Clark Island resident Jim Vander Noot creates unique award-winning art quilts that range from impressionistic to abstract imagery. Art quilting is a form of fiber art similar to painting a picture, but with fabric and thread instead of canvas and paint. This art form employs both modern and traditional quilting techniques and differs from “bed quilting,” which relies upon established patterns. Vander Noot is nationally known for imaginative fused applique quilts accented by dense quilting also known as threadpainting. It took many decades and a long career in computer programming before Vander Noot achieved a professional level in this art form.
Raised in Montclair, New Jersey, both of Vander Noot’s parents were art teachers. Family vacations were times when his parents would sketch all day as the young boy observed and even tried his hand at it. However, he had no patience for detailed work and was “turned off” to art altogether. It was fiber arts that had strong appeal for the youngster when he watched his mother sew fabrics and his grandmother knit. Trying his hand at knitting at age nine, Vander Noot fell in love with fiber arts and continued to explore them.
After high school, Vander Noot attended Bowdoin College, where he earned a dual-major degree in history and philosophy by 1974. While there, he enrolled in only one art course, which “was a kind of an eye opener for me,” he recalls. “I actually felt I could do it. I learned that art is more forgiving.” During his college years, he applied that lesson to creating his own designs for crochet, knitting, crosstitch, and needlepoint. He also took a course in computer programming and another in accounting. These three courses set him up for a future career as a computer programmer and a fiber artist.
Degree in hand, Vander Noot joined Norcross greeting card company in Westchester, Penn., where his father was employed. Initially, he was in charge of ordering and the distribution of art supplies, but soon transitioned into computer programming for the company. After six years at Norcross, Vander Noot moved to Texas, working in telecommunications for Tenneco where he developed the standard for internet commerce. It was there that he met his wife, Terry. By 1997 another opportunity arose, so he and Terry moved to New York where Vander Noot worked for the Campbell Soup Company as a telecommunications programmer and then as manager of the company’s global data network. Retirement arrived in 2013 as Vander Noot made the decision to care for his aging parents in Pennsylvania. So, the couple moved to be near his parents in Pennsylvania. However, they often vacationed in Maine and by 2007, the couple had purchased a second home in Clark Island, where they now spend most of their time.
During his years in telecommunications, Vander Noot found balance between his job and making fiber arts. Early on, when he was working at Norcross in the 1970s, he came across a quilting journal. “I was just mesmerized by the geometric patterns and colors,” he remembers. But it wasn’t until 1989 that he took his first quilting class, which was led by Karey Bresenhan at a quilt shop in Houston, Texas. Vander Noot gained expertise in quilting as he continued to take quilting classes over many years. “Taking classes has energized me so much,” he reflects.
Although he’s familiar with basic composition and color principles in fine art, Vander Noot is trained “mostly through osmosis,” as he puts it. Over time, he learned the importance of value over color in quilting designs. “With quilts, because you’re using fabric and thread, it’s difficult to know how much detail comes from the fabric and how much from the thread during quilting,” he explains. “I fell in love with thread painting when I first saw free-motion embroidery a few years ago.” This type of machine embroidery is highly complex and utilizes a range of thread colors and intricate patterns to exaggerate the pictorial effect. The process is very time consuming, and Vander Noot finds satisfaction in that. “I enjoy doing it for the meditative value and also the complexity of motion you can create.”
Vander Noot explains his process as a number of steps beginning with an original design that he creates. After selecting the appropriate fabrics for that design, which he often dyes, paints and textures himself, he cuts the correct shapes and fuses them to an interface fabric following his pattern. Although his basic design is established first, Vander Noot allows his intuition to build the design as it matures. Once all the fabrics are fused, thread painting begins, using a long-arm stitching machine. Batting, backing and edging complete the work of art.
As a member of the Maine Quilters Guild and the Coastal Quilters Guild, Vander Noot has plenty of opportunity to meet other art quilters. “So much comes from bouncing ideas of each other and seeing those lightbulb moments,” he remarks. He finds additional inspiration when he annually attends the Quilt Guy Quilt Camp in Vermont where fewer than twenty men gather to quilt together for four or five days.
Included in many exhibitions throughout the United States, Vander Noot’s quilts have won top awards and have appeared in numerous publications. In addition to making art quilts, the artist teaches workshops in the area. You may learn more about his activities and beautiful quilts at www.jimvandernoot.com. —Katharine Cartwright