In the mid 1970s, Gwen Marston saw an exhibit of fine antique quilts at a local art museum that inspired her to become a quiltmaker. As most quilters do, she learned how to make quilts from traditional patterns passed down through generations.
In 1990, Gwen began to design her own direct, uncluttered, and bold work. Her intent during the past seven or eight years was to simplify the elements, to melt them down to their most basic forms, and thus to allow the color to speak in a stronger voice. In the past year, she has pushed further in that direction, working in a decidedly minimal style.
Now a professional fiber artist, author, and teacher, Gwen works almost exclusively with solid fabrics when making contemporary abstract quilts. She prefers solids for a host of reasons, none more important than the fact that the line and form of the design are more clearly defined. Solids emphasize the delineation between shapes, whereas prints can blur the edges of adjoining shapes.
Gwen first decides on the basic form she’ll use to construct the piece (such as working in rows, or beginning in the center and working outward). Then she thinks about color and scale, and after working out those general ideas, she starts building the parts and designing the quilt, constructing it in an improvisational way.
Rough pencil sketches were Gwen’s original testing method for initial ideas. In 2010, she developed another way: fabric sketches. “Making sketches with the actual fabric I intended to use was a great way to work out composition and color. Because these Small Studies are completely developed, they take on added significance as small works of art, and indeed made up the featured exhibition at the Taupo Art Museum during the 2013 New Zealand Symposium,” Gwen says. The first thirty-seven are shown in her book, 37 Sketches.
Gwen has taught nationally and internationally for over three decades. She has written 26 books, two of which have won awards: Mary Schafer: American Quilt Maker won a 2005 Michigan Notable Book award, and 37 Sketches won a 2012 New York Book Show award.