Jannell Epp (JE): Now, Anita, welcome.Anita Murphy (AM): Thank you.
E: I’d like to ask you a few questions today and I see a couple of wonderful quilts that you’ve brought with you–
AM: Thank you.
JE: I myself am very interested in historical quilts, so I’d like to start with this green one if it’s all right with you.
AM: Alright. Doctor Ruth Hartgraves was a young girl in Hamilton County. That’s where her grandmother lived. Ruth grew up in Brownwood, Texas and she and her sister, Lucy, went to what was known as the Villa, which was a Catholic boarding area. And my two aunts went there also and they were lifelong friends. Both were born in about 1901 and remained friends until my aunt passed away in 1988 and so she was honored, Doctor Ruth Hartgraves. She never married. Her sister, Lucy, became an Episcopal nun and was also an eye doctor. And her brother was an attorney, as was her father and her mother. And they went to the Villa as a private school although they were not Catholic. But they boarded there and it was a marvelous basic education. But they did keep in touch all those years. Doctor Hartgraves has been highly honored by the University of Texas and she said, ‘They weren’t smart enough to ask me for my quilts, Anita.’ And after I had won the Statue of Liberty Contest, she said, ‘I would like for the quilts to live with you.’ And I told her we were hoping someday to have a quilt museum and she said, ‘Well, let me know. I always have a few dollars to spend here and there.’ And so her parents were killed when she and her sister and brother, well the brother had become an attorney. And they were killed outright in an auto accident. So the brother settled the estate and Ruth was just right at becoming her last medical time. And so he divided up hundreds and hundreds of acres and of course Ruth was trying to get her medical practice started. And everybody thought she would want cash and she said no, and she divided it all up. She said, ‘I want this much cash once a year in the spring. I want to see the world.’ And sure enough, for many years, she’d get this large cash amount and she’d take off. She had the same nurse secretary for fifty-four years. And she said, ‘I was good to her’, she said, to keep her employed that many years. But she had quite a sense of humor. So, she sent me both of these quilts and she said, maybe we shouldn’t quote this. She said, ‘The University wanted everything, including my bloomers, but,’ she said, ‘they weren’t smart enough to ask about quilts.’ So she said, ‘Anita, you’re to have them.’ So one time, she and Sister Lucy, my two aunts who were called ‘the girls;’ one of them is the one who taught me how to quilt. And then their older sister was a Dominican nun and my husband took them all out to some fancy restaurant they wanted to go to. He didn’t stay and eat with them. He said, ‘You know, driving around Houston you couldn’t even say a bad word when you got two nuns, two old ladies, and a doctor in the back seat of the car,’ he said, ‘How do you arrange these things for me?’ And I said, ‘Honey, that’s all right, because you’ll pick them up at four.’ He was a saint. He had to be. But anyway, she would visit her granny on the farm and she putts this down in 1906 I mean, 1907, and she was six. So she was born in 1901, same as one of my aunts. And the grandmother never took her stitches out. And she said that was even more reason to love her. She spent a lot of summers with her grandmother and she said, ‘You know, if they had seen those, they probably never would have let me become a surgeon,’ she said, ‘I do better now on my stitches.’ She said her mother was a gracious, gracious southern lady. And the fashion was to learn to quilt, so she pieced this quilt, but she soon discovered she would rather go to luncheons and to bridge club three times a week than stay home and quilt. So she hired a very lovely lady to quilt it. And it is all sasheen, typical of that era and that day, she put a chin guard on it, or you know whisker guard. And so that could be washed and it didn’t wear any of this fabric out. I have one quilt that the man’s whiskers just slathered one side. You could tell which side the woman slept on and which side the man slept on. Sad to say, I travel and teach a great deal, and somebody loved the quilt as much as I and they took it home with them. So I no longer have that quilt.
JE: We’re talking about the gold quilt. I just want to identify which one we’re talking about. The gold one with the sasheen.
AM: And a lot of women put this on to keep the soil from showing on one side of the quilt. And it’s easy to take off and wash and then you put it back on the quilt.
JE: Oh, I see.
AM: But a lot of, I know my mother did on several of her quilts. And that was a wonderful protective measure for that. I have here, I don’t know if you all want it, a picture of Doctor Ruth with her grandmother. I mean, yeah with her grandmother.
