Ann Baldwin May has lived in Santa Cruz for over 35 years. After creating over 300 bed quilts since the 1970’s, Ann turned her focus to art quilts.
Her art quilts may be abstract, whimsical or impressionistic. Her inspiration comes from the natural world, as well as from Mexican and Native American influences. Her materials of choice are often redirected fabrics from the San Francisco Design Center and found objects.
Ann Baldwin May Shows and Awards
She has completed seven solo shows including one at the R. Blitzer Gallery in 2014. In October, 2015, Ann presented her exhibition, Abrazos Del Alma (Hugs from the Soul), at the Pacific International Quilt Festival held in the Santa Clara Convention Center. In February, 2016, her art quilt “City Lights” was part of the juried exhibition A Touch of the Blues, held in Chicago.
Ann has won several awards for her work. In addition to her art quilts, she retired in 2012 after having taught as a bilingual teacher for 30 years in Watsonville.
Adventurous and prolific, quilter Ann Baldwin May has never met a piece of fabric that didn’t excite her eye. The West Side resident first tried her hand at quilting in 2008. Several one-woman shows, many awards and 300 quilts later, May is still on a roll. Anyone who has ever experienced the tactile pleasure of piecing together and sewing fabric for a quilt knows the seduction of this craft. Working in eclectic genres, from abstract to folkloric, May designs her art quilts by sourcing remnants from fabric stores and recycling outlets and then begins to decide what works with what.
“I started out doing traditional squares, but quickly realized I wanted to do something more artistic,” says May of a recently quilted wall hanging in which green rectangles play against sunny-hued circular shapes. “I added circles, coordinated the colors, and then had fun with thread painting embellishment,” she says. “It’s all experimentation. I just start with color and then add textures.” The results are distinctive and playful.
In her most recent pieces May has moved fearlessly into abstraction. “It’s all machine quilted,” she says, turning over the pieces so I can observe the free-form shapes made by the stitching. May likes to pick up “repurposed materials from FabMo in Mountain View.” Are these wall hangings or are they quilts?, I ask of the roughly 3 by 3 1/2-foot artworks. “Technically they’re quilts,” she explains. “Because they involve three layers plus stitching.” Yet they resemble abstract paintings.
May likes to begin her quilts by assembling the bottom, inner batting, and cover layer, and then arranging the design pieces until she likes the way they look. “Then I lay a piece of Tulle netting over the entire piece, which holds everything together. I pin the layers and then do free motion quilting.” That free motion thing is what makes her work distinctive.
The results are visually exciting, the free stitching creating undulating curves and wavy arpeggios against the set patterns of the fabric. May’s Husqvarna computerized sewing machine lives in a cozy workroom off of her kitchen. “It magically adjusts to the thickness of the fabric.” Does she quilt all the time? I wonder. “If my husband’s out of town,” she says with a grin.
Admitting to having no formal art training, the Palo Alto native got a master’s in teaching Spanish at UC Irvine before moving to Santa Cruz.
Recent retirement from her 30-year bilingual teaching career in Watsonville, triggered May’s productivity. Wondering how she would stay busy, she decided to get serious about her quilts. “I really get inspired by international fabrics,” she confesses, showing me some colorful wall hangings richly appliqued with Mexican beads, jewelry, braid, and antique rebozo insets.
In addition to her “underwater fantasy style” and sculptural Mexican-themed pieces, May is intent on perfecting her abstract designs. “I want to create a recognizable style,” she reveals. “To me this is just so much fun, but I am challenging myself.” She’s challenged her way into a one-woman show at next October’s Pacific International Quilt Festival in the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Giving me a tour of some of her styles, May notes that “people seem drawn to all my styles. That gives me confidence.” She also confesses, pointing to quite a few examples, “I’m into lizards.”
May will show her work at the Pajaro Valley Quilt Association annual show on Feb. 21-22. “The guild is a great place to meet other quilters. They have over 300 members in this county and all levels of quilters are welcome.” Is it all quilting all the time? “I did take a break at Christmastime.”
Author Christina Waters Published in the Good Times Weekly, February 18,2015.
