Pizzazz Studios - Denise M Cawley

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Denise M. Cawley
Artist Statement and Biographical Sketch
Me posing with 'Birds of Paradise Remembrance' before the Gee's Bend Quilt event

Quilts have brought people together for centuries. They can invoke communication, bring warmth and bind history. While few quilt out of necessity anymore, the influences of quilts and their powerful messages continue to be seen in contemporary times. I dye fabric, embroider and quilt my pieces because the medium provides me with many layers of fiber to create my images within. While my quilts are not traditional, I connect to quilting because of its pedestrian qualities. Almost everyone has some story they can tell about a quilt they slept under, created, or loved.

My quilts reflect my own history. I have carefully examined irises since I was a child. I delight in the delicate spaces, color changes and velvety petals. I have a friend who tends her farm, grows gorgeous vegetables, freely speaks her mind, makes outsider art, and raises champion irises. When I look at these irises I think of her life and how I can try to emulate it. I now grow over 40 kinds of irises and am able to delight in the organic spaces, irregular shapes and outrageous colors. By quilting images of flowers in my garden I can delve into the delicious textures, and keep them top of mind, year round.

Example of my booth at a local art fair

I often make quilts about food. My ancestors were Italian and Irish. I once lived in Bay Ridge Brooklyn—an Italian/Irish neighborhood in New York. With this upbringing, I enjoy cooking up delicious conversation while tomato sauce simmers in the background. My love of food and cooking has led me to learning more and more about the politics of farming and raising produce. My quilts are my way of honoring where I come from and how our food is grown, and the beauty of the earth.

Through my studies at Parsons School of Design in New York, NY and at Alverno College in Milwaukee, WI I have developed strong skills in art and design. While I have worked with fiber arts including papermaking, bookmaking, fabric dyeing and batik for more than ten years, I didn't develop my interest in quilting until more recently. In 1997 I worked with Nancy Crow's collection of Improvisational Quilts. These vibrant contemporary quilts changed my life and I learned to sew, integrating my love of color and layered fiber art into original quilt designs. The quilts I exhibit regionally use my hand-dyed fabrics, free motion embroidery and appliquì techniques to create pieces that people often refer to as three-dimensional quilted paintings.

I own Pizzazz Studios, a company dedicated to teaching others to be creative and helping the world learn to quilt. I live in West Milwaukee, Wisconsin with my partner and our two fuzzy dogs.