Beginning Steps to Formulate and Promote the Certified Judges Program
By NACQJ CJ Shirley Bertolino
The time was ripe. There was a conﬂuence of realization and determination in the 196O’s that the judging of textiles in competitions should be by objective criteria. For too long, judges, relying on personal experience and preferences, had been prone to subjective selection of prizewinners. There was growing concern that the crafting and art of textile work was becoming stagnant. Delores Hinson, one of the seven Founders of the National Quilting Association, included this in a letter to me August,1999. In the 1960's, doing research for one of her books - “One of the things that interested me in the quilt histories were the displays of quilts at county and state fairs. I went to the Prince George's County Fair and there was not the sign of a quilt. I visited the Maryland State Fair and there were three quilts. I asked an attendant why there were only three quilts and she said the three quilters had been trading 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes amongst themselves for years and that other quilters had stopped trying. I asked friends about fairs in their areas and the answers were the same. It was in thinking about this that the idea came for the N.Q.A. and the yearly shows where women could compare their quilts with others. If they did not win a ribbon this year, they had a chance for another year."
Mrs. Hinson continues “l insisted that the prizes be ribbons so pride would guide the stitches rather than greed, which leads to cheating." These are strong words, but proved to be one of her main motivations for talking over her idea with Penny Rigdon. A 1969 meeting was called in Delores Hinson’s living room where Delores, Penny, and five other women, enthused about quilting and saving quilt history, gathered to organize a group to include other area women with similar interests. They settled on the name National Quilting Association for this was in the greater Washington, D.C. area of Maryland and Virginia.
The ﬁrst Show was held in September 1970 where they anticipated about 30 quilts to hang in the donated city library meeting room. Three hundred quilts were entered and the judging story begins. Delores Hinson continues: “I had two other ideas that were followed. Three judges were asked so any likes and dislikes of the individual judges would cancel each other out and the best work in each category could be picked. At that time judging was considered an honor, not a career. We picked people in trained fields pertaining to fabric construction, fiber history, and fiber arts." Doris Bowman of the Smithsonian Institution Fiber Arts section came to judge for the first six shows held in the Greenbelt, Maryland locations. She had gained recognition through the Good Housekeeping Quilt Exhibit and also through a working relationship with NQA Founding Member, Rae Koch, a National Park history interpreter.
Meanwhile, in New York State, Ruth Culver and the members of her Wiltwyck Quilters Guild were producing Ulster County Quilt Expositions in the mid-1970s. Ruth wrote in the forward to her book, How to Hold a Quilt Show, (self-published in 1984) that “We decided in order to improve and upgrade the quality of quilting this would be a judged show. We developed the criteria for this, which is now used in other areas as well." The book‘s chapter on “The Judged Show” emphasized education with positive critiques and judging arena procedures still used in 2009. “Pat Morris was generous with advice and served as one of the judges for several years." Also in the confluence was Mary Sheppard Burton, an artisan in rug hooking who recognized a need for objective judging and self-published Judging by Merit - Definitive Guidelines for Fairs, Shows, Judges, and Entrants in 1977. She gleaned and distilled information from universities, colleges, state fairs, and guilds. Mrs. Burton led five judging workshops for the University of Maryland in April of that year to reﬁne her lectures. Chapter 1 begins “For many years the judging of hooked work has been accomplished through a “by guess and by gosh" method! While effort has been made to ﬁnd competent judges, all too often a person accepted the job of judging to keep the show going. Standards of judging have not been creative from an aesthetic point of view”.
Mary Burton's text continues with these excerpts. “Personal preferences riddle almost every state standard." “Written critiques are almost nonexistent." “Few states have placed any learning value or any educational aspect in the judging of needle arts and its presentation to the public.” “No one could really do a competent job of judging unless the judge knew intimately the skills required of this art/craft because the work is so highly developed, involving knowledge, and skills in many areas." Her dialogue at this mid-1970's time wanted to “remove the taint of judgments made on personal preferences." She stressed that “one well-qualiﬁed judge trained in judging by merit is worth more than three of the “by guess and by gosh” variety.” The content of her book stresses judging from a solid education in the use of color and durability of the finished item by careful craftsmanship.
