You Won’t Find a Penis at AQS Grand Rapids…

Oh my. Oh dear. Censorship again folks…except this time, I’m being censored for something that’s not even there.

The SAQA exhibition folks were good enough to let me know that a viewer at AQS Grand Rapids, Michigan, had complained about a penis in one of my quilts at the  show and AQS was planning on pulling the quilt. (It’s already shown in Phoenix, AZ; Daytona Beach, FL; Lancaster, PA; and Paducah, KY, as part of the AQS QuiltWeek circuit).

So some person objected to my quilt and couldn’t just walk by, moving on to the next quilt (which is what I do when another Sunbonnet Sue shows its ugly head…I don’t call Fox News…I don’t pitch a fit and refuse to ever come back to another show.)…they had to demand it get pulled from the show.

OK. Um. But there’s no penis in that quilt. Seriously. There isn’t. There’s boobs and uteri and even a woman giving birth, but there’s no penis. None. I swear. I really don’t do a lot of penises and they’re bloody obvious when I do.

The quilt is I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket (did she think the life jacket was a condom? Because it wasn’t. It really was a life jacket. And there isn’t a life jacket in the quilt either, just to confuse things even more.) and it’s part of SAQA’s People and Portraits exhibit, which has been traveling for years and through more cities than I can count. And she didn’t object to the 5-inch vulva in the quilt next to it, Fully Medicated.

Oh don’t worry…I’ll give you a nice big picture so you can do a Where’s Waldo and find Waldo’s penis for me. Because it’s not in there.

Kathy Nida 72

It’s one thing to be censored because of nudity. I don’t agree with that either, but at least it’s not uncommon. It’s another thing to be censored for something that’s not even there. So Michigan, I’m sorry, but if you go to the show and you wanted to see my quilt, you should tell management…since that’s how I got pulled. Someone complained to management and said they’d never come back to an AQS show. And we don’t know if I’ll be allowed to have this piece in QuiltWeek at Chattanooga or Des Moines, so that’s still up in the air. So if you’re planning on going to those shows, you might want to let them know you’re expecting to see my quilt. I’m not going to tell you not to go if they don’t show it. Just tell them you’re not happy about it.

I’m disappointed in AQS’ response. Maybe you are too. Here’s a link to the people in charge of AQS in general…I don’t know who made the decision at the show, but these are the people on high. I’m waiting until they make a decision on the next two shows before I write them. Someone said something to me about this being a quilt show, so I can’t expect art sensibilities…well if that’s the case, AQS needs to stop having art quilt exhibits at their shows or have a clear policy on subject matter (I checked their current show entry forms and there is nothing about that). Plus show me where on my quilt is the thing that the woman imagined was there. Because they took her word over mine. And there is no penis in the damn quilt.

It’s frustrating. I don’t fit in the quilt world because I do art. I don’t fit in the art world because I do quilts. Thanks to Martha Sielman (the author of the book People and Portraits) and SAQA for trying to stand up for my work. Shame on AQS for caving to imaginary issues.

My work was recently in an article about censorship, written by Tanya Brown, in Textile Fibre Forum Issue 122.  I’m not the only one being censored.

54 Responses to You Won’t Find a Penis at AQS Grand Rapids…

  1. Michael Cooley says:

    Just be in your own world. That’s what I do😀. Your work is beautiful.


  2. I saw your quilt at AQS Grand Rapids on Wednesday. Sorry to hear it was pulled.


  3. mbquilts says:

    Maybe there was a flasher standing in front of the quilt when she happened to be there? Ridiculous. And stupid and scary.


  4. Brendawood says:

    My note to AQS… we can but try…
    “How is it that one complaint from one person who is narrow minded uninformed and intolerant can effect the result of viewing for so many? Why do the squeeky wheels in society always get oiled without consideration for the less vocal more tolerant ?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Lynne Hodgman says:

    It would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating. Did they ask her to point out the supposed penis? Now that might be interesting…maybe it was just a cigar?! (Haha?)

    You make spectacular stunning art quilts. So there. No doubt, no apologies. I growl on your behalf!


  6. Kathi says:

    I am just blown away that this beautiful piece is a quilt!!! I love it! I’m sorry you even had to write about this…but being introduced to your art made my day. Thank you! And I hope your art is welcomed every where you care to show it. It’s beautiful


  7. I am bummed there was no penis!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. radquitemad says:

    You told me to look so I did…I bet you anything that person interpreted the umbilical cord of the new born as some weird alien tentacle penis.

