Story by Lauren Sable Freiman | Feb 24, 2016
Through her colorful, vividly portrayed quilts, Pam RuBert enjoys making the world appear the way she wishes it to be.
Inside a renovated peanut butter factory turned art studio at 1841 E. Bergman St. in Springfield, Pam RuBert and her husband, Russ, a contemporary sculptor, have immersed themselves in creating art together, a lifestyle they began to envision when they first met during a sculpting class in 1986.
While RuBert, formerly Pam Kanagawa, a graduate of Jefferson City High School, has experimented with sculpting, painting, ceramics, drawing, animation, photography and graphics, in 2005 she found her true passion in fiber arts. Today, she focuses her efforts on making quilts from layered cotton fabrics stitched with thread that resemble big graphic paintings or cartoons.
“When I first saw artists using the quilt medium to make art, I was instantly drawn to the fact that I could use it to make large, colorful images that I could roll up and mail anywhere in the world,” she says. Influenced by Japanese wood-block prints, old scrap quilts, graffiti, street art, cartoons and comics, she picked up basic quilting techniques through workshops, magazines, the internet and email list serves. Then, she integrated what she had learned with some of her own personal techniques.
“Probably the true source of my style is my own cartoonish drawing style,” RuBert says. “As long as I can remember, I have always doodled and drawn cartoons, silly faces, animated bodies and bizarre situations. When I began working in fiber art, it was a goal of mine to translate my personal style of drawing into large scale quilts.”
As time has passed, RuBert has ditched the nagging voice in her head dictating that her artwork must say something serious, or even profound, to the world. Instead, she has learned to have fun with her art by just being herself. And that realization was a turning point in her career as an artist.
“Eventually when I stopped feeling like I was creating something for other people and just making things I enjoyed making is when people started to notice my work,” RuBert says. “Now, the most common remark I receive from people is, ‘Your work makes me smile.’ And that’s a great thing.”
RuBert says that through her artwork, she can make the world appear the way she wishes it to be, a world filled with “plaid shoes, polka-dot refrigerators and flowery clouds, where people can bend their bodies into crazy yoga poses or stretch their arms into the next room if they want to.” She can also interject her unique and quirky sense of humor. One series of quilts, called “Wish You Were Hair,” is based on the old “wish you were here” travel postcards.
“I started making world monuments into hairstyles in my quilts,” RuBert says. “I’ve done Paris, Seattle, Athens, St. Louis, Grand Canyon, Tokyo and many more.”
Recently, she was commissioned by the Springfield Metro Bar to design a banner for the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Her quilt, entitled “Magna Carta Birthday Party – Wish You Were Hair,” portrayed an English baron wearing the Union Jack with the United States Capitol Dome on his head.
RuBert and her husband manage a multi-tenant office building and own commercial and industrial spaces. They have served on the Springfield Regional Arts Council Board and the Springfield Sister Cities Association, among other activities. Three years ago, the pair worked with the City of Springfield and the Arts Council to develop the ideaXfactory, a contemporary art installation space in a city-owned building. They received an ArtPlace America grant for the ideaXfactory and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create programming and to help emerging and established artists create new experimental art inside the space.
Despite their other business and community activities, art is a full-time life pursuit and focus for both RuBert and her husband, and she says she feels fortunate to have achieved some of her earliest goals, including getting into important quilt art shows and being published in many well-known magazines and books. “I’ve just always made art and always wanted to,” RuBert says.
Visit www.rubertstudios.com to view more artwork by the RuBerts.