Nina Lipton held a Judging Workshop at the Finger Lakes Bicentennial Quilt Exhibit in Ithaca, New York during the summer of 1976. Bonnie Leman attended that workshop and printed a questionnaire in her November 1976 issue of Quilters Newsletter to call for opinions from readers about judging. Mrs. Leman followed up with an article in the February 1977 issue of Quilters Newsletter (pages 20, 21, 28) titled “Standards for Judging Quilts in Competitions" which was a compilation of 200 responses from a cross-section of the quilting community. The emphasis was on developing a more universal agreement of what criteria should be with the formulation of a comprehensive score card covering General Appearance, Design and Use of Color, Suitability of Materials, Workmanship, Quilting, Finishing Edges, and Backing.
Jeannie Spears attended an early (before 1980) quilt conference in Lincoln, Nebraska that
discussed judging. Jeannie had experience judging the Minnesota State Fair for several years which intensiﬁed her interest. She responded to Bonnie Leman’s 1976 judging survey by writing, “Any reasonable use of fabric or technique should be allowed if it enhances the overall design including texture contrasts or machine quilting. I think the major emphasis in quilt design should be uniqueness, including elements which allow the makers personality to come through.” This forward thinker was calling for well educated, objective, free of bias, judges.
The experiences gained during the judging process for the first several NQA Shows helped bring a coherent aspiration to address adjudication methods. They brought in well qualified fiber arts/craftswomen to serve as judges: Doris Bowman from the Smithsonian, Catherine Eshleman, Mary Ghormley from Nebraska (who paid all her own expenses as did all the others), Fay Goldey, Thelma Barr, and Pat Morris, all using the numerical system. Thelma writes, “It seemed chaotic sometimes. The entries were heavy at the 1976 Show. Fay Goldey and I were assigned to judge pillows, placemats, aprons, potholders, clothing, etc. We rated high, the judges of the main items low, so Fay and I were told to "back off’ with the admonition “We can’t have a pillow become Best of Show."
The judging of the Annual Quilt Shows and the need for the National Quilting Association to start training and certifying judges blended together during this late-1970's decade. Thelma Barr gives a great deal of credit to Catherine Eshleman, "The Mother of the NQA Judge's Program", for continuously advocating the elimination system of judging. Thelma Barr still has the original letter from Fay Goldey inviting her and her husband, Ed (a vital member of the early Board and Shows) to come to the first NQA Judging Workshop on Saturday, May 27, 1978, 10 AM at the Nature Center, Rockville, Maryland. Others attending were Pat Morris, Catherine Eshleman, Gladys Dill, and Fay Goldey. They formed an ad hoc committee with Pat Morris and Catherine Eshleman, the “backbone", due to their more extensive needlework judging experiences.
Thelma Barr (with a big asset of a thorough background in dressmaking) became a protégé and friend of Catherine’s “who was a very good judge". They traveled around Virginia judging and enrolling new members for NQA. The ad hoc committee and Board set up workshops at several venues including the Annual Shows, one at the AQS Show, and at the NQA Educational Seminar at Cedar Lakes, Ripley, West Virginia. Carter Houck of Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts and Bonnie Leman of Quilters Newsletter published news about NQA to inform their readers and promote the judging workshops and certiﬁcation, as did the Patchwork Patter (precursor of The Quilters Quarterly) and word of mouth. To kick-off the certification process, the committee tested each other with submission of resumes, oral questions, and mock judging exercises.
Several current Certiﬁed Judges responded with memories of that period in their own quilting careers. Holice Turnbow writes of two experiences he had judging at a regular show in Pittsburgh and curating a quilt exhibit before Certification. He remembers as an early entrant in quilt competitions the comments related more to the personal opinion of the judge and not construction. He was not on the ad hoc committee, but did review drafts of suggestions. He wants to include Alice Hersom as another very inﬂuential certiﬁcation promoter. Holice’s certificate is dated August 1, 1979 as is Fay M. Goldey’s, the first one certiﬁed, while he and Thelma Barr were the 2nd and 3rd ones that day. The ﬁrst judging class he is aware of was at the NQA Show in Sanford, Florida where Zepora Hughes organized Professional Development Day and he conducted a workshop related to judging.