JE: And this is her at the age
AM: Of probably four or five.
JE: Four or five years old. And this is her grandmother–
AM: Her grandmother.
JE: –that made this green quilt.
AM: Yes, made. She lived on a farm and of course this was one of the quilts that she made for the hired hands for their cabins to have–
JE: This one?
AM: The utilitarian quilt.
JE: All right. Do you know what size this–okay, this is the–
AM: No, you all would have to, I don’t.
JE: They’ll measure it later that’s fine.
AM: And this was Doctor Ruth’s mother. Very stylish woman.
JE: And did she quilt?
AM: She pieced the gold one.
JE: She made the gold one.
AM: And this is Doctor Ruth.
AM: And you all might like to, this is a proclamation for Doctor Ruth Hartgraves M.D. And it was honored as Houston Day, the day was entitled For Dr. Ruth Hartgraves, whereas Dr. Ruth Hartgraves was born in North, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas medical branch at Galveston where she earned her M.D. degree. She served her internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Whereas Doctor Hartgraves who had practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Houston for fifty years. Now this was in ’85. And she kept on practicing a little longer. Has held appointments at Baylor College of Medicine, Methodist Hospital, Jefferson Davis Charity Hospital, Hermon Hospital, which is here in Houston, Memorial Hospital system and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. Whereas Dr. Hartgraves encouraged and supported women who chose medicine as a career by sponsoring female students at Baylor and by organizing the Eastern branch of the American Medical Women’s Association as well as serving on the Commission of the Status of Women under President John F. Kennedy. And whereas Clinical Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Dr. Hartgraves is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Elizabeth Blackwell Award of the Year, Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, the recipient of Honorary Doctor of Science Degree form Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas and the Students Association of the University of Texas at Austin Distinguished Alumnus Award. And whereas Dr. Hartgraves a charter member of St. Luke’s Methodist Church is also an active supporter of numerous cultural organizations including the Houston Grand Opera Society, the Houston Symphony Society, and the Friends of Bijou Bend. That is the home of the Emma Hogg and quite an outstanding woman herself. Whereas on the occasion of the luncheon benefiting the Women’s Fund, the City of Houston joins in recognizing Dr. Ruth Hartgraves for her outstanding contribution to her patients and her community. Now, therefore, I, Katherine J. Whitmeyer, Mayor of the City of Houston, so hereby proclaim Wednesday, October 16th, 1985 as Dr. Ruth Hartgraves’ M.D. Day. And she signed it and all and somebody said, ‘Well, that was certainly nice, had you met Kathy Whitmeyer before?’ She said, ‘Met her? I delivered her.’
JE: Oh. [laughs.] She was right there at the beginning.
AM: Yes. She had a marvelous quick wit and as she traveled, she went around the world actually three times. She climbed the Matterhorn and just did everything, and her last two trips she said that they offered her a wheelchair, but she thought a cane would do. And she had collected over the many years a small scarf of handkerchief or something easy to pack, and she sent me a soup box full of silk scarves from all around the world and handkerchiefs. And I just felt so humble when she did, but she was very proud when I became the Statue of Liberty winner for Texas and of course several articles. And my Aunt Helen Burt that taught me how to quilt and they kept in touch all these years was able to see an article in one of the magazines stating that she had taught me how to quilt at the age of seven. So I’ve been at it a long time. But she is a very charming woman. And I think these quilts need recognition and to be recorded and I think we should save our stories and I hope you’ve enjoyed this one.
JE: Oh, this is wonderful.
AM: And if you have anything else to ask, because who knows, I could forget something.
JE: Oh, I have a lot of questions.
JE: What year did you start quilting?
AM: Well, 1934.
AM: I was seven years old. My grandmother passed away in Brownwood, Texas and the aunts, well, “the girls,” they had no age, they were always called ‘the girls.’ They begged my mother to let me stay with Grandfather Burt and them. And so I stayed almost a year and Aunt Helen taught me to quilt. And of course in that day we didn’t have good quilting thread. Mine was quilted with six-strand embroidery floss. Yes. [laughs.] So I go a little ways back.
AM: Well, 1901 from 1934, she was thirty-three.
JE: Wonderful. So she had been quilting for several years.
