From A Judge’s Journal

by Carlene Harwick
Originally Published Spring 2000

Perception …. it is at the core of the design of our pieces and colors everything we see and do, what we think and who we are.

Last fall, I was one of three pages at a national exhibit. Being in the background allowed me to observe and to see the show more objectively than when responsible for judging a show. Observing the judges’ attitudes, judgments and negotiations as they take place is interesting to say the least. To watch the passion for the art, the love of it, the excitement about particular pieces in each judge’s heart and mind is very inspiring.

The judging process in itself generates many emotions. Not only are techniques important but, of course, so is the design, color, use of stitches, etc. The position of judging is one of power. But is that the main ingredient? Some judges may see it this way. Some entrants may see it this way. It is very flattering to be hired as a “judge.” It would seem to indicate that a particular individual is respected for her knowledge and expertise. Quite an honor! However, as the old adage says — “Beware of the person who thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think.”

Isn’t judging more one of responsibility? A responsibility to understand all aspects of the art and to try to perceive the soul of the artist? The best advice ever given a number of years ago was from a dear friend and mentor — “Be very careful, tread softly, you are dealing with their souls (artists/stitchers).”

Although I am always honored and excited when invited to judge, I am also apprehensive, and concerned that I do the job well. Reviewing judging books and my journal before each show relieves some of the tension. I always pray (yes, I really do – don’t believe in taking unnecessary chances) that I will make all wise decisions. If not humility isn’t a good friend! A lot of calories are burned thinking about each piece and all the facets of judging it. I was once facetiously told that thinking so hard while stitching or judging bums calories and will make you thinner. Sounds good? So far, only my hair is thinner!!

Back to judging and the show. The judges worked very hard, studied each piece thoroughly, and their negotiations regarding ribbon decisions indicated they knew their field. One of the incidents that reminds one to think before speaking was when, later in the week, a certified judge was overheard criticizing the show judges for their ribbon decisions — a definite breech of professional etiquette. Of course we are not all going to look at the same piece the same way. Did it make this judge appear wiser than the other judges?

“Judges always have a power attitude anyway!” – a comment recently made by a teaching colleague. Is this the way most stitchers see the judges? Do we come across this way to most people? Is it the individual’s insecurity when his/her piece is being judged? I am still thinking about this one.

Two to three months after this exhibit, a teacher wrote to me to tell me one of her students was so discouraged after entering the show and not winning a ribbon that she was unable to stitch. After long email chats with her and discussing philosophies and the love of needlepoint, she was put in touch with one of the judges — so she could discuss the piece with her and learn from the evaluation. Her perception was that she couldn’t ask the judge anything. She didn’t understand the scoring and thought since she didn’t win a ribbon, this was the end of it. Dolores Andrews’ admonition during NAN’s Judge’s Certification was, “You must be able to back up your opinion, if you are asked.” Judges aren’t gods – they are just people with opinions and (knowledgeable) perceptions.

Communication is important. Judges must make themselves accessible to the entrants whose pieces they judge and open to any questions. On the flip side, the entrants need to feel free to ask for clarifications and be ready to hear the answers.