Joan Zieger: Ladies of a Certain Mileage

Artist Biography

Mom guided me with a needle and thread at 18 months, and I began to sew. Fabric and fiber have been near me ever since. Childhood illnesses provided time and temperament to become proficient, resulting in several awards for technique. I progressed through the alphabet of all the needle arts of crocheting, cross-stitching, embroidery, hardanger, hemstitching and knitting until I reached quilting and stayed there. I considered myself a good technician.

Involvement with fiber remained a constant touchstone during a 30-year professional career in fundraising. Like a running conversation with one’s oldest and dearest friend, my ongoing relationship with fiber helped me through the era in which I was typically "the only woman" in the room, and the profession. Reconnecting and communing with fiber throughout those years helped nurture my identity and expand my understanding of womanhood. It provided a personal viewpoint from which I examined differences between the external and internal woman, in myself and in the women around me.

Not too long ago, at the point of my first official retirement from the nine to five office routine, a friend encouraged me to break out of my technician-following-a-set-pattern mold and create an art quilt—something original. The idea was intimidating, and thrilling. Mary Anhaltzer (who founded THIRTEEN MOONS GALLERY, the first American art quilt gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico), urged me to use the opportunity of my next quilt to copy something in fabric. I chose a life-size painting I owned and loved by Peg Miller of Spring Green, Wisconsin, "Lady with Six Fingers." I copied the body, and then became amazed as the work on the face and hair transformed her into my own creation.

Using only four fabrics kept things simple at first. I finished one Lady, and then realized I wanted to continue—trying to make Ladies in many other fabrics, colors, patterns. That prompted me to do a series, supported by Robin Treen, curator of the San Jose Museum of Quilts (the oldest quilt museum in the US). She said that some artists love to do "series", an accepted art form, which attracted me.

The artistic journey into the world of the Ladies had begun.

My teacher and mentor, Helen Klebesadel, of Madison, Wisconsin (an internationally exhibited watercolor artist), changed my perception of myself as an artist during her course, "The History of Women in Art," in the Women's Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She enabled me to realize through a feminist viewpoint in the post-modernist era that the work I was doing was truly art work. I didn’t believe her at first and it took the whole semester and much prompting from younger students before I could use the "A" word—artist, referring to myself. Today I use it comfortably and frequently.

I am deeply grateful to these magnificent four women who guided me at just the right moment with their tender and skillful support, thereby contributing enormously to my evolution as a visual artist—Vivian Spaltholz Zieger, Mary Kimball Anhaltzer, Peg Miller and Helen Klebesadel.

For more personal information, see About Joan: articles