Western North Carolina Woman

red peppers
28" x 27"
mixed-media quilt

three dragonflies
28" x 27"
mixed-media quilt




Bernie Rowell was always cutting and gluing and pasting and putting things together as a child.

Bernie Rowell was fortunate to have a nurturing, positive mother who believed Bernie could do anything she wanted, and helped her figure out ways to do just that.

Bernie—a graceful, spritelike woman in her mid-fifties—is nationally known for her contemporary art quilts. She lives in Candler, NC and is a long-standing member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Bernie creates incredible layered tapestries that grace homes, galleries, and corporations across the U.S. Each work of art includes a piece of her creativity and positive energy.

Perhaps her most deeply personal art quilt series came to life as a gift. The first creation in this series, called Shields for Women Warriors, honored a friend, a woman artist who battled breast cancer and won. But the battle took its toll—first one breast, then the other, over a year-long experience that her friend shared in some detail. “When she got out of the hospital, I just felt I wanted to do something for her, so I made her a small shield to honor her courage and bravery and help protect her,” said Bernie. [right: the enemy within: 53" x 23" mixed-media quilt]

That gift to a friend sparked a whole new art series, and in 1997 she created a large quilt called “For the Tribe of One-Breasted Women,” a 60” x 37”mixed-media art quilt accepted by Quilt National, a biennial international juried exhibition of contemporary innovative quilts. The quilt traveled with the show for two years and the response from women all over the country was tremendous.

“I prefer to deal with issues using humor—it takes a lot less energy than anger.”

Encouraged by this warm response, Bernie continued making Shield quilts. The quilts took on a broader meaning as Bernie dealt with her own need for protection…struggling with her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and her own menopause with its hot flashes and mood swings.

“As I faced my own life challenges, I realized we need protection from so many things, so I began to create more shields, broadening their protective capabilities. It’s an idea that evolves from my own life and I also realized I could have fun with them,” she explained.
Bernie created a few mixed-media quilts using antique fans, calling them her hot flash fans. “I prefer to deal with issues using humor, it takes a lot less energy than anger.”

Bernie’s method for creating mixed-media art quilts is time consuming and a labor of love. Using a painted canvas as her base, she cuts up the canvas and assembles the piece parts on her sewing machine. She takes the pieces and creates collages using lots of embellishment, including buttons, beads, fringe, and shiny vinyl. The quilts range in size from 16” x 24” to 40” x 60”.

“I put a lot of positive energy into these creations and when people collect my work they receive that energy and the art work’s protective qualities,” she noted.

Bernie’s series Shields for Women Warriors continues to blossom. She considers these art works medals of honor. They celebrate the courage of women with the inner strength to fight cancer, AIDS, poisoned environments and poisoned relationships. “These are friendly shields that offer psychological protection from my own and your personal bogeyman. Their positive energy is just what I need these days.”

As Bernie’s life evolves, so does her art, but her creations still include elements of protection and healing. Her recent landscape and garden quilts celebrate the WNC mountains in all seasons. She is currently working on a series of shields for the earth. A computer scrap quilt series incorporates recycled computer parts, saving these scraps from dumpsters and landfills.

Bernie’s work is on display locally at the Folk Art Center, Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, at her studio in Candler and on her website bernierowell.com Her next exhibition will be next February-March at Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville.

Read more about Bernie on the Web:

from Blue Spiral (also Sticks and Stones)

from The Art of Leadership

from Carolina Arts

Schedule of Showings 2002-2003

"Quilts from the Carolinas"
Mint Museum of Craft + Design
Charlotte, NC
April 25-September 8, 2002

Southern Highlands Guild Fairs
Asheville, NC
Summer: July 18-21, 2002
Fall: October 17-20, 2002
Ulrika Leander
Contemporary Tapestry Studio + Gallery
Royal Oak, Maryland (east shore)
September 13-November 30, 2002

Blue Spiral 1 Fiber Invitational
Asheville, NC
February 28-April 19, 2003

HGTV- Cable Television Interview
Air Date TBA

Melissa Stanz, MA, is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications professional in Asheville, NC. She creates communications plans, and writes copy for newsletters, web sites, ads, press releases, brochures, and feature articles for regional and national clients. When she's not writing, she loves to be outside walking with her husband and chocolate lab, or riding her horse in these magical mountains. Contact her at melissastanz@bellsouth.net.

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