Zepora Hughes recalls becoming certiﬁed around 1983. Helen Thompson and Katy Christopherson tested at the same time. She received a hug from Gladys Dill who said, “You passed! Now you can take it across the mountains." This led to her starting the seminar atCedar Lakes, W. Va. that continues to the present in early October. Pat Morris and Kay Lukasko taught at her seminars. One year they held a panel for the CJ candidates at the end of the week. Later a new head of the Certiﬁed Judges Program was appointed and refused to allow testing at any place other than the Annual NQA Shows.
“Pat Morris was our expert on everything and we all loved her. She traveled everywhere with her companions, first Kay Lukasko and then Jeannette Muir. Ruth Culver says that Pat Morris wanted to be sure judges knew about quilts “not just crafts." She remembers judging the NQA Show in Bell Buckle, Tennessee where Pat and Katy were talking about a testing program being developed to be sure the judges were knowledgeable. Ruth recalls her own examination process “very specifically as at that time the organization was very loosely run. They lost my paperwork not once, but THREE times.” She found using the elimination system the most fair and efﬁcient method of selecting the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbon winners, so began turning down judging at competitions where sponsors used score cards.
Later in the 1980’s, Katy Christopherson was in charge of the Certification Program, so she asked Pat, John Rust, and Bonnie McCoy to put a Short Course together. Bonnie had to bow out due to other priorities and that is how Katy stepped in to teach and further develop the Course. Two of the “hands on lessons” of the Course were advantages of the elimination method and how to format helpful positive critique statements. The students met for an introductory evening, three full days, and a 5th day forenoon to take the written class examination. ln time, the faculty sent the examination home with the students to complete and mail back which eliminated the room rent expense of this extra forenoon.
Irene McLaren enrolled in the Judges Certification Program in 1983 and was certified in 1985. Then for additional experience she signed up for the intensive multi-day Judges’ Short Course the first time it was offered in Greenbelt, Maryland in March of 1987 with Katy Christopherson, Pat Morris, and John Rust instructing. In June of that same year, a class at the Annual Show in Easton, Pennsylvania, was offered to judges who might want to teach the Short Course. Kay Lukasko and Irene were then approved to become part of the faculty after this special training. Kay Lukasko aided during the judging phase at many NQA Shows and became an active instructor for the Short Course. She adds that Helen Fetzer and Ruth Culver gave much support to Pat Morris when setting up the Certiﬁcation process.
Jeannette Muir states that her association with Pat Morris and Katy Christopherson got her interested in quilting. Teaching and judging seemed to be the obvious next step. She learned by observation, followed by extensive involvement as an aide, scribe, clerk, verifier, and as a judge. Pat and Katy were extremely generous with their knowledge and encouragement. They took Jeannette along on road trips, sometimes two weeks at a time. They were excited when Meredith Schroeder and her daughter, Lynn, came to an NQA Show to discuss the judging process while making plans to start the American Quilters Society Show. Milly Splitstone had judged 800 to 1000 quilts in the 5 years before she became certified by Pat Morris, Jeanette Muir, and Helen Thompson who sat on her panel. NQA stressed that thejudging class not be called training, “because they didn't want people to say “According to NQA…”. In the 1970's, the National Quilting Association members got caught up in the active streams of enthusiasm regarding a better understanding of the criteria needed to judge quilt competitions objectively, with unilateral fairness and consummate integrity. This organization continues to maintain high standards of quilt show production and involvement of volunteers nationwide. Delores Hinson remained an interested member up until her death in 2002 and was pleased that the Annual Show competition committee hires three well qualiﬁed judges, gives ribbons instead of monetary premiums, and opens the event to all quilters whether members or not. This textile art has come a long way since that time 40 years ago when there were worries of stagnation.
Permission to use copyrighted material received from Mary Sheppard Burton, Ruth Culver and Jeannie Spears. Contributors to the article with information in personal letters to this author - Delores Hinson, Penny Rigdon, Thelma Barr, Holice Turnbow, Zepora Hughes, Ruth Culver, Katy Christopherson, Kay Lukasko, Jeannette Muir, and Milly Splitstone.
Written to help celebrate the founding of the Certiﬁed Judging Program.
Shirley A. Bertolino NQACJ, Ventura, California