Artist's quilt breaks all the rules

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By Vicky Gits

 Raised on a farm in Iowa and allowed to wander in the fields and woods on his own as a child, Carmon Slater developed an intense relationship with nature that is on display in his art, his living space and his quilts.

One of his most unusual quilts is the strangest among a collection of unusual quilts in the new juried show that opened Feb. 3, "Male Call: Quilts Made by Men," at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden.

Slater's showpiece, "Spring Comes to the Prairie," explodes through the two-dimensional barrier that defines typical quilts and paintings. The artist created a floor-to-ceiling, vertical tower of quilted panels, using fabric he screen-printed, sewed, pieced together and trimmed with piping.

The twig shapes represent trees, and the bottom panels are found fabric of prairie grasses in the snow. The forms are made of cotton squares cut into triangles.

"I was intrigued by the role of triangles and the negative spaces they can create, and they tessellated nicely into a circular format," Slater said.

The panels are folded and attached to one another with 450 buttons and buttonholes — not something you see on an everyday quilt. All of the buttons were inherited from a friend, and each is different.


His home is a work of art

In the old days, Slater was a self-described "purist" who hand-quilted everything he touched. Then he realized that famous quilt artists in national shows were using machines to do the repetitive work, and “handmade” took on a new meaning.

A former public-school teacher with a Ph.D. in paleontology, Slater lives off Stagecoach Boulevard in west Evergreen in a rambling, contemporary house wedged into the side of a mountain.

Monumental rock outcroppings tower over the abode. The deck has a view of Mount Evans and Rosalie Peak to the west. Defying the altitude, climate and common sense in the center is a large, steamy "conservatory," full of tropical plants and rock walls. A plastic compost barrel is tucked into a corner. He bought the land in 1988 and designed the house himself.

Slater doesn't hold with the maxim that people are either left- or right-brained.

"Creativity comes from both parts of the brain," he says. When he was in college, he wanted to be a doctor, a professional singer and a scientist.

He uses this Pearl S. Buck quote in his studio website bio: "The artist and the scientist have much in common. They are profoundly interdependent. They share the creative mind, the irresistible undying need to explore and to know …"

He refuses to define himself as a fabric or quilt artist, painter, interior designer or crafter, all of which he does. Each piece of his artistic self seems to infuse the others with inspiration.

For instance, half-finished on his painting easel is a square that is made of pieces of painted canvas, stitched together like a quilt. Is it a quilt or is it a painting?

Hanging over the stairs is a painting done on a flat piece of canvas, like a rug. Is it a blanket or a wall hanging? Thrown on the piano bench is a quilt made entirely of scrap fleece pieces.

In the studio, a prominent piece of furniture is a lounge covered with fabric that Slater screen-painted and splatter-painted. In the dining room are sheer white curtains with screen-printed prehistoric shapes resembling petroglyphs, illuminated from behind by sunlight.

The closet next to the dining room contains a collection of seasonal handmade quilted tablecloths. One piece has a Valentine's Day motif on one side and an Easter theme on the other.


Into his gourds

Slater also likes to paint elaborate designs on large gourds, which look like giant painted Easter eggs and can be used as birdhouses. There are also framed assemblages made with recycled objects he found while walking.

At the moment he is modestly obsessed with covering dining-room chairs, including the legs, arms, seats and backs, entirely in an aqua print, which makes them look upholstered.

Plant forms, cellular biology, playfulness, simplicity and lots of color are characteristic of this multi-talented artist's work.

He learned quilting and sewing from his mother and grandmother growing up on a farm in Sigourney, Iowa. An only child, he was treated more like a grownup and was encouraged to pursue a multitude of interests, Slater said. His parents raised organic crops and worked extremely hard. "It was a struggle," Slater said. For a few years he rode a horse both ways to attend a rural school.

He became heavily involved in the sciences in college at the University of Iowa at Iowa City. In the '70s he was a project coordinator for an early environmental education project that involved a tractor-trailer converted into a classroom. For years he taught education and art, mostly in the public schools. His favorite assignment was working as a fifth-grade classroom teacher. He also worked as a medical editor and writer for the University of Iowa College of Medicine.

His resume includes a long list of leadership positions in the art world, including Iowa Arts Council, 1988 to 1993; trustee emeritus, American Crafts Council, New York; and president, Iowa Designer Craft Association, 1995-1997.

He bought the property in Evergreen in about 1988 and then three years later returned to live in the mountains full-time, with his partner of 40 years, Donald Randall, a retired USDA veterinarian.

He discovered Evergreen when a Realtor in Iowa recommended a Realtor in Evergreen.

"After days of house hunting in the city, we drove around Evergreen and found it so refreshing and relaxing that we ended up buying a home here," Slater said.

Samples of Slater's works can be seen on his website, www.windsreach.com.


Contact Vicky Gits at vicky@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.



Male Call: Quilts by Men

Jan. 30 through April 28

At the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, 1213 Washington Ave. in Golden.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Meet the artist event: April 6, 5 to 8:30 p.m.


The Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum started showing men's quilts in 1992, when one only had to be a man to be accepted in the show. After 20 years, the show contains a wide variety of cutting-edge artwork from famous names in the quilt world. In addition to Carmon Slater's sculptural work, the show includes computer-generated trompe l'oeil work by Dan Olfe and a piece by an artist who is known as a leading expert on Civil War soldiers' quilts.