PHOTO: Quilter Ann Baldwin May departed from traditional squares to experiment with color, texture and outside-of-the-box shapes. CHIP SCHEUER
Santa Cruz Sentinel article highlighting myself and two other Etsy artisans.Made in Santa Cruz: Etsy artisans seek a merry holiday ( edited here for space.)
Baldwin May spent 38 years teaching in Watsonville, raising two daughters and in her free time making and designing clothes for herself, then bed quilts and then art quilts.“Great Blue Heron at Dusk,” the first art quilt she entered in a show, won an award.Since her retirement in 2012, she’s had more time for art. She set up an Etsy shop and presented six solo shows, landing an invitation to appear at the 24th Annual Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara next October.“My husband asked about my plans,” she said. “I want to see these things sell so I can make some more.”She is so prolific her shop has 100 one-of-a kind art quilts and wall hangings. Her fiber wall hangings start at $45; the most intricate are priced at $2,000.She took the Etsy class to increase sales.“What I learned was about SEO, search engine optimization,” she said, referring to the technique for getting your website on the first pages of search results.Her Etsy site got her a commission for five quilts.Her client, a woman in North Carolina who breeds Scottie terriers, picked out the fabrics, something different each time, and posted photos of the results at http://herronssandhillsscotties.com.“It’s like free advertising,” said Baldwin May.
At The Library, October, 2014-April 15, 2015
San Francisco Public Library Newsletter,
Primal Green II: Our Environment through Quilt Artists’ Vision and Voice Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists will display 37 pieces in the Wallace Stegner Environmental Center and environs this month, ranging from realistic landscapes to more abstract pieces. Each quilt represents the artist’s reaction to the world in which we live. More than 20 local artists are represented, including Ann Baldwin May,Diane Carver,Dolores Miller, Bron McInerney, Jennifer Landau and Caroline Ogg, among others. This exhibit is sponsored by the Wallace Stegner Environmental Center, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and Contemporary Quilt and Fiber Artists.
Primal Green II – Main Library, Environmental Center, Oct. 11, 2014 – April 24, 2015
Too Legit To Quilt from the Good Times Weekly,Santa Cruz, CA.
Santa Cruz artist, Ann Baldwin May takes quilting to a whole new level
At first glance, Ann Baldwin May’s decorative art quilts could easily be mistaken for paintings. The award-winning local artist consistently challenges the traditional definition of what a quilt is with her remarkable use of detail.
A collection of her creations is now on display at R. Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz, where a playful tagline aptly warns visitors, “These are not your grandmother’s quilts.” While May tends to be modest about her art, gallery owner Robert Blitzer can’t stop gushing about it.
“When you Google ‘quilts,’ what mostly comes up are the traditional type of quilts (and) patterns,” he says. “But we all know that there are those quilters who take it to the limit and that’s who Ann is. That’s what she is doing … I don’t know if she can paint or not, but she’s painting with these (quilts).”
From abstract to nature-themed to whimsical to cubicle to marine-themed to Mexican-inspired quilts, May does it all and more with aplomb. Vibrant designs, unorthodox shapes and bold colors bring her imagery to life and would add warmth to any room.
Ironically, May never aspired to be an artist. At age 12, she begged her mother to let her take sewing lessons at the Singer sewing machine store in her hometown of Palo Alto. There, she and a friend made shorts and crop tops for themselves. She went on to study design and clothes construction in high school and crafted most of her wardrobe by hand.
As a young woman and a newlywed, May began making traditional bed quilts in 1974.
“I stopped counting at 300,” she admits. “Most of them I gave away or shared with family members—you know, like donations to charity quilts. And then I kind of ran out of beds, so I thought I’d try the art quilts.”
While there are many similarities between art quilts and traditional bed quilts, when crafting the former, the quilt maker has more freedom to experiment with different materials, shapes and lines.
“You can draw on texture and use different fabrics, rather than just 100 percent cotton,” May explains. “You can bring in synthetics that might be a little stretchy or shiny, and other non-traditional fabrics like corduroy or loosely woven fabric, because wall quilts are not washed. A bed quilt is concerned about longevity and being washed and being used.”