AM: Well, she had a Home Ec. Degree from the University of Texas. Helen and Alice all went to the University if Texas. One Sister Anita did, too, and then later got her other degrees here in Houston through the Sacred Heart Dominican College. And she got her Doctorate degree form the University of Texas. Driving up on the Greyhound bus and she said, ‘Oh, you always want to give me something,’ she said, ‘I want you to make me a book cover for pocket books,’ because she said, ‘If you want to clear your mind, read a murder mystery.’ But she said, ‘Here I sit in this white habit with this blood and guts novel shocking everybody.’ So I made her this fancy book cover. But the nuns weren’t allowed to drive in her order at that time. And so she commuted on the Greyhound bus and she was the second highest in the class. The highest in the class was Dr. Billy Watson who was her godchild. She said, ‘He shouldn’t have beaten me’. So Brownwood was a small town and everybody knew everyone. And that’s Howard Paine University is now and a branch of, oh, the general that said, ‘I will return’? MacArthur. They have very beautifully added on to that university and that wing is in honor of MacArthur.
JE: So do you feel that this history that your family has had with quilts and the inspiring people in their lives, this is why you’re so involved in the history of quilts?
AM: Yes. Nine of us were in the Sesquicentennial [150 years.] started Texas Quilts, Texas Treasures. And we documented right at three thousand quilts. And American Quilt Society in Paducah published our book [the second book that they published.]. And it is a fabulous volume. And in our particular guild that I founded in Beaumont, Texas, I had made a reversible quilt with, the members had made it and I taught it and designed it, and we raised $1500 that year. Of course we’re talking way back in 86. And so with that money we voted. The book was $26.95, I think. We have members in twenty-three cities in Texas. And so every city that we had a member in we donated a book to the library. So there are a lot of books in the library. And we had some beautiful stories. We just wish we’d had three pages for every quilt because the stories were so unique and so very nice. But we had quilt search days scattered around the state. And that’s how we were able to attract a lot of our quilts. And we gave a $100 prize for the oldest. And some of the cities where we had our quilt search days would furnish the $100 because we did all of this out of our hip pocket. I mean, we didn’t earn or keep a penny. We just all supported it and did beautifully with it. But no, these stories should be kept. Our second quilt search day was up at Jasper, Texas which, I don’t know, probably a hundred and eighty miles from here. And the bank gave us their lobby and they furnished us food and drink and coffee which was nice because we were there eight to ten hours to do all of this. And it was Jasper Days where they had the street markets and all of the festivities of the city. And this young man dropped his grandmother off and he took off. He wanted to go to the booths and stuff. And so we had a dickens of a time convincing her to eat. ‘I don’t have any money.’ I said, ‘They are giving us the food. We don’t want you to pay.’ ‘Oh, I just couldn’t do that.’ ‘Well, I’ll just have to sit on you and feed you,’ she says. [laughs.] And so we got to interviewing her and she said, ‘The men had their money for their tobacco but we had to struggle to get money for our quilts.’ And she said, ‘And them little sacks, when you open them up, are four and a half inches by seven and three fourths inches high and them holes never come out. And if you got a bunch of them you just cut the holes out and dye them.’ And she had a quilt there that was muslin and pink. And she dyed that with those big berries that come in the fall of the year and soaked them in that. And she fixed it, as we would call it, the rail fence nowadays. And she said, ‘When my kids were home sick, they’d say, we want the road quilt.’ And they’d make a little car out of a stick and go up and down the pink roads of this thing. And she had quilted it in the scallop design, and some of it was in the circles. And so our leader, she said, ‘Well, I’ll take the microphone and I’ll interview.’ And I said, ‘Fine.’ Because I had done quite a few things. And so she was being nice to this little lady and she said, ‘Well, now when you do this clam shell, how do you do it?’ She said, ‘Well, you put a thumbtack here and you tie a piece of string to your pencil and then you just mark it off.’ And Kay said, ‘Well, how do you know to get your lines?’ And she said, ‘Dummy, you just shorten the string.’ [laughs.] Kay handed the microphone back to me real quick but some of their stories were just priceless.
JE: You drew these people from their homes from all over the state so you go to see quilts that–
AM: Oh yes.
JE: Hadn’t been in shows.