    As somebody who’s only aware of quilting from the fringe, I’d think they’d encourage quilts that reinterpret what the medium can do and that would interest a more open minded (younger?) audience. Not like you can’t walk into any museum and see a forest of classical penises carved out of marble!


  9. birdie says:

    Happens here in the UK too – this artist often has her work rejected because, shock horror, it has naked women in it I’ve been skirting around the edge of textile arts for the last couple of years and I’ve been shocked at the level of old fashioned prudishness and also sexism. Sexism is still with us generally, but I’ve been to talks where the degree of sexism is such that i feel I’ve gone back in time to the 80s.

    Just FYI, I can see why she thought there was a penis, a quick glance makes the shadow of the man’s hands look like one, but as soon as you look properly it’s obviously part of a larger shadow.

    I almost feel sorry for someone who’s so frightened of male genitalia she either doesn’t really know where a penis is located or she couldn’t even bring herself to look properly. Almost.


  10. birdie says:

    That should have been figure on the right, not man…


  11. People are so single sighted anymore


  12. Kathykm says:

    Maybe she is just bad at botany and she meant “pistil.” I find those pretty offensive. I am never taking another botany course in my life. You should raise that as a possibility when you talk to those confused officials.


  13. Sandra Myer says:

    Kathy, you have GREAT art and I have admired it for many years. I remember the uproar from a previous work you had and am shocked that this censorship continues! Shame on them!
    I love what John Hopper wrote on FB and he is expressed my sentiments as well. Continue with your interesting and artful quilts! Maybe you will break down this censorship


  14. tdspringer says:

    My letter to AQS: (BTW, I live just outside Grand Rapids and know that we have a large population of easily offended, highly indignant, Christian Reformed people in the area)

    I am incredibly disappointed that your on-site people in Grand Rapids would cave to pressure from some small minded person who HALLUCINATED a penis in a quilt and demanded it be taken down. Censorship of art is bad enough when you are censoring something that is there. To censor something that is NOT there is just stupid (not ignorant because ignorance can be educated; you can’t fix stupid).

    Here’s a suggestion: next time you hang art, hang a sign noting that, because it IS art (and not your Grandma’s quilt) there may be objects or topics that some people could find offensive therefore, if a person is close-minded or otherwise easily offended by something that may be in the works or just imagined, they should not view the work and leave it to those of us who actually enjoy and understand that one of the purposes of art is to stimulate thought and discussion and that art has contained NAKED images since the beginning of time.

    You should be ashamed that you caved to the arrested development of ONE person (or 5 or 10 for that matter…how many people viewed this work without experiencing the vapors?).

    I am ashamed of AQS and, frankly, will be seriously considering not renewing my membership. I’m not sure I want to continue an association with such a backwards organization.

    Teri Donovan Springer
    Art Quilter
    Long time member of AQS
    JAM Member of SAQA


  15. What a load of bollocks! Oh wait! There aren’t any of those in the quilt either. I have one thing to say to the person who objected and to the bigwigs in charge: get a life! Pathetic!


  16. One of my quilts (woman nursing a child) was also censored from AQ Magazine in 2005. I understand your frustration!! Why is it the people who don’t want to see things get to decide what everyone gets to see. Or in your case, gets to decide what isn’t even there!!!!


  17. Anonymous says:

    I can tell you that at AQS, the need of one always outweighs the wants of many. Yes, send Meredith an email; flood her inbox NOW because it WILL make a difference- she is the one who makes these calls. It’s either or (I can’t remember which one) DO IT!


  18. N.Maia.Howes says:

    I am a maker of art quilts and a former sexuality educator. I have looked at the quilt closely! Kudos to the quilter!There is no penis. They are women, including their reproductive organs. Men have penises . They are very useful. They are also included in religious art! Put the quilt back up!

    N. Maia Howes, RN, MEd., Fiber Artist!


  19. Lynn Anderson says:

    I am joining Grand Rapids AQS so that I can voice an opinion. I love your quilt . It should be allowed! There are penis’s in stone, in carvings, paintings, why not quilts? It is perfectly natural!


  20. deb says:

    Hmmm, maybe the head poking up from the pubic hair of the woman on the left in this photo? Maybe it’s a transgender issue for her, lol.


