In Memoriam | Visual Arts

Victoria Acoba 1944 – 2022

Vicki Acoba was a well-known fixture in the Utah arts community, especially noted for her small porcelain teapots. She regularly sold out her stock at the Avenues Street Fair, Utah Art Market, Holladay Blue Moon Festival and various galleries along the Wasatch Front – a fact which always pleasantly surprised her. She was shyly humble about her talent and couldn’t quite believe that other people were willing to pay for her creations. She would grin with a twinkle in her eye and say, “I’m glad I could put a smile on their faces!”

Although Vicki delighted in selling her teapots, she really made them because she loved playing with clay on her potter’s wheel, which spun clockwise to accommodate her left-handedness. Her crowded studio was her refuge and happy place, and she would spend hours making fiddly little details to add to her teapots — teeny tiny clay balls, flowers, coils or spikes, along with textured leaves and other designs. A single teapot could easily have 200 or more details on it, and her years of working with clay actually wore off her fingerprints.

Nanette Amis, who sold Vicki’s teapots for ten years at the Utah Art Market, remembers Vicki as a very quiet, kind person. “I used to always tell Vicki that her prices were too low,” she says. “Her teapots were so intricate that she needed to charge more to compensate for all the time. She would always tell me though, ‘If I charge more, then the people that really appreciate and love them won’t be able to afford them. I want people who love my pots to be able to afford them.’ It was hard to argue with that.”

What many people did not know about Vicki is that she was also a talented quilter. Roxanne Bartel, a fellow quilter who “discovered” Vicki at the Avenues Street Fair in the late 1990s, remembered her as an artist who could easily translate her talent from one medium to another. “I could see immediately that Vicki’s work was extraordinary,” she says. “Like many people who loved her work, I have a houseful of teapots from several decades, as well as some beautiful hand-built pieces. I also have one of her amazing quilts.”

In her early years of quilting, Vicki created traditional designs through workshops or from patterns. Although those quilts are beautiful, they don’t have the flare that she developed later. Her intuitive eye for color, pattern, and design developed into a unique style that produced creations immediately recognizable as “Vicki quilts.” When her quilting friends would comment on her wild and unlikely combination of colors, she would laugh and say, “Well, you do know I’m Filipino don’t you?”

Vicki never sold any of her quilts. Instead, she would display them in her house or give them to family and friends. Even more likely, she wouldn’t get around to quilting them at all and would hang the quilt tops neatly on hangers in her studio closet. Her creative brain had already discarded the finished top in favor of working on a new one. Only in the last few years did Vicki engage a long-arm quilter friend to quilt some of the tops that stuffed her closet.

Vicki had an ingrained, polite disregard for rules imposed by the hypothetical “quilt police.” Her quilts sometimes did not square up, her seams frequently did not match, she had a loose relationship with an iron, and she mixed crazy fabric patterns, colors, and designs with abandon. By traditional accounts her quilts should have been a disaster, but they were fabulous, one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

The same free spiritedness embodied by the famous Gee’s Bend quilters in Alabama seemed to flow through Vicki. That group of quilters originally used work clothes and miscellaneous off-cuts from a nearby textile factory and sewed them together as utilitarian quilts without regard to rules or technique. The women were later surprised when collectors lauded their quilts in the 1990s for their modern art aesthetics and wanted to display them in traditional art museums. Despite praise from her fellow quilters, Vicki never did see her quilts as anything more than “playing with fabric” and sewing life into the ideas swirling around in her head.

“Without a doubt Vicki was an inspiration as an artist, but she was also a wonderful person who will be much missed,” says Bartel. Echoing those words, Nanette Amis adds, “When she quit participating in the Utah Art Market, I felt there was a hole and something was missing. It turned out it was Vicki.”

Those of us who knew Vicki are incredibly grateful for her friendship and the smiles she put on our faces.

Earlier this month a silver alert was issued when Acoba, who had been experiencing cognitive decline, went missing. She was found deceased in Wyoming on Oct. 24. Funeral services will be held November 11th at 1:00 pm at Holbrook Mortuary, 3251 S 2300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84109. 

All images courtesy the author. Sheryl Gillilan is a long-time quilting friend of Vicki’s and owns close to 20 of her teapots and two of her quilts. She is also the executive director of the Holladay Arts Council.

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4 replies »

  1. Further proof, if proof is needed, that because clay and quilts pass beneath the radar of “fine” art, some of the best, most satisfying, and pleasing art is being done in those materials, by artists whose love of what they do carries them forward without concern for fame or fortune. I thought Sheryl Gillilan’s textiles, which I review frequently in these pages, were a category of one, but I was wrong. She had a sister. Condolences to you, and to her family. Let’s all do what we can to appreciate the giants who sit among us and to have the courage to follow their examples.

  2. Thank you Sheryl, for writing such a fitting tribute to Vicky Acoba. I had the chance to work with her and appreciated her sense of color and style. She was always kind and pleasant to work with. My life is richer because of her beautiful work and I am grateful to have several of her pieces in my home.

  3. Thank you Sheryl for the gracious tribute to my dear sister in law. We are so blessed to have had her in our lives. She would always send me pictures of her teapots and quilts which I would love to share with my co-workers and they would always look forward to seeing them. They thought she was amazing. She will be deeply missed. She is not physically here but she is alive in my heart.

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