Member Spotlight: Polly Bech
February 12, 2020
Surface Design Association is so lucky to have such a strong and talented community of artists and makers. With members all over the world, doing a variety of work, we’ve decided to start a monthly blog spotlight featuring more of what our community is working on. Our inaugural member spotlight is Polly Bech: a Philadelphia-based quilter and solar-printer whose vibrant work is exactly what we all need to get through the winter!
I had a very early interest in making things. My parents even indulged me with oil painting lessons at age six. At college, I thought that I wanted to study psychology, but I couldn’t stop wanting to make things. Gradually I accepted that I should study art. I attended college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—Amish country—so quilts were all around me, but making one seemed too daunting at the time. Instead I painted and did collage work, studied illustration to gain some marketable skills, and worked my way into computer graphics. I finally turned to quilting when I became pregnant with my first child. A local community center lured me in with a basic quilting class; from then on, I was a quilter.
I’ve taken a number of workshops since then, with Lonni Rossi (stamping on fabric) and Jan Myers-Newbury (shibori dying), to name a few. I’ve tried to use what I learned from these amazing artists in my work. There are bits of shibori in Flowing Through and Unintended Consequences. I hope to continue taking classes and folding what I learn into the fabric of my quilts.
Most of my recent pieces incorporate cotton that I have solar printed, a technique I learned from a kit of Setacolor Transparent paints and have been working on for years. I collect leaves and make prints of them using sun sensitive paint. You can create many different effects by mixing and layering the paint, and by throwing salt on the paint while it is wet. For years I used Setacolor transparent paints, like the ones from my original kit, but they have been hard to come by in the last few years, so I have been trying out a few other brands. The different makes of paint have unique palettes and consistencies; I am still in the process of experimenting with them.
About five years ago I took an online workshop with Jane Dunnewold. As part of the course, she encouraged her students to make work with materials at hand, so I challenged myself to create some quilts using only scraps of my solar printed fabric. The black and white quilts—Black Hole and Hope Renewing—are part of this series. (I do admit, though, I did have to print more black and white fabric so I could make these. Sorry, Jane!)
In 2018 I was asked to take part in an exhibition, Responses to Gee’s Bend, at Swarthmore College. I created a quilt specifically for this exhibit, using old clothing and a quilt pattern loosely based on the unique quilts from this region of Alabama. After this experience I wanted to continue using the design methods I had engaged during the Gee’s Bend challenge. The resulting quilts incorporated my solar printed fabric along with plain black and white cotton. Echoes of Gee’s Bend and Off Kilter are two from this series.
As I am writing this I have just finished piecing together a new quilt top, as yet unnamed. The impeachment trials were playing on the radio as I worked, and as I look at the piece I am thinking that they somehow seeped into the design. But I’m not sure that’s for me to decide.