The World Wide Web of Quilts

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – You’d be surprised by what Jan Shanahan sees when she looks at a quilt.

She sees flow and balance, woven stories and forgotten art forms. She sees their origins. And with some quilts, she sees a worthy candidate for her new online artisan business, Quilt Keeper.

Shanahan launched her Web site, www.quiltkeeper.com, this week after months of nationwide networking. With Quilt Keeper, she and her business partner Michele Reese work with quilt makers and other artisans from around the nation – in the future around the world – to promote, market and display their work.

“Think of it as an online gallery,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan’s fundamental belief is that there are a lot of fantastic arts and crafts out there that need to be exposed. Many artisans don’t have the means or experience to effectively market themselves, especially outside of their immediate local circles. That’s where Shanahan and Reese come in to play.

Reese works for Beargrass Marketing and Shanahan previously had multiple roles for Microsoft that required her to travel and network across the world. Shanahan is also a quilt maker. Now retired, Shanahan is using her networking and marketing skills, not to mention her Microsoft connections, to get Quilt Keeper off the ground.

Quilt Keeper is an online business that provides a venue for textile artists and crafts people to sell their art, promote their craft and to tell the story of each quilt product.

Shanahan has been busy traveling around the country, giving presentations on her business plan and meeting with big players in the art-buying world. Shanahan said corporations often hire agencies to track down and purchase art for them. She already has met with Microsoft and several companies in Seattle and the Bay Area.

“Those people who buy art for corporations – it’s not a big group, but they’re influential,” Shanahan said.

Quilts are the business’s cornerstone, but Quilt Keeper will also sell figurines, vests, jackets, baby clothes, toys, pillows and a variety of other arts and crafts. Shanahan and Reese either buy the pieces outright and sell them, or work out a contract with the artisan in which they receive a commission. The origins of Quilt Keeper’s pieces range from Amish communities to artisan markets in Beijing to right here in the Flathead Valley. All of the works are in stock at Shanahan’s Whitefish office.

Quilt prices range from $200 to $5,000. Reese points out that there is a wide variety of quilts. After they’re purchased, some will be used regularly, others sparingly and some ¬– the finer art quilts – never. The art quilts are usually hung on walls.

“There’s a difference between a lovely quilt you’ll wrap around a baby and textile art,” Reese said.

Eighteen artists have already committed to Quilt Keeper with another 30 interested. Of those 18, six are local. Reese said the Flathead is bursting with homegrown arts and crafts.

A quilted chicken sits perched on a shelf in Jan Shanahan’s office in Whitefish. The doll is based on the original design by Elinor Peace Bailey and will be available for purchase through Quilter Keeper.

“We’re kind of in this caldron of design and creativity in the valley,” Reese said.

Though Shanahan said textiles have “been the forgotten part of the art world,” she said that trend is changing. Quilting is a $3 billion worldwide industry today, she said, and large quilting conventions across the globe are evidence of the growing popularity in textile art.

“It’s an exciting time for textile artists,” Shanahan said.

As with a lot of art today, quilting combines the old with new, blending traditional techniques with modern flares. Quilt Keeper’s use of the Internet is an example of these two worlds melding.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is preserve the traditions,” Reese said. “That means handmade; that means it has a story.”

Eventually Shanahan would like to open a retail shop in Whitefish. But for now, she’s focused on the Web portion of her business and expanding her network of both artisans and buyers. She said the Web site is not only beneficial to artisans because it draws attention to selected pieces, but also because, through links and artist biographies, shoppers are invited to browse through the rest of the artists’ work.

Though she hopes to work with artists from all backgrounds, Shanahan, a Flathead native, will always be a little partial to her rural roots. She spoke highly of the Flathead Quilters Guild.

“One thing I find most interesting is that rural areas are the most creative,” Shanahan said.

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