AM: And we were so good and pure which we regretted since because we didn’t want to steal quilts from people or have them think we were doing wrong by them. And we found a way out in the west Texas place that–I wish I had brought that book with me. I’m sorry I didn’t. They had had a shipment or a trial of some sort from the Aunt Jemima pancake flour and we found two quilts where they had bought enough pancake flour to make a quilt. And I mean they were double size. And went back, we decided we’d made a little money on the book, we would cleanse ourselves from this purity and go back and buy this quilt. Well, the little darling house had burnt down and the quilt with it. And she was in a nursing home. So we have kicked ourselves several times, you know, not trying to keep them for, well, we’d love to have a museum here, but who knows. But some of the things we really regret that we didn’t go ahead and do and we have one picture in there of a man that went to the Chicago exposition in 1933. And we have a picture of him showing one of our members how he appliquéd. Most men don’t appliqué, John William can tell you that. And we have a darling picture of him. And he went to Chicago and loves it so and came back and raved so about it that he bought a used model T Ford for $15 and took his whole family back to Chicago. And it was their first car and the first time to see Chicago and anything as big as the fair and the City of Chicago. So some of the stories just tear at your heartstrings. And yet there are stories now, I judged Oklahoma City last month and they give the ribbons to the members to go put on their own quilt. Well, that’s delightful. And I had to stroll around, you know, meet them all. So this man came up to me and he said, ‘You have no idea what giving my wife’s quilt a ribbon means to me.’ And it was a wall quilt and it was nice. It wasn’t charity; I didn’t know anything about it. He said ‘Our house was demolished in the hurricane.’ He said, ‘And I found that quilt four blocks from where our house used to stand in the mud.’ And he said, ‘We worked and worked to clean it up.’ And, well, I just said, ‘I think God guided me,’ you know, because it just was spectacular. And he said ‘She was going to enter seven quilts. Two we found near the house. The other four we have never located. And of course the guild has given all the ladies new fabrics and new supplies.’ But he said, ‘To just think that that one was saved and you recognized the quality of her workmanship.’ And he said they were living in a trailer. [announcement over the intercom.] The other interesting thing, I’ve had something interesting everywhere I’ve judged, but Oklahoma City was most recent. But this other quilt that I really loved was a log cabin but she kept half of the blocks to form a diamond, white background diamond and appliquéd a gorgeous trellis of roses and stems and leaves. And all four edges, she had four inch red Cluny [a soft English lace.] lace. It was just precious. So I said, ‘Well, I want to meet this little lady, whoever did this quilt.’ And they said, ‘Oh, she won’t come out at night, but we’ll bring her tomorrow.’ And come to find out she’s ninety-five years old and makes a quilt about every two months. All hand cut and pieced. And so I got to meet her and she’s ninety-five. And she told me that, she said, ‘I saw that lace and I knew I’d put it somewhere,’ she said, ‘I liked it.’ So she said, ‘Honey, if you’d been here three years ago my stitches would have been better,’ because she said, ‘It’s getting hard to make those tiny stitches.’ [laughs.] So you just have to love the stories that come with all of these happenings. And there are some wonderful heart touching stories, I find, that are just super.
JE: Now, history of quilts has inspired you with almost every step of the way?
