DUNEDIN — These giant sunflowers grow where none have grown before — on the walls of the Dunedin Fine Art Center.
"Sunflower: New Quilts From an Old Favorite" is a sunny collection of the 18 winning quilts from a 2010 contest by the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky. Every year, the museum challenges quiltmakers to create dazzling new designs from traditional block patterns such as the sunflower.
The winning and finalist quilts come from all over the United States and Canada and are traveling for two years, appearing at venues across the country.
This is the first stop in Florida, and quilting fans will arrive by the busload to see what new sunflower seeds have been sewn. They won't be disappointed, predicted Catherine Bergmann, the art center's curator.
"As we unearthed these quilts," Bergmann said, "we were beside ourselves. These works are exciting, dimensional, richly textured. Every year it seems the surfaces are becoming more painterly and heavily embellished."
First place went to Claudia Clark Myers of Minnesota and Marilyn Badger of Utah for their piece called Gypsy Caravans, an eye-catching design that fuses sunflowers and the wheels of gypsy wagons.
Whether inspired by wagon wheels, Route 66, crows, art nouveau or the Navajo Indians, these stately summer flowers seem to enjoy basking in the glow of studio lighting, where their metallic threads and glassy beads glimmer.
A companion exhibition, "Portals," by Innovative Quilters, the art center's resident quilting guild, offers some imaginative insights into the human brain, religion, the Holocaust and much more. Some of these quilts will be for sale.
Sunflower quilts won't be sold. But guild members have donated two dozen miniquilts for a silent auction that will run during the quilt show, which ends Aug. 21. Proceeds from the auction (normally $2,000 to $3,000) benefit the art center's educational programs. Visitors may handle the quilts, provided they use plastic gloves that are provided.
These aren't your grandmother's bed linens. Nor were they created entirely with items she might use, like needles, thread and thimbles.
Today's quilters often employ graphic arts software and computerized sewing machines to create unusual designs and surface patterns. They may use torches, hammers, kilns and more to produce special embellishments. Yet, they still rely on time-honored techniques like French knotting, hand-dyeing and embroidery.
Contemporary quilts are not only being made by moms and grandmas, but fathers, too.
Midwesterner Judy Woodworth recruited her husband, Bill, a banker, to help. She quilts, he paints with fabric markers and paints mixed with aloe vera gel, so the color won't bleed.
Together they've created one of this year's finalists, called Graffiti, Sunflowers and Bricks. It's a piece inspired by giant sunflowers growing outside their brick home in Nebraska.
Their artistry is striking for the bold primary colors, cubist design and '70s look.
"It's my favorite," Bergmann said. "It's a vibrant work of pop art. It's just so to the moment."
Submit ideas for Diversions features to Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org Events must take place in North Pinellas.