Retirement, a moment of discovery and an ever-expanding appreciation for the place she’s lived for the past 20 years helped Joanne Baeth, who lives outside of Bonanza, become an internationally-known art quilter.
“Exploring fibers arts and nature have taken me on a journey that has allowed me to create artwork from fabric and thread,” Baeth said of her passion for creating a variety of artistically creative and diverse quilts. “It is a journey that has been a wonderful learning experience and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”
Quilts are typically used as bed coverings or, less often, displayed by hanging on walls. Baeth’s quilts are functional and more — works of imagination using often vivid colors and patterns that feature landscapes, birds, animals and her surroundings.
“I am fortunate to live in a rural area in southeastern Oregon with wetlands, refuges, forests, and lakes nearby,” says Baeth, 74, who lives 10 miles outside of Bonanza. From her sunroom, she and her husband, Darryl, a retired teacher, can sit, drink coffee and, depending on the season, watch migrating Canada geese, raccoons or sandhill cranes.
Baeth’s grandmother taught her quilting when she was just a girl. As an art major in college, she thought she’d become an art teacher. Instead, she made her career in special education in Nevada, Tulelake and for the Klamath Falls and Klamath County school districts.
When she retired, she needed something to do.
“I became inspired by the wildlife and nature surrounding me and started taking photographs and drawing birds, animals and landscapes,” she said. “I also had the opportunity to see several art quilts at a show and immediately knew that I wanted to combine my love of the outdoors, drawing, photography and quilting … I had an aha moment.”
All quilting is complex, detailed and time consuming. But, as Baeth learned, the processes involved in the craft allow her to use techniques like raw edge applique, paint and dye fabrics, thread paint and machine work.
“I love creating birds one feather at a time and try to reflect colors that are present in natural settings,” she said.
A single bird may require up to 200 pieces of carefully jig-sawed pieces of tiny fabric to create the richly-textured look she desires.
“My goal is to create art quilts that resemble oil or watercolor paintings,” she said. “Using dyes, inks, paints, threads, and different fabrics and fibers to achieve this goal is an artistic challenge that I enjoy.”
It’s something others enjoy, too. Since entering her first quilt show in 2006, Baeth has won more than 100 awards at national and international quilt shows. Closer to home, three of her quilts were recently featured at the Tater Patch Quilts in Merrill.
One of her quilts, “Majestic Flight,” was purchased by the American Quilt Society and is on permanent display at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.
“That’s quite an honor,” she said.
Inspiration and appreciation
Baeth said there are endless possibilities for good quilt designs. Her eye and her inspiration tent to come from the scenery around her.
“I’m very affected by the landscape,” she said.
She focuses mostly on the Klamath Basin, though some of work features Eastern Oregon and Oregon coast surroundings. Along with traveling and hiking throughout Oregon, she and family routinely spend two months camping near Winchester Bay.
Whenever and wherever she finds herself, Baeth said she is “constantly looking around for inspiration.”
That never-satiated quest has taken her to Pendleton, where she sometimes sits to watch and photograph birds and animals in a wildlife rehabilitation center or, more often, enlist grandchildren to assist. That helps her reproduce them correctly in her quilts.
“Birds become used to people and cars in campgrounds, picnic areas and boat launches,” she said. “My grandkids will take pictures from the passenger side of the car as I drive slowly by.”
Baeth enjoys all aspects of quilting, a pastime that’s been especially appreciated during the travel and social limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s just good for my soul,” she said. “I’m always thinking about what I might want to do next. I think it enables me to see details I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen, things like shadows and light.”
She is currently completing two art quilts. One, 62- by 42-inch “Midnight Flight,” features a great horned owl that had been roosting in the family’s willow trees against a background of a painted sky, melting snow, old buildings and running rabbit.
Another, “A Time to Dance,” is a 47- by 47-inch bright quilt. It was inspired by watching flocks of migrating sandhill cranes feeding on the grain fields behind her home and the ongoing pandemic. The quilt features three sandhill cranes dancing outside circles of flames, which reflects, Baeth’s “hope for the future when we have conquered this disease.”
She sees no end to topics and methods in creating future work.
“I have plans for the next four of five quilts,” she said. “It’s very relaxing for me. It’s a real wonderful art form. There’s always something new I can do.”