A guild member sent me an email recently, expressing concern that one of the items which won an award in the fair was not an original design - that she remembered later that she had seen it on the cover of a weaving book. She wondered whether something that was not original should be so honored. I replied, saying that in my opinion, the fair has never really been about totally original designs (at least, not in the Home Arts Division, which is where they put spinning and weaving and knitting and sewing and quilting and embroidery and lacemaking and basketry and pottery.) In this arena, excellence of execution is the main focus. You even see lots of items made from kits, so they are definitely not original designs.
There are, however, other venues where it is indeed not kosher to submit items that were copied. The main one that comes to mind is Showcase - an exhibit associated every two years with the southern California regional weaving/spinning conference. This is sponsored by the Association of Southern California Handweavers, ASCH, and each guild that is part of the coalition gets to submit a number of items to Showcase based on the size of the guild. The items that get submitted are "juried" by the guild, meaning that they are set out on tables and members get to vote on which items they think should make it. I do recall one time when a beautifully woven item was submitted, and in retrospect, it probably shouldn't have been, because it was woven exactly like an item in Weavers Magazine. On the other hand, what constitutes an original design? Many people could converge on the same weave structure, without necessarily having copied anything or anyone. Who judges that?
The truth of the matter is that judging is subjective, and is based on the guidelines given the judge, along with his/her own personal filters of perception. So perhaps the key is not to take any of it too seriously, and definitely not to allow yourself to take offense.
I learned years ago that I personally do not want to be a judge. I was asked to be one of the judges for a sample exchange at a conference. I was flattered to be asked. As I gazed across the tables of samples I felt a little overwhelmed. Some of them were exquisite, some didn't appeal to me. I was required to methodically examine each one, giving it points in different categories. As I did this, I commented on some of them. Picking up a piece of satin weave, I commented that it was a bit "sleazy." Now, weavers know what that words means in that context - it means the sett is a little too open and the fabric is not as firm as it should be. Who knows - maybe I was showing off my knowledge of that word, and its frequent application to satin, or maybe it really was sleazy. The main thing I remember is the slight flinch in the hostess, and then realizing that it was her sample. That was the instant in which I promised myself I would never again judge creative activities. I want to be the cheerleader - the enthusiastic supporter who celebrates achievement and passion, not the harsh taskmaster cutting someone off at the knees and finding a loving creation wanting because it doesn't fit my standards.
Back in the late 1960's, when I was in high school, I wrote a poem in a writing class. The title and body of the poem are long gone, but one line has, for some reason, stayed firmly etched in my brain.
For who am I, that could be robed and wizened,That was written in response to my first dysfunctional relationship, but they were wise words for a young girl, and I wish I had lived by them all these years.
to judge whose sins be worse than mine?