There's nothing soft about
Pat Kumicich's thought-provoking quilts

by Janina Birtolo

Pat Kumicich uses a soft art to explore hard issues. While most people think of quilts as pretty, homey bedcovers, she chooses to use the medium as a means to work out her feelings, much as a writer might employ a journal.

Consider the quilt she calls “Listen to Your Conscience,” one of her self-portrait pieces. To one side is the half-face of a woman. But the centerpiece, the focal point that grabs the eye, is a soft, white, organza “ghost” whispering in the woman’s ear. Through the ghostly figure and behind her are silk-screened words naming some of those hard issues: domestic violence, global warming, poverty, and hunger.

“Putting a Face on the Homeless” is equally hard-hitting. In the background are pictures Kumicich took during a visit to St. Matthew’s House, a Naples shelter for the homeless. She then silk-screened the photos onto fabric. In the foreground is an appliqué figure of a man sitting, arms around his knees. But where his head should be, Kumicich sewed a round piece of reflective acrylic. The idea, she says, was to remind viewers of the thin line of fate that often separates “the haves” from “the have-nots.”

“I realized I can make anything I want,” Kumicich explains. “It’s for me, just my own feelings. But I don’t want to tell people what to think. You can read into [my quilts] whatever you want.”

Naples-based Kumicich began quilting in 1994. Her daughter had just finished making a quilt and thought her mother would enjoy the process. Kumicich started with patterns developed by others but soon found the need to stretch and come up with her own designs.

“I don’t follow directions very well,” the self-taught artist says with a smile. “And I wanted to do my own.”

That independent spirit is easy to see while looking at the various art forms Kumicich has pursued over the years. For example, a small chest of drawers in her living room, decorated with a happy, mischievous polymer clown face, exemplifies her playful side.

On a nearby dress form, a one-of-a-kind bustier she made for the tenth-anniversary exhibit at Naples’s von Liebig Art Center sparkles in the light. “The pieces had to be photography,” Kumicich says. “So I made the form out of brown paper bags from Publix and then looked for things that said ten [that I could photograph].” Those things included pictures of dimes that adorn the edge of the bustier and miniature replicas of $10 bills, with her husband’s face in place of Alexander Hamilton’s. “It was different than anything else in the exhibit,” Kumicich notes with a laugh.

And then there are the dolls, scores of which can be found on the walls, shelves, and tables. Call them her odds-and-ends pieces. Feet are made from old shoe forms. Limbs are often old rulers from her father’s carpentry days, while heads are clay or sculpted fabric. “They all have their own little personalities,” she says.

That’s particularly evident in the trio she calls her “Holy Smokes,” whose bodies are made from discarded cigarette packs she found during a trip to Europe. Like all the dolls, they’re endearing, even in their strange garb. “I used to be a smoker,” says Kumicich. “It’s hard to quit, I know.”

The dolls and other items provide the artist with a break from quilting. But the quilts are without doubt what most feed Kumicich’s creative urge. “Once I decided I could start telling my own story, things opened up a lot for me,” she says. “A lot of times, I’m surprised with what comes out.”

Kumicich begins with a phrase, a headline, or something she’s seen on TV. Language gives her a title for the coming piece, which, in turn, keeps her focused on what she wants to depict. She begins by drawing her design twice (once to use as a guide, and once to use as a pattern) and typically works straight through to the end.

A recent piece called “We the People, up in Arms” evidences Kumicich’s love of exploring current events. To create it, she once again picked up her camera, photographing one of the “tea party” demonstrations in the news this past spring. To carry through that theme, she printed the pictures on tea-bag papers and used them as her quilt’s background.

“I like the idea of coming up with ideas and figuring how I can make it work,” she says. “You could put a stitch through a lot of stuff, so why not? It’s kind of like, what if? What’s the worst that can happen? It could be wonderful.”

Other works are based more on personal experience than exploration, as seen in a quilt Kumicich made after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In the background is a young woman flying a kite. In the foreground is an old woman, dressed the same but bearing a somewhat vacant smile. Tying the two together are sentences describing what her mother used to like. It ends with the words, “I remember Mama. I wish Mama could remember me.”

It is that sense of shared experience, shared sentiment, and shared questioning that makes Kumicich’s work outstanding. Her technical skills are highly developed and admirable, to be sure. But it’s the impact one gets from viewing her quilt “paintings” that holds the gaze and lingers in the mind.

The art world is starting to notice. Kumicich’s “Quit Smoking” quilt won first prize in a Texas exhibition, the first time in forty-one years the top award went to a fiber work. “Mama” won a competition that sent the artist to Provence. In 2009, Kumicich was included in the annual Artist Studio Tour put on by the Philharmonic Center for the Arts’ Friends of Art group in Naples.

“Winning awards—I never would have expected that when I started,” Kumicich says. “Now I want to push the idea that this is art. I would love to have my own show now.”

One can only hope such a show will come to be. Getting lost in Kumicich’s soft world is an easy and gratifying journey.

Pat Kumicich’s quilts are frequently featured in art shows locally and nationally. To see more of her quilts, visit her Web site at To arrange a visit to her Naples studio, e-mail her at [email protected] or call 239-775-9517.

Janina Birtolo, a Naples-based freelance writer and television producer, is a frequent contributor to Times of the Islands, RSW Living, and Bonita Living.