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Riggs' final UCCS show features stunning quilts, memorable legacy

click to enlarge On the Wall features quilt works by Eliza - Brewster, - among others.
  • On the Wall features quilt works by Eliza Brewster, among others.

It's been a long, strange trip for Gerry Riggs, the director of the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art who, upon opening his final show last Friday, retired after a 15-year run.

On the Wall, a selection of 67 works by 52 members of Studio Art Quilt Associates, may well become one of the most popular exhibitions he ever has presented.

The gallery's Arctic-white walls and exhibition spaces are hung with intricately designed, beautifully made quilts, exploding in swirling, riotous color. A visitor can only marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic imagination that animates every work on display.

Most of the quilts are made in the traditional fashion, with three layers: a backing, a layer of padding and a decorative top. The top might be one piece of fabric, or an appliqu created from smaller pieces of fabric. The layers are held together with quilting stitches, which create additional decorative patterns. Exploring this deeply rooted traditional craft, the artists have created works that would astonish their predecessors.

Alice Zrebiec, textiles curator at the Denver Art Museum, curates the show. She notes that "although the art quilts pieced together from squares and rectangles may seem familiar, recalling the construction of older quilts, this similarity is deceptive. In the hands of the artist, the repetition of geometric shapes is the constant in an exploration of color studies, textural contrasts or a celebration of pattern-and-decoration aesthetics.

"Frequently the pieced blocks are composed of eccentric, expressive shapes and colors; they explode beyond the geometric norm some artists work within obvious restrictions of forms or color others seemingly acknowledge no bounds."

Smiling, Riggs recalls the last quilt show at the gallery, way back in 1992.

"We had people chartering buses and coming from Kansas and Oklahoma to see it," he says. "There are thousands of quilters within a few hours' drive, and shows [like On the Wall] are like pilgrimages."

So, come March 17, the day these wonderful textiles leave the GCA, what will happen? Will the GCA remain as it is, a link between UCCS and the greater community, a place to see the kind of quirky, diverse and sometimes difficult art Riggs has brought here since 1991? Or will it merely fade into obscurity, an unfunded curiosity quietly killed off by the university bureaucracy?

Riggs is guardedly optimistic. After several months of indecision, the university finally has begun a search for his successor, and hopes to have someone aboard by spring. Not that he or she won't have challenges.

"The college doesn't give us a dime, so the new director's gonna have to hit the ground running -- writing grants, raising money," Riggs says. "It'll be difficult. She'll just have to wing it for a semester or two, and then we'll see."

-- John Hazlehurst

capsule

On the Wall

UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. (northwest corner of the Science Building)

Showing through March 17

For hours and info, call 262-3567.

  • Riggs' final UCCS show features stunning quilts, memorable legacy

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