AM: I believe so. I have three daughters and a son and then I have an adopted son. I used to make the girls dresses. I even learned how to make straw hats. And two of my daughters sew quite successfully. The other one can but doesn’t want to. And they’ve all made one quilt to satisfy me, you know, so they haven’t been bit by the bug yet like I have. But being a widow it’s been the greatest thing. God opened another door to me to let me travel and be with people. And my husband and I owned our own business for twenty-five years. So it was a real switch in lifestyle. So I figure that God wanted me to do this. And I regret my husband was after me for years to write a book because I have a couple of unusual techniques and after he passed way I wrote it. I could feel his presence. But I regret he wasn’t here to see the final thing, but maybe that was the way God wanted it. I’m giving a lecture next Tuesday to nine hundred senior citizens for the Chamber of Commerce in Beaumont and I think I’ll probably write my speech Monday night because I’ve been too busy doing this. But really, I taught around twenty-two to twenty-five senior citizens at a Junior Forum Center for eight years. And it’s been one of the most gratifying events because most of them weren’t well off. And they had small room or apartments. And at first people would say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that quilting. It has to be stretched. You have to do it.’ And all of them lap quilted. They didn’t have room to do otherwise and we finally–we ran out of money. So I furnished money and I taught them how to cut paper cut their own designs. And then I made them sign their blocks. And fifteen of them are quilting with the angles now. About every year I get the word that another little doll has passed on. But so many of them had wanted to learn to quilt. And I had the most charming black woman come to the center. If you were fifty-five years or older you could come. And I taught for nothing, I mean, it was fun for me. She was so gracious, Louella, and so you learn a few tricks. I would put the name of the block in a hat on paper and let them draw. Because, ‘You gave her an easier block than I got,’ [laughs.] ‘Her’s has less work on it.’ So you learn a few little asides. So Louella asked me if she could copy the pattern that she had drawn. And I said, ‘Yes. Take it home, it’s your to keep or I’ll get you a copy.’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘all my life I’ve wanted to quilt,’ and she said, ‘I want to make something that I have quilted and done.’ So of course she came and she said, ‘I’ve got all my children with a quilted pillow.’ And I said, ‘Well, how nice.’ And she said, ‘Well that was a pretty good effort because I have twelve children.’
AM: We never knew that. And her husband was bedfast. She was a LBN and so the mother could come with a different child set at home. And she was walking twenty blocks until we found that out and had a shuttle that would pick them up and take them home. And so I was so proud that she felt she had accomplished something that her children would have. And she never told us. They called me January 3rd that she had passed away and she was fighting cancer all this time and never–so you know there are certain times that God puts you in the right place to help other people. You don’t do it for them, but you guide them. And so I’ve had some wonderful women. One said, ‘I’ve made a quilt for each of my grandchildren,’ and that was ten of them, she said, ‘all my life I wanted to quilt and my mother and aunt said, ‘You will never learn to quilt.” So for our first show, her mother was ninety and the aunt was ninety-two and she got them to Beaumont and she said ‘This is my teacher,’ and the mother said, ‘I bet you did a lot of her stitches.’ I said, ‘No. This is not the way I teach. You’re a big girl you can do it on your own.’ But I’ve had some very rewarding things through quilting and wonderful friends. Just couldn’t be better. And I founded our guild in 81 and we now have two hundred ninety members. And we have about eight women who come from Louisiana. Beaumont’s about thirty miles from the Louisiana border. So we have good members from everywhere. Which makes it super nice, but I feel sorry for anyone who can’t sit down and keep busy. Whether it’s crochet, needlepoint, lace making, whatever you want to do. The greatest thing you can do is to create something. Because usually your heart’s in it while you’re creating it. And I think it makes it super special.
JE: So the teaching part of this is possibly more important to you than even the quilting? Or how do you feel?
