In the fall of 1992, Maryland artist Sue Pierce had an inspiration. Seeking a compelling design challenge, she hit upon the idea of rendering a deck of playing cards into fiber art. The intrinsic familiarity of cards—from impassioned childhood games of "war" and "go fish" to congenial evenings of poker or solo forays into computer solitaire—made them an ideal subject for artistic interpretation. Pierce saw this potential, drew up guidelines, sent out invitations to professional art quilters and wound up organizing a project of national scope. "The idea just seemed to take on a life of its own," she says. "It became a grassroots effort with the goal of presenting some of the best work being done in the field."
In the end, 52 cards plus 2 jokers were dealt out to artists from Maine to California. The resulting 54 imaginative and refreshingly diverse quilted playing cards (18 inches by 28 inches) are now about to go on the road in an exhibition organized and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). "Full Deck Art Quilts," on view from March 17 through April 30 at the National Museum of AmericanArt's Renwick Gallery, vividly demonstrates the vigor and variety of contemporary American art quilting.
"Undoubtedly," says Pierce, "this collection will expand the perception of what a quilt is and what it can be."