Studio Visit: Deborah Fell, 55, of Urbana

Studio Visit: Deborah Fell, 55, of Urbana

Q: How did you get the art commission for the "Extreme Makeover" house in Philo?

A: The Urbana Business Association contacted me last week and said they gave my name to the show as 'an extreme quilter.' My name was then given to someone else and then another person. Last Thursday the design producer contacted me about doing some art for the show.

Q: Did you make a new piece for the house? How large was it? Describe it to us.

A: The process of what exactly I would be doing was an evolution. Initially someone asked me to make a pillow. I assured them that not only do I not do that, I don't even know how. I clarified that I was an artist whose medium was quilt making. Then the conversation was the possibility of me doing a piece for the show. It evolved into me donating one of my art pieces. Then a few days ago, I met with the design producer on the set. The interest in my art involvement shifted from creating or donating to 'doing (host) Ty's (Pennington) special art piece.'

The art piece was very important to Ty. He wanted to communicate the fabric of the Montgomery's lives and did this extremely well in his design concept. Overall, the piece is a 5-foot by 5-foot collaged composition which includes black-and-white photos of Salt & Light recipients, color photos of the family, labels from cans from Salt & Light Food Pantry, and cut-up clothing from Salt & Light clothing donations. Only a few things.

Q: Did you work with Ty Pennington on the piece and how?

A: Yes, I collaborated with Mr. Pennington on the design and methodology. The concept for the design was his and with the help of my husband, Andrew Fell, I executed the design to make it a reality. The collaboration included an exchange of ideas and thoughts. Mr. Pennington was very insightful, supportive and encouraging.

Q: Were you commissioned to make only one piece for the house?

A: When I left the site on Tuesday, I wasn't sure if one of my own art quilts was going to be added. There were many last-minute changes and additions.

Q: You were at the Montgomery house when they moved in on Tuesday, weren't you? Can you describe the excitement there for us?

A: Yes, I was there for the afternoon leading up to the Montgomerys moving in as well as when the bus moved. The excitement was electric. Shakespeare was right: 'The more I give, the more I have for both are infinite.'

Q: How did you get started making quilt art?

A: Many years ago my husband and I lived in New Hampshire on Golden Pond. It was the first time in my life I did not work full time and was a full time mom at home with a toddler, my son Ian. I had always wanted to have a quilt to pass on to my children and realized the only way I would ever get one was to make one myself. I took 13 quilting classes from seasoned experts in traditional quilting and made 21 large quilts by hand. A few years later a loved one died in a car accident and I did not know how to navigate through that so I made a 'quilt,' but it did not look like any other quilts I had ever done. It was a giant star swirling over a dark surface. I had never heard of an art quilt. A year later I was studying this medium at the national level.

Q: Are you still teaching at Urbana High School?

A: I am starting my 30th year at UHS. I retire officially in 2011.

Q: Do you plan any exhibitions of your art in the near future in this area?

A: I just sent a recent Obama quilt titled 'And Then There Was Hope' to a publisher. It will be a part of a book on Obama art and travel around the world for several years. Another piece 'Witness Trees' (a response to a visit a month ago at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp where Anne Frank died) will hopefully be heading to a national traveling exhibit sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (I did try to talk Ty into doing a show in Hawaii and inviting us in for another design collaboration!!!)

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