  21. Stephanie says:

    According to a statement on, it looks like AQS is threatening to pull your other work from some shows? ( have they gotten back to you with a decision on those shows?

    Personally, I feel their initial pulling of the quilt was a huge overreaction which they should apologize for, clarify their standards for future shows, and move on. But pulling or threatening to pull your other work from other shows after you call them out for the Michigan show stupidity? That stinks of retaliation.


  22. Bonnie says:

    Hummmm….imagine the art of the masters we would not be allowed to see if they were censored in the same way. We all certainly don’t like the same styles. If you don’t like certain pieces, simply turn around and walk away!!


  23. Pamela Caswell says:

    Heaven help the complainant if she goes to any art galleries in Europe as she’ll (or he’ll?) see penises at every turn…hundreds of thousands of them! By the sounds of it she would be absolutely horrified at the sight of Michaelangelo’s David! The really sad thing is that the organizers caved to the complaint of one miserable person.


  24. Love your work it is beautiful and imaginative!


  25. Barbara says:

    Omg. That is ridiculous. If you don’t want to look, move on. I have never seen your quilts but this one is very interesting. So much to see. You are very talented. Keep doing what you do.


  26. Susan Ovard says:

    Even though I personally don’t care for your art (not my style), I also don’t think your art should have been taken down. As others have said, if you don’t like something just go on to the next exhibit. I personally don’t like most of the “modern” quilts, but I don’t think they (or yours) should be removed from quilt exhibits. Take heart, and move on to the next show. Maybe you can do a piece about this. Keep on keeping on.


  27. This is AQS history repeating itself. About 30 years ago they banned a quilt by Jonathan Shannon. It was celebrating the Day of the Dead with two dancing Skeletons – one with an aids ribbon. Here is the link


  28. Michael says:

    Grand Rapids, taken over by a noxious and repressive religious cult, is not really representative of Michigan. I went to college near there, and would never go back. Don’t feel back at being rejected by a troll culture.


  29. Betty Dix says:

    I agree with everyone. This quilt should not have been pulled because of one stupid woman. Perhaps we should all threaten to pull our membership in AQS & see how quickly that brings a response. I’m sure there are more than one of us who belong.
    Betty Dix


  30. Rita says:

    I am a Registered Nurse, have worked 44 years in various areas and have seen many a penis, all shapes and sizes. There is not one in this quilt. Shame on AQS!


  31. Elizabeth Schnelle says:

    Then make the rules CLEAR—NO ART Quilts will be accepted that depict any of the human body. Then we will have to organize more quilt shows that are inclusive of ALL art. And so on——.


  32. Kathleen says:

    This may sound snarky, but what I don’t understand is why she didn’t object to the whole quilt since it so obviously (operative word) shows so much of the naked human body. She must have some powerful eyesight to be mortified to find what she thinks is a penis (which is obviously not there) and make that her sole complaint. Wonder how long she was up close and personal with the quilt in order to make her deduction?


  33. Elaine Vinopal says:

    Much ado about nothing, Shame on AQS… small and narrow.


  34. Leah Estrin says:

    Well, I guess we all know where “that woman’s” mind was!


  35. Cathy Swinkowski says:

    Very beautiful quilt. I don’t know what is happening to our country anymore. Or the world for that matter. Pretty soon they’ll be destroying all kinds of art works like the statue of David.
    I believe you have a lot of the quilting community behind you, so please continue your great work.


    • Summer says:

      Your comment reminds me of a short story – “The Smile” by Ray Bradbury. Art is certainly a casualty of war and narrow-minded folk.


  36. Linda Curry says:

    Yep, I can’t find one either. If you don’t care for a quilt at least admire the imagination and work that it took to create it and walk on. It’s driving me crazy that one persons rights can trump 1000 others!!! It’s ridiculous… Hang the quilt already😩


  37. Suzanne Meader says:

    Your post is delightful–made me smile and even laugh out loud. It’s a shame your piece was pulled because it is just awesome, but, there are still those folks who expect to see a log cabin or a hexie daisy or an ohio star when they go to a quilt exhibit and can’t quite get wrapped around the art quilt thing. Your piece is just amazing…and, if you have to find that silver lining, well, it’s getting an incredible amount of attention now, isn’t it? Bravo, Kathy! Can’t wait to see what’s next!!


  38. jes says:

    Sorry, but I am glad they pulled it from the show. This quilt is just plain creepy. You are very skilled, but this belongs in some trendy art museum, with all the other nudes, not in a quilt show.


