an art form long limited to hearth and home, the province of women and rustics. Art snobs for years dismissed quilts as “craft work,” but in the hands of talented designers, fiber is slowly being recognized as a true medium, an art-making material as legitimate as glass, car parts, and stone.
“I've had a few pieces rejected outright by contest judges, but that's very rare,” Mrs. Rigal says. “My work stands up alongside painting and sculpture. I manage to get into mixed-media shows.”
Mrs. Rigal never sewed a stitch until she married; her new husband bought her a sewing machine 46 years ago. She enjoyed creating clothes for her three children and made a few quilt projects from kits.
It was all preparation, she sees now. In 1979, she took a class in artistic quilting at the Toledo Museum of Art and created a coverlet of parallelograms. An artist was born. In 1986, she submitted a quilt to the Toledo Area Artists show, the region's most prominent juried exhibit. Her work was accepted.
“That launched me,” she says. “By the '90s, I had my first solo show and sold most of my work.”
She stepped easily into the local art scene. She joined Spectrum: Friends of Fine Art, and served on its board for four years. She was invited to join the Athena Art Society, an invitation-only group of Toledo-area women artists, and was its president for a year. She was a member of the Quilt Foundry group in Maumee for years. She joined the Ohio Designer Craftsmen; one of her works topped the advertising posters for its “Best of 1999” exhibit.
Marilyn Prucka, a printmaker from Monroe, got to know Ms. Rigal through the Athena group. “Joan puts a sense of light and darkness into her work, lots of nature, lots of glowing light, and a real sense of playfulness,” she said. “She puts a real sense of herself into her work. It glows. It's striking. It goes well beyond the usual quilt work.”
Teaching is the best fringe benefit to success, Mrs. Rigal said. “I do craft summer programs at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee.”
All the buzzing about is counter to her art-making activity. She does that in solitude, in a big studio in her Waterville home.
She doesn't do all her quilting by hand any more, she says. What used to take a couple months now can take only a day or two.
“I'm getting good at it, I guess,” she says. “You do something long enough, you learn what you want ... but designing is hard work. It's very difficult, making it work. I call it creative suffering. But what comes of it is mine, identifiably my work.”
One of her great achievements, she said, was mentoring a young woman through the Bowling Green State University master's degree program in fiber art. “Her name is Allison Eschelman; she worked with me all through her program. Now she's actually supporting herself through her art, and that's not easy to do. We'll have a show together sometime.”
“Joan works very hard. She's a real professional,” Ms. Prucka said. “She makes it look easy.”