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Award-winning quilt artist lives in Fallbrook

FALLBROOK – She is a storyteller of great yarns. She is an artist whose palette is composed of rich fabrics. She is a cultural documentarian who uses textiles to create her archive… and she is our neighbor.

Few people sleep under Karen Cunagin’s quilts; instead Cunagin’s textile compositions have hung in exhibits around the world and locally at the Oceanside Museum of Art, the Visions Art Quilt Gallery in Point Loma and at the Fallbrook Art Center (where she currently has work in The Find).

Cunagin belongs to a phenomenal list of artists with national and international reputations who choose to call Fallbrook home and contribute to our rich and textured reputation as the artistic hub of our region.

“Quilts are cultural documents,” explained the artist, who then referenced the Gee’s Bend quilts sewn by slave descendants in rural Alabama which are heralded as some of the “finest abstract works in American art” and shown in the Whitney and Smithsonian Museums.

Art quilts grace the walls of collectors around the world, just as oil paintings do. Sometimes the images literally tell a story, but often the subject is more interpretive. Cunagin has utilized fabrics that reference a specific period of history, a geographic point of origin, or specific use as their binding theme.

Cunagin’s national reputation as a textile artist and her award-winning body of work put her on the short list of commissioned artists for the new Fallbrook Library. For her part, she is creating fabric sculptures that pay tribute to the agricultural heritage of our community. Work has begun on her 12-foot tall fabric sunflower, as well as sculptural library seating in the shape of an avocado half.

These fabricated textile sculptures are realistically colorful and playful in nature. Several of the pieces will be suspended from the high ceilings of the library “water tower” which is a dedicated children’s environment. She is currently seeking appropriate storage space for the finished pieces until their installation in the space next winter.

In meeting Cunagin, you realize that her life and her art are inseparably intertwined. In 1986, she was the first instructor to teach Palomar College classes in the old packing house on Alvarado Street that would become the Fallbrook School of the Arts. Now she is an instructor with the San Diego Community College District teaching textile arts at the West City Campus in Point Loma.

The multitude of fabrics and embellishments awaiting use surround her working and living spaces, along with cherished photos of family and dear friends. Though one might anticipate a visual cacophony of patterns, colors, and design chaos, serenity permeates Cunagin’s home and studio area.

The community of Fallbrook has a significant reputation as a hive of artistic creativity, and yet the artists themselves, many with national and international reputations like Karen Cunagin, wait in line behind us at the grocery store and we remain unaware of their presence. Each month we will introduce you to another Artist in Residence in Fallbrook.

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