AM: Well, I have been an honorary member of the Junior Forum [volunteer organization.] for many years and after we sold our business, I felt I ought to give something back. And I had said I would teach for one month how to make the stitch and flip potholders. So, well, I was there a second month. And so we made pillows. And then the third month we made baby quilts. So then we were up to Christmas. And Christmas Eve the phone rang, we were all leaving for midnight mass. And all of the family and my husband’s sisters were there. And I thought, ‘It’s go to be a wrong number because you know we’re all here, who could be calling us?’ So this young man said that he owned Cudahay Ham here in Houston. And he said, ‘If you ever come to Houston I want to give you the biggest ham that you can have because,’ he said, ‘I think you should know that you’re teaching my aunt to quilt and to calm her down with quilting has kept her off of the fourth floor which was the mental floor at the Baptist Hospital. She’s been in their every Christmas for seven years.’ And he said, ‘She is selling the potholders. She’s selling the baby quilts for three dollars and the pillows for five and she is so proud of herself.’ And he said, ‘You just don’t know how grateful our family is to not have her sick at Christmas.’ So my husband said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’re going to quit doing it?’ he said, ‘Do you feel as tall as a penny or a dime?’ So I went back for eight more years. So I do think teaching, and it’s a creative thing and it comes from within. And I wrote an article got published that years ago we were raised to think you can’t do two things well at once. Well I dispute that. I can sit and quilt and iron out my worries and I can pray and just become so calm. And I do think you can so two things at once because something can be bothering you beyond your grip and you can just quilt it out. Because you can sit there and you can entertain yourself literally. And when women say, ‘Oh I just don’t feel like it,’ I say, ‘You’ll feel like it after you do twenty minutes of it. You’ll start to flow again.’ So I am kind of bossy. [laughs.] I try to encourage them to do it. But I think any age should learn and can learn. We had, our museum, got up a grant. And they wanted all the sixth grade students in six schools to let the children learn a little history and so that didn’t go over and so they said, ‘Alright. We wanted family life.’ Well you would be surprised what some of these families do. They had one, this little boy had drawn a TV and here were sever little heads sitting there watching it. And he had the Houston Oilers and the score up there. So they gave me fifteen-inch blocks and just anything the teachers could find. Buttons, doodles, one little girl drew herself and appliquéd and she had cut a big curl off of her head and glued that and stitched that on to represent her. And I do think our children are terribly neglected because we’ve only had three snows in the forty-four years that I’ve been here. And they got cotton balls snow. Have you tried sewing over a cotton ball? [laughs.] It’s not easy, believe me but over half of them and of course the girls at the museum are wonderful. And they said, ‘Well now we want these blocks at least nine feet tall.’ And I got thinking and I couldn’t keep my mouth closed and she said ‘They’re all going back to the school. And I said, ‘Yes, well, where are they going to hang them if they’re nine feet tall?’ She said, ‘Well I hadn’t thought much about that, but they could hang them in the gym.’ I said, ‘That’s the best basket ball practice I can see. There’s a yellow block; there’s a red block.’ [laughs.] Well, we had to do some free thinking. But another thing that I’m proud of that I did. Three of our schools, high schools, were chosen to go to Russia. And I called the head man and I introduced myself, ‘With your permission, I would like to come out and make banners.’ They had to do something to take with them. Music or dance or something to entertain the Russian students because they were at these, had come to learn different things. And I said, ‘I would like all of the students to draw their handprint and put their name inside and what year they’re going to graduate.’ And almost too late I thought, ‘Well why not have them bring Russian handprints here?’ So I guess I quilted eight or nine banners. And they said when they showed them in Washington, D.C., everyone was furious that they hadn’t thought of that, too. But that is one of the neatest things. I know from my husband’s sister’s ninety-third birthday. Everybody that came to her party signed their hand and the men, of all things, started putting their rings in there. And then one of them started putting their little cuticle or the shape of the fingernail. And they wrote a message and dated it. And then I did it for my son-in-law’s great-grandmother. And her son I thought was going to explode. She took ill in the middle of the night, they rushed her to the hospital, and he went out there, someone had stolen her quilt. And it had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren on it and one of the great-grandchildren, who is my grandchild, took her shoe off and she drew her foot at three years old. You know, and that was just awful [to have the quilt stolen.] . That broke all of our hearts because our minister’s name was on there, the hospital chaplain, so you have some sadnesses, you really do. But it was so great at the time and it was a lap quilt for the wheelchair.
JE: It meant so much.
AM: Yeah. We have had nice things that our members have thought up and done. One year at our show we decorated the hall with a hundred and ten AIDS baby quilts. And a lot of the guilds are doing that. And then we have a boy’s haven somewhat similar to Boy’s Town. And I think we’ve given them eighty-seven quilts. And if they stay and graduate they get to keep their quilt. If they run off or go home or something, the quilt stays, we think, the quilt stays there.
JE: Unless they run off with the quilt.
