By Gretchen Wieman
Photos by Danny Daniels Photography
For many of us, a hike is just a hike – a chance to take a walk in the woods, stretch our legs, and enjoy the fresh air.
For Linda Beach, a hike is a doorway to inspiration. The way the sun shines through the trees or water flows over stones, or something as simple as the color of a leaf – all might spark her creativity. When inspiration does strike, this Alaskan artist captures the moment in a quilt – each one blending her love of fabric, color and texture with her love of nature.
Linda creates art quilts that are both innovative and soundly tied to tradition. Her quilts are not the kind you grab to use on a picnic or curl up under for extra warmth. They're the kind of quilts you find hanging in a gallery, a museum, or for a lucky few, a home.
Linda didn't always make art quilts – in fact, it never occurred to her to try any sort of quilting. In high school, she avoided all home economics classes, and wasn't interested in learning how to sew until her early thirties, when she felt the irresistible urge to play with fabric. So she bought the cheapest sewing machine she could find and taught herself how to use it. For a while she made traditional quilts, but never felt fully satisfied. She started pushing the boundaries of what she created, eventually breaking out of traditional models and into her own compositions, using fabric color and pattern to interpret her vision.
After quilting for several years, Linda realized that her fabric addiction had moved far beyond a reasonable "hobby" budget. One day, after viewing art for sale in a local coffeehouse and thinking "I could do that," she spoke to the owner about scheduled a showing of her own quilts – it marked the beginning of a new career.
"Sometimes," Linda says, "everything comes together at once – I can see the composition, the values, the colors. I know which fabrics to use, and how it will look in the end. Other times," she laughs, "It feels like nothing is working, and then I'm miserable. And probably not very fun to be around!"
Linda takes her quilting seriously. She works a standard eight-hour day on her quilts, and requires complete solitude for her process. A quilt takes about three weeks for her to finish – approximately 120 hours. She says that once she starts a quilt, she is consumed by the process. "I have a one-track mind once I get going. All I want to do is work on the quilt until it is finished. But once it's done, I don't have a problem letting it go. I'm already looking forward to my next one."
Quilts have not always been taken seriously by the art world, but there is now "a growing market for our work," says Linda. "I think that people are responding to the warmth of fiber art, and gaining respect for the amount of time and skill it takes to complete just one piece." In addition, "there is a whole new level of judging at exhibitions," she notes. "Instead of judges counting stitches and examining seams, we now see curators and gallery owners judging composition."
Linda's work has been included in numerous juried exhibitions across the country, including the International Quilt Market and Festival in Houston, Texas and Quilt Visions in San Diego, California. In Alaska, Linda was an honorable mention winner at the Earth, Fire, and Fibre Exhibition XXVI held at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center. She has been chosen for National Parks Artist-in-Residence programs in Denali National Park, Acadia National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
From teaching herself how to sew to winning awards for her work, Linda has come a long way. Next time you head out on Winner Creek trail in Girdwood, or find yourself wandering in Eagle River Valley, take a moment and look around. If you see a slender woman who appears stricken by inspiration, it might be Linda, about to embark on her latest creation.