Ann Baldwin MayMay takes inspiration for her art quilts from the works of Mexican muralists and painters, including Diego Rivera, David Siquieros and Jose Clemente. She also likes to incorporate Native American and indigenous themes into her designs, as well as nature imagery from the Monterey Bay.
“What an art quilt does is use quilting techniques to create a picture for the wall,” she says.
Though May never had any formal art training, she has won several awards, including one from the Pajaro Valley Arts Council for her “Great Blue Heron at Dusk” quilt.
Her artistic process always begins with the fabric. Without any artistic endpoint in mind, she gathers fabrics based on textures and colors that appeal to her. Only after she has selected her material does she determine her subject. “You never know what you’re going to find,” May says. “[So] I bring it home and see what I want to do with it.”
May uses a fabric layering technique to create her most complex quilts, because it allows her to more easily incorporate small pieces and details. First, she lays out the odd-shaped pieces that she wants to use, and then lays down tulle on top of her design. Finally, she machine-sews it all together.
She also uses the more traditional practice of fabric piecing to create both abstract and collage-like pieces. And she sometimes employs a technique called reverse appliqué—based on the traditional costumes or “molas” created by the Kuna Indian women of Panama—where layers are sewn together, and then partially cut away to create effects such as depth or contrast.
But it’s not all work and no play for May. She often experiments while sewing and randomly curves her lines for artistic effect. She even invented a technique that she calls “scribble quilting,” wherein she uses different colors of thread to scribble lines across her quilt, creating beautiful color combinations and designs. She got the idea after noticing some of her elementary school students scribbling over what they considered to be unsuccessful art projects.
After all these years, May is still amazed that art has taken such a focal point in her life.
“I never planned on being an artist,” she says. “I am surprised and overjoyed with my success so far because it came out of the blue and I never expected it or planned for it.”
From the San Francisco Examiner, March 29, 2013:
Textile artists put their best foot forward in Oakland exhibition By Sumiko Saulson. I’m not mentioned in the article, but I am one of the 26 quilting artists in the exhibition. Read the article by following the Examiner link, or as an advertisement-free PDF.
From the Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 2, 2012:
THE QUILTER By Christa Martin I started taking sewing classes a year and a half ago. Every once in a while I’ll take a break from my own work and sneak a peek at the nearby quilting class. I’m always thoroughly impressed by what the quilters are capable of. The time, patience, and creativity that go into fully crafting a quilt from scratch is astounding, and that’s why I admire people like quilter ANN BALDWIN MAY. She’s self-taught, doesn’t use patterns, and yet churns out piece after piece that are striking in their whimsical style and use of found objects like shells, buttons, and earrings. The 62-year-old May learned how to sew in high school. Her first forays into quilting were of the standard variety, but as she humorously points out, “one only has so many beds.” As function turned to art, she moved from the bedroom to the showroom. “I enjoy playing around with different fabrics and colors,” she says. “When sewing one’s own clothes, one’s palette is limited by the colors that go with one’s skin tone. Art quilts have none of those limitations. I love to gather materials, fabrics, 3-D and found objects, and put them together in unusual ways.” Her quilts mostly fall into themes of underwater fantasy, abstracts, nature and Mexicaninspired designs. Interested in learning more about her art quilts and fiber arts in general? Check out May’s work at the Santa Cruz Art League Fiber Show Aug. 11 to Sept. 9, or visit her website at annbaldwinmayartquilts.com.
Ann May Baldwin Showing in Three Locations-From the NorCal/Nevada Regional Studio Artist Quilt Associates blogspot May 5,2013 www.saqa-norcal.blogspot.com
New SAQA member Ann May Baldwin currently has three pieces showing in the Northern California area:
|“Light In the Forest”|
“Light in the Forest” is at Olive Hyde Gallery in Fremont, Ca as part of its 35th annual Textile Exhibition.
|Bush Down the Street|
“Bush Down the Street” is part of the Regional SAQA exhibit-“Put Your Best Foot Forward” at Creative Framing and Gallery in Oakland, Ca.
“Gridlock I” is hanging the “Mayhem” Show in San Francisco at the Arc Gallery, May,2013.