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Published May 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

Stitching together a long-distance friendship: Women’s quilts on display

FARGO – You could say Vicki Kessler and Donna Kjonaas have held a decades-long, long-distance quilting bee.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

If you go

What: “Together We Quilt” public reception

When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, with artists’ talk

at 5:30

Where: Nichole’s Fine Pastry, 13 8th St. S., Fargo

Info: Display of collaborate, abstract fiber collages runs through May 12. (701) 232-6430

FARGO – You could say Vicki Kessler and Donna Kjonaas have held a decades-long, long-distance quilting bee.

The two women have collaborated on their fiber arts pieces since meeting in 1986 at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minn.

Kjonaas, a Minot, N.D., native, lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., and winters in Sanibel, Fla. Kessler is originally from Wisconsin, and moved to Fargo last year from Iowa when her husband, Kent Sandstrom, accepted a dean position at North Dakota State University.

At first Kessler and Kjonaas, both parish pastors, did liturgical art, creating new vestments and installations for worship environments, passing the pieces back and forth.

But about three years ago, as both shifted away from full-time parish ministry, Kessler and Kjonaas wanted to find new ways to integrate and express their creativity and spirituality in smaller formats.

“We wanted to take all that energy we had in our lives as ordained ministers, and how do you experience that in the world? How do you express these layers of relationships?” Kessler says.

The results are on display through May 12 at Nichole’s Fine Pastry in downtown Fargo. A public reception and artist talk will be held Thursday.

The contemporary fiber arts exhibit “Together We Quilt” includes pieces from their 2011 Heart Series. Though the women initially had a different idea for this series, Kjonaas began to create hearts out of the reclaimed materials they use. She later discovered her mother was having medical issues with her heart.

At the same time, Kessler’s husband was interviewing for the position at NDSU, an experience that Kessler says pulled their hearts in different directions. She wrote poems to accompany the heart pieces.

“The art was being created out of a deeper knowing than either of us knew,” Kessler says.

Also on display are the women’s “Handheld Altars,” fiber collages made from reclaimed, repurposed and renewed materials. Kessler and Kjonaas deconstructed linens, tea towels, clothing and other fabric pieces and created art using various techniques such as dying, stamping, painting, stitching and embellishing them with antique trims, ribbons and buttons.

Kessler says she and Kjonaas have felt a parallel to pioneer women, homesteaders separated from their families, who used old and common materials in their quilting and stitching.

“Historically, women were quite far apart, so they’d come together to do these domestic arts,” she says. “It was their time of socialization.”

In the same way, Kessler and Kjonaas created a connection by doing needlework together, even though they were apart.

“There’s a beauty to that connection … to centuries of women who have done this,” Kessler says.

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