  39. sandy keefe says:

    I wish I could temper my anger at reading about this censorship, and write a cogent thoughtful response. But I can’t. We’ve seen entire countries whipsawed by tiny, dominating, essentially powerless individuals who use their beliefs as a control mechanism…sort of like the human equivalent of a pebble in a shoe.
    AQS has failed, failed miserably in demonstrating ANY core values regarding it commitment to the art of quilting and its evolution. I’m not sorry I didn’t renew my membership. I won’t be looking to support AQS in the future.
    And this is the reason I shy away from quilting groups. There’s ALWAYS one who wants to treat the rest like her minions using her allegiance to her desert religion and sky god. Shame on AQS.


  40. I saw some of your work at AQS in Grand Rapids, I’m not sure it was this exact quilt, but it was beautiful work. Sorry to hear your art was pulled. I definitely appreciated your point of view, in comparison to some of the other work on display at the show


  41. Karen Howell says:

    I am an AQS member and I sent them an email chiding them for this action. Among other comments, I said they owed the artist an apology and that they owed me, as a member, an apology also. I also asked that they restore the quilt to the exhibit for the rest of the tour.


  42. I am appalled with any kind of censorship in ART, but this response, seemingly from one disgruntled and uneducated guest, is totally Unacceptable. I have written my displeasure and forwarded it to AQS; shame on them.


  43. Diane T. Atlas says:

    Censorship by the narrow minded is a huge problem. If you don’t like something walk by it. It is a free world and you have the choice to keep on walking by something that offends you. Who has the right to dictate what we should have on display. Imagine having one of these narrow minded people going into an art museum and telling the curator that they would like all the pictures of Jesus be removed because they are not Christian or don’t believe in showing images of religious figures. If it wasn’t so stupid it would almost be laughable. What a shame for a lovely work of art to be so criticized


  44. […] posts almost daily and on August 13 she wrote about what happened to her quilts in a post titled, “You Won’t Find a Penis at AQS Grand Rapids…” The reaction among quilters online was immediate and strong. Nida’s post was shared thousands of […]


  45. I completely agree with this. Keep this crap out of quilting competitions. Let the dirty-minded-and-need-to-be-shocking artist take her junk elsewhere. By tradition, quilting has never been about displaying things of sexual nature. I wish people would stop trying to be so trendy, shocking, attention-seeking-whores.


  46. Dianne says:

    What an embarrassment to West MI. So sorry this happened to you. I have little tolerance for people like that, who think their sensibilities, which are always ready to overblow the slightest imagined offense, are the only ones that count. I’d love to see a penises in a wuilt! Bring ’em on. Going to write to AQS too. They should have told her to stuff it.


  47. I was very upset to hear this. I have a quilt that I created that is called FRIENDSHIP. I drew it as two hands shaking. It has been viewed as a sexual type scene.

    Art is all in the eye of the beholder. Art also can be uncomfortable to look at, and everyone is open to their own opinion. It is obvious that the people who complained about your art are not experienced art lovers. This is in my opinion fine art.

    You spent countless hours on those pieces of artwork and poured your heart into the creation of it, just to have it taken away.

    I support you totally. Don’t stop making your art and telling your stories through your quilting!

    If you would like to know of my FRIENDSHIP quilt, view it on


  48. Cheryl Heeth says:

    Wow, what can I say……. This is how one individuals control affect us all! I started the day by stopping by Spool to see the quilts. They are artistic, impressive quality of thinking out of the box and showing quilters (aka.Me) what can be accomplished if I would give art a chance. Then I went to the AQS Chattanooga show. I bounced around like a jumping jack going no where. There were quilts that stood out, but there were a good number of them that I passed because they were the same. Honestly if that is what they want to show, I don’t need to go back. Your quilt is a beautiful piece, Impressive, outstanding! Don’t let the Blue Meanies control you.


  49. […]  I won’t repeat the ridiculous tale; if you don’t know about it you can read about it here, and read an even better analysis of the situation […]


  50. Nicholas allen says:

    Its a wonderfully made piece. I find the artist to be refreshing and thought provoking, great work. And I would have a few choice words that would assuredly require censorship for the fools that took her piece out of the show.


  51. […] want to view anything graphic  or ‘controversial’ in quilts. As example my colleague Kathy Nida had a quilt yanked from an exhibit last year because a viewer thought she saw a penis in it and […]


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