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Prism quilts

During her opening reception Thursday at the Tivoli nursing home in Portage, Jean Leeson of Madison explains the thought process behind her "Prism" quilts, which will be on display there for the next three months.

In theory, three months is more than enough time for Portage-area residents to check out Jean Leeson’s Prism quilt exhibit at Tivoli nursing home.

But Kathleen Jahn wouldn’t take that time for granted.

“We’re doing everything we can to get more people to the galleries,” said Jahn, the visual arts committee chairwoman at Portage Center for the Arts. “We’re not going out into the street and dragging people in here, but I would like to do that sometimes.”

Displays like Leeson’s supplement PCA’s once-per-month art exhibits at Drury Gallery, which is currently showcasing “What She Wants You to See” — the modern art of New York native Diana Cavallero.

Jahn hopes to see more visitors there, too.

“We advertise our galleries on the internet, we’re on Facebook and we’re in the newspaper,” Jahn said at Leeson’s opening reception Thursday, “and we send out postcards every three months regarding our exhibits, providing people the information about the galleries, as well as our whole gallery schedule.

“People really don’t know what they’re missing.”

Jahn and others at PCA feel motivated to boost visitations for their galleries, in part, because they believe the visual arts make well-rounded individuals in local communities, Jahn said.

“My kids were into athletics, but they also tried music and arts, and I think they really needed those experiences to expand their horizons. It’s especially important today — getting people off of their phones and away from those boxes they stare at all day long,” Jahns said. “Technology is so addicting.”

Broadening horizons is a familiar concept for Leeson, the Madison resident who’s been quilting for 36 years but spent many of them honing her craft.

“I started sewing clothes as a young girl, but my clothes were always a failure,” Leeson said at her reception, which PCA moved from Friday to Thursday hoping to avoid scheduling conflicts for visitors.

“I loved the fabric. The colors and the fabric still drive everything I do,” Leeson continued. “I’ll walk into a fabric store and find myself wanting to own all of it, even though I have more than enough fabric at home.

“It’s a very powerful feeling — a possessive feeling.”

Leeson is a retired information technology programmer who’d most recently worked for the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Her backstory might inspire would-be quilters who visit her gallery this winter, she said, especially if they wrongfully assume they’re outmatched in learning the skills of quilting.

“In 1983, I finally took a quilting class and that gave me a way to use the fabric I always loved and to find success,” she said of her journey that only recently veered into more experimentation and improvisational quilting.

“Prism” holds several “abstract” quilts — quilts that often depict scenes from nature including ice caves, frozen lakes and flowers, for example. Leeson often starts designing her quilts after studying a photo that she or a friend took, aiming for abstract but recognizable depictions of the imagery, she said.

“During the design process, I don’t always know what fabric I’ll use, but I’ll eventually know how it will be constructed. I’ll rearrange the colors, or I might make straight lines instead of curved lines,” Leeson said. “I’ve discovered that I prefer the abstract look over strict representation; a fractured look appeals to me.”

Discovery very much motivates Leeson, even after nearly four decades of quilting, she said, hoping Prism onlookers might also discover something about themselves.

“I recommend taking all of the classes you can, checking out all of the books you can and trying all the different types of quilting,” Leeson said, advising of a path similar to hers.

“Expose yourself to as much of it as you can because eventually you’ll find what appeals to you.”

For more information about PCA galleries, visit portagecenterforthearts.com. For more information about Leeson, visit jeanleeson.com.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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Portage Daily Register Reporter