AM: Yeah. [laughs.] So we don’t look too close. Let the directors discover that. But we’re doing a lot of quilts for the Seamen’s Mission right now. You know, people don’t realize that quilters don’t just do for themselves. They are very giving and I have a lady that came to me at the Piccadilly cafeteria. And she said, ‘My husband’s about to kill me for coming over here and bothering you.’ I was eating alone. ‘But,’ she said, ‘I know you’re Anita Murphy. And I said, ‘Well, yes I am.’ She said, ‘I have seen you on different things. I have every article on you. I have your books.’ And she manages a daycare center for Alzheimer’s patients. They come at six in the morning, have breakfast, and then they have lunch, and then the families pick them up and take them home at five or six at night. And she doesn’t let them sit and stare. So this has been a blessing for me. She takes the tiniest bit of fabric that most of us toss and I take, you know, tons of it out there. And she lets them glue it on paper and then they take a magic marker and draw a circle or a star. And she hangs it all up. And I taught them how to make rag belts. When I was a child they were macaroni belts. You put the string down through them and then you wove over the little straws. It’s a little handy loom and the variegated yarn. Well, I’m making them now out of selvages and using plastic soda straws. So I was at a scout thing and they were wanting new ideas so I told them about my belts and this little girl said, ‘Well why didn’t you use plastic straws when you were a girl?’ And I said, ‘Well, honey, they hadn’t invented it yet.’ ‘You’re older than plastic?’ [laughs.] I’ve heard of being older than dirt, but I never really put myself in that category. So I think quilters have a language of their own and we do kind of have to watch it sometimes. But they’re doing the string belts and they’re doing string around coat hangers. And they are so happy touching all these textiles. And they love it. Of course they don’t have, well I guess a couple of them have the dull scissors. But they just love to draw and do all these things. So if you have a place in your hometown, take them your fabrics. But I took them a couple of old Life magazines. And Sarah told me, she said, ‘I held this one up and they said that’s Roosevelt.’ See their brain was retaining what they’d learned first. And they say the brain trellises off until it gets to the core. And so what they remembered as a child or a young person. And she said it taught her a whole new thing that she’s doing with them now, is taking old magazines and letting them review and remember the people that were important when they were young. So there’s so many places to put our little fabrics and our yarns and things but she’s a remarkable woman. She has several mates there that help feed those that need it or do this or that. But she’s fun to work with. She’s taught me some humility and patience, too. But I just think that fabrics helping others, giving them something to do is something God wants us to do, really.
JE: Well, it is now,
AM: Oh, I’ve probably overdone my stay.
JE: No. You’re just fine. I just wanted to give you a little bit of the notice here. It’s 10:54 and we’re about to conclude. So if there’s anything that you wish to say about what quilting means to you or where you feel you’ll go with quilting from here. You’ve touched so many lives. I can’t imagine–I mean–but there’s a whole world out there.
AM: Well, I have been blessed. I taught in Denmark and I’ve taught in Mexico and I’ve taught in probably thirty-eight of the states in the United States. And of course I’m sad at heart because I taught with Doreen Speckman on her cruise ships and she’s been at our guild and ‘oh, I have a house full of clutter.’ But I have one cast-iron bed that I painted red. And it’s a big old high thing, and Doreen says, ‘I know where the red bed is. You don’t have to show me the way to my room.’ And she was accompanied by us in, well, 2000. But she touched lives. And there was one quality that she had that I would like to have. She made everyone feel as if they were her best and closest friend. And I think that’s a wonderful gift. But we have our sad times. But think of the times we’ve had that have been so good with them. But I think young girls; of course I’m a certified teacher with the NQA [National Quilt Association.] and have been fifteen years, but I think to figure out a way to make them feel comfortable. And I know precision is wonderful but letting them do it from the heart is even greater and when you think of the ones that have been allowed to do it, I think that that to me would be the greatest way for people to go about sharing and learning and loving because they teach me things. I learn something new every time I take a class or sit and listen to different people. So I hope these stories help. Are you all planning on a book? Or what are your archives? Or your?
E: We have archives right now. We’re orally recording. They’ll type this up and make it accessible to everyone.
AM: Now, where are your archives kept?
JE: This will be in the museum. University of Delaware is where this will go.
AM: Now, let me ask you this. And I’m asking sensibly. We have all of the pictures and the slides. And we haven’t put them anywhere. We have been trying to figure out where our archives could go.
AM: We have them in different members’ homes. I’m sorry.
JE: Okay, so I’ll conclude this tape, and then we’ll discuss this a little bit further if that’s all right.
AM: Oh, thank you.
JE: Okay. It is now 10:57. I’m concluding my interview with Anita Murphy.
Anita Murphy, Interviewee
Janell Epp, Interviewer
Ilana Hodsdon, Transcriber
International Quilt Festival
October 22, 1999
Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS) creates, through recorded interviews, a broadly accessible body of information concerning quiltmaking, both present-day and in living memory. Our downloadable QSOS Guidebook has everything you need to conduct your own QSOS interviews. Our archive for the original audio recordings and photographs is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
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