Mastermind 2014 Finalist: Regina Jestrow Turns Traditional Craft Into "High Art"

Miami New Times' Mastermind Awards honors the city's most inspiring creatives. This year, we received more than 100 submissions, which our staff narrowed to an elite group of 30, and finally, nine. We'll be profiling those finalists in the days to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 27 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.

When Regina Jestrow bought a sewing machine, she didn't have grand visions of turning an ancient craft into modern art. She was just feeling homesick. The Queens native had grown up sewing with her mother, a professional seamstress, and after relocating to Miami for work, Jestrow found needlework reconnected her with her roots -- even if her early projects were hardly finished products.

"I was never really good at making clothes," she says. "Nothing ever fit, and everything was backwards."

A decade-plus later, she has not only mastered the tricks of the thread but also married expert quilting with crazy geometric patterns to create one of the most intriguing styles on the Magic City art scene.

"There's always this kind of anxiety about high art versus low art," she says. "I don't think 'arts and crafts' is low art at all. I think it takes skill; it takes time. It takes passion."

The 35-year-old artist never considered following her mother into sewing. Instead, she found a creative outlet in photography, pursuing a life behind the lens with studies at the Fashion Institute of Design in New York City.

But digital cameras were just replacing the grittier hands-on photography of old while Jestrow was a student, and she found herself bored by the technology. She left school and took an art store gig in Miami. Buying herself a sewing machine seemed the best way to bring a little of her family to South Florida.

Whenever she grew frustrated at her lack of skill, she experimented.

"I like working with different materials," she says. "I like colorful stuff, and I was always into geometric patterns. I thought it was fun to mix different patterns together. Even if I followed something in a quilting book, I'd do a couple different things and then slam it all together. It was more fun that way."

She made her first quilt about 15 years ago, and it still graces the foot of her bed. She made quilts for all the kids in her family as well as friends. In fact, people wanted to hang her quilts on walls, and with this new interest in her work, Jestrow began larger projects.

Her first showing was at a pop-up space in 2008, and she's since created full-on installations as well as learned to incorporate paints and all manner of fabrics. Her work hangs in the windows near the Walgreens on Collins Avenue at 74th Street in Miami Beach. And most recently, she's become fascinated with painting on quilts made of linen.

"That's really a lot of fun to sew with," she says. "I like the smell of it."

Wanna see more MasterMinds? At Artopia, sponsored by Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables, you can check out work by 2014's ten MasterMind award finalists and watch as the three Mastermind Award winners are announced. And that's just the beginning. Artopia will also include live entertainment by Bottle & Bottega, CircX, and Flamenco Puro; local art by Tesoro Carolina, Trek 6, 8 Bit Lexicon, Hec One Love, Ivan Roque, and Jay Bellicchi; and DJ sets by Main Event Productions, Phaxas, Golden San, Skinny Hendrix, and DJ Supersede. Other sponsors include Rums of Puerto Rico (Official Rum sponsor), Car2Go, El Palacios de los Jugos, Beck's (official beer sponsor), and Vero Water (official water sponsor). Early bird tickets are available through Feb. 2. Visit the official Artopia website.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.

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