Anthems Quilt Show: An Interview With The Creator

Yesterday, we were hot off the BBC World Service with Quiltgate. (BBC Article Here) Today we’re going to talk about a new quilt show coming up, Anthems. It seems very appropriate, it being pride month, as well as the hate group recently being outed on BBC. We’re having a conversation with Richard Kennair, the creator of Anthems. He’s been in the industry for quite a long time, but he isn’t a quilter! Follow the jump for the interview…


EricTheQuilter: Today we have Richard Kennair with us, and we’re going to talk about the Anthems quilt show! Hello Richard! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Richard: Depends on which aspect you want to know … personal, professional, how I’m in the quilt industry … you need to be more specific.


ETQ: A short biography of you. Whatever ‘you’ you want to share with us.


Richard: Well, most people who know me know me as the crazy guy in the kilt at the quilt shows – but most don’t know how I got to be there.
I’ve been working with self-sufficiency and small business projects in Africa for almost 20 years, mostly in-country in Uganda. 8 or 9 years ago, we decided that the best way to help such groups was to focus on bringing their products to market. Mother and her quilty friends convinced us that the quilt industry, and a focus on supplies, was the best way to go. So we started doing the quilt show circuit. I’m actually not crafty – cross stitch is the limits of my skill – my focus is really on self sufficiency and human rights.


ETQ: So your mother got you on the quilt circuit?

Richard: More over her quilty friends … a couple of retired store owners and such who knew the industry and had the product knowledge to help us develop product lines and the contacts to get us in. While our product offerings have changed immensely with the trends – when we first started we were one of the largest importers of recycled paper beads … now we are one of the largest importers of fairly traded hand dyed Perle cotton and silk ribbon.


ETQ: That’s quite impressive. Are your main products now mostly ribbons?

Richard: Perle cotton … House of Embroidery from South Africa to be precise. Handwork is on a huuuuuge upswing in recent years, and is seeing industry cross-over – Stitches (the yarn shows) are heavily emphasizing this. We have a good presence across the spectrum of crafting shows.
I really do think that handwork type crafts, with their low buy-in, are not simply an industry trend, but will be the way to attract the younger demographic. They’re portable, you don’t have to buy a machine or devote a lot of space to them.


ETQ: That’s very true. I think the cost associated with sewing and sewing machines, keeps a lot of people out of it. As mentioned earlier, I really want to talk about Anthems. Can you break it down for me?


Richard: Last year, after Pulse, many of the LGBTQ were obviously shaken to the core. Many notable Quilters had people posting on their pages things like ‘I’m not homophobic, I’m a fan of yours, BUT’. It was obvious that people could not understand that, for the most part, we are LGBTQ Quilters – not quilters who happen to be LGBTQ. Many people did not understand that Pulse affected us in a multitude of ways – and exposed a level of homophobia in the Quilting Community we didn’t think was there.
I kept mulling over the idea of a special exhibit about what it means to be an LGBTQ quilter. I talked to a few show promoters about it last fall, and was met with a surprising amount of support.
Given that Quilts Inc gave us our first chance at doing shows – I decided that I wanted to give them first dibs on the special exhibit. While they were quite enthusiastic, we were trying to hash out details. It was Spring Market when the unmasking of the conservative hate group happened. Two weeks later, we had approval and it has really exploded.
I chose the title ‘Anthems’ because I want people to be inspired by their ‘Pride Anthem’ – the music that gave them hope. Many people don’t understand that for many LGBTQ individuals, the nightclub is the ‘Safe Space’ where we are allowed to be ourselves.
We want Anthems to be loaded with symbolism. For example many have asked why we’ve specified that quilts should be an equilateral triangle – unaware that the pink triangle is a symbol both of the persecution of gay males in the Holocaust, but was also one of the early Pride (Bronski Beats Album cover for ‘Age of Consent’) and protest (Silence = Death).


ETQ: The hate group you mentioned did target many LGBTQ quilters. When I posted the screenshots and put them on my website, the most overwhelming response was, “Can we not talk about it?”, or “Can we all just get back to quilting?”. I’m glad you’re doing the Anthems show, because, no we just can’t ignore the problem, and it sure as hell isn’t going away. Quilters are trying to minimize it. I think the Triangle is a great idea, because silence does equal death. What you allow to happen will continue to happen, and I for one do not want it to continue. Back to you, what’s the timeline for all of this?


Richard: The fact that people don’t want to talk about it emphasizes the fact that it is an issue that needs discussing.
But to timelines … we’re in the process of finalizing all the details – like websites and such … and are so close to launching the Call For Entries. We should be at full launch stage by the end of the weekend.
Even though the show won’t debut until The Quilts Inc show in Chicago in April, 2018, the nature of the exhibit means that Quilts Inc has retained right to pick and choose what quilts are in their show. That will take time. So the first deadline for submissions is the end of October.
At this point we have no idea how many submissions we will get. We’re preparing ourselves for getting a minimal number just for Quilts Inc, but we’re also developing a much larger marketing plan should we get enough submissions. It’s all so fluid st the moment.


ETQ: Since you’re not a quilter yourself, what made you pick doing a quilt show?


Richard: After close to a decade in the industry, we’ve developed a lot of close relationships – personal and professional – in the quilting industry. With everything that’s gone on over the past year – a quilt exhibit is logical. It provides the LGBTQ quilter to express themselves through their chosen art form.

ETQ: What would you like to gain from this show?


Richard: One of the things that came out of all the events of the past year is that there is a distinct section of the Quilting Community that finds the LGBTQ quilter acceptable if, and only if, they are silent. I’ve felt for the longest time that as long as we maintain a ‘ditzy artsy fag’ persona, we were deemed harmless and acceptable – but as soon as we showed intellect and opinions, we faced ostracism. I’m hoping that by doing Anthems – and showing the diversity of thought, through an approachable medium – that we can show the overall community that we are not only human with thoughts and feelings that need to be taken seriously. I have no illusions that we are going to convert he more extreme elements of the quilt community. But if Anthems makes people think about thing and come to a greater understanding – then we will have succeeded.


ETQ: Very well said! Personally, I am very excited to start work on my entry. I’m sure my readers are already tired of me blathering on, so we’ll wrap this up. Any last statements?


Richard: Just want to thank you for the opportunity to promote the Exhibit … and remind everyone that the formal launch will likely be on Monday, June 19.


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