Jamie Fingal (JF): OK, I am Jamie Fingal and we are here at the International Quilt Festival for QSOS and I am interviewing Leslie Tucker Jenison who is in the Lonestar Quilt Book. Let’s talk about the two quilts that you brought today. Are there titles of the quilts? Do you want to do one quilt? Two quilts?
Leslie Tucker Jenison (LTJ): I’ll talk about both of them. I’ll show one and talk about it in more detail, how’s that?
JF: The title of it and the size of it.
LTJ: The one that is hanging up behind us here is called “Childhood Garden.” I can’t tell you what year it was made, which is embarrassing. I think it was [laughs.] 2005. It was, no it was 2004 actually. I’ll just briefly talk about this one. I brought two quilts that I thought were sort of milestone quilts for me. This particular piece I guess I would call it a grief piece. It was done about a year after my mother passed away. My mother was the last person in my family of origin and so I started, I was really trying to capture some memories from the place that I grew up, which I no longer live in. And one of the important things about that place was our garden, and that was important to my mother, and it was an important interaction we had together when I was really little, and so this is a memory piece about that, that’s what that is about. The other piece that I brought is a piece that was the first in a series called “In Vitro.” And this piece was important for me because it was kind of a breakthrough piece in terms of a style that I am working in more frequently now. It is, both these pieces are pieces that I created by hand-dyeing and screen printing all the cloth. This particular piece speaks to both parts of my life, kind of coming together which is that I am also a registered nurse, and I don’t practice anymore but some of the things that happened as a result of being a nurse, I think have influenced some of the imagery I like to look at. So I thought that was important, and that’s why I brought that quilt.
JF: Where did you get started in quiltmaking?
LTJ: Well actually, my grandmother, my paternal grandmother was a quiltmaker. She was, lived in a small town in North Central Kansas and she was the town seamstress. She always had a quilt in the frame. I unfortunately did not learn at her knee but I think that having a quilt in the frame all the time when I was young, growing up and visiting her, influenced my interest in quilting. Fast forward when I was in the clinical setting at the hospital I worked in inpatient obstetrics and one of the women who worked on the night shift would come in early for her shift, who was a quiltmaker, and she would always bring her quilt. I realize now after having children she probably came in early so that she could have a few minutes to herself [laughs.] but I was very interested in what she was doing. It really appealed to me and she took me under her wing and really mentored me and that was in 1979. So although I started quiltmaking then, I was sort of a frustrated quiltmaker who was working full-time and teaching part-time and raising three children. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of time to be really productive as a quiltmaker. But I continued to do it. When when we moved to Texas in 1997, that became a more important part of my life. And then as I transitioned from being a person who was commuting back and forth to do caregiving and also at that time my children were getting old enough that I had more time, I began to devote more time to my art.
JF: So when did you make the leap from being a traditional quilter to art quilting?
LTJ: I would say that happened in about 1990 or 1991. And it really was an evolution although I’ve never met a quilt I didn’t love and I have a very strong love of all the things about traditional quiltmaking. Every aspect of it appeals to me. I think that part of my desire to do something different was just to create something that was unique, be it from the pattern or design work of the quilt; also I became much more interested in surface design, working with unique pieces of cloth that I had dyed or screen printed. And that’s sort of when that happened: fast-forward a few years later when I moved to San Antonio [Texas.] I had absolutely no idea that I was moving into such a hot bed of surface design activity and that was just a very fortunate happy accident for me.
JF: Do you have a signature style in your work?
LTJ: I would say that I do although for many years it was not clear to me exactly what that meant and I’m not sure that I feel that it’s important to define that too carefully. I think that my signature style is anything that comes from my own hands. And so the style of my work will change and it will depend on what I’m interested in, what I’m obsessing about, at the time and that will go for two or three years and then I switch gears. So I’ve come to learn after having made more quilts that having a particular style may not be as important as staying true to myself, working with intent, and creating the work that I feel needs to be created. I believe that is my signature style. That may be a little esoteric but–
JF: No I think it’s important to evolve and change–
LTJ: Yes and I don’t want to be making the same thing today that I was making in 1979 or even five years ago. I mean, I would just get bored. And sometimes it’s sort of in retrospect that I realize, whoa that doesn’t look anything like these things over here! I just realized because of doing an interview with somebody recently that I’m making all these pieces that look very architectural suddenly. Because he said ‘Are you working on an architectural series?’ and I went, ‘I guess I am.’ [laughs.] I didn’t even know it.
JF: Do you do all kinds of different styles like pictorial and portraits and abstract? Or mainly concentrate your efforts on one aspect?
LTJ: I’d say that my quilts tend to be more abstracted than representational. Although again, it varies. I’m very attracted to organic shapes: one of my big obsessions that I spend a lot of time looking at are the effects of pressure on objects, whether they are manmade or natural. I am really fascinated and obsessed with how things fit together or what happens as a result of pressure so I’ll look at columns, cracks in the pavement, cracks in buildings, how rock piles form up, drift wood. I’ll study those things over and over again and they seem to repeat themselves not only in what I design on textile but also the quilting itself. I also believe that there’s a tie-in to how things look under the microscope; I am fascinated with the juxtaposition of the microscopic to the overt. I could look endlessly at those kinds of objects and never get bored.
JF: That’s great. On your surface design; are there certain things and techniques that you do in surface design that you think that sets you apart from other people?
LTJ: Well I don’t think anyone has invented a new wheel and I have a very wise artist friend who said she became very excited when she was working on her graduate degree work and thought she had invented a whole new technique. Her professor patiently listened to the whole thing and then said to her, ‘Well it’s been my experience that if you think you’ve invented a new technique, you just haven’t done the research.’ So although I do many known surface design techniques I think that one thing that I maybe tend to lean toward more than some are that I like to use objects that have already had a previous use many times to make more marks. So it’s not uncommon to see me dumpster diving or picking out a certain container at the grocery store because of that shape of the edge of the lid, which then subsequently becomes a mark making object for thickened dye or paint. I’ve done a lot of things that at the beginning were not deliberate, it was an interest in seeing another use for that object or seeing the potential for use in an object. So I think that’s one of the things that have happened especially in the last four or five years that is another obsession. I am good at having obsessions apparently.
JF: What drives you to create art quilts?
LTJ: Art quilts, because they’re textiles. I think that there’s this incredible, intimate draw toward textiles and that makes a textile piece, namely a quilt, very unique. I think that human beings are just naturally drawn to working and wanting to be closer to textiles because it’s the second thing we feel on our skin after we are born. We feel human touch first, and the next thing that hits our skin is a textile. And I believe that that is a very innate attraction. For me, part of the attraction of the textile, in terms of a work of art, is that with a quilt, whether it’s something I am going to sleep under or something I am going to look at that is hanging on a wall, is the fact that you are able to add yet another layer of design by the quilt line is extremely appealing to me. And I think the dimensional quality of a quilt makes it head and shoulders unique over any other piece of artwork.
JF: Is there a particular quilt artist that you’ve admired and are inspired by?
LTJ: I’ve been inspired by many quilt artists over the years and I think that it would be unfair to say once in particular.
JF: Give me three.
LTJ: Three? I will say that in the early 90s the person that inspired me the most was Debra Lunn. I don’t know if any of you know Debra Lunn, but she was really one of the people who pioneered a lot of the hand-dyed fabric. She was the first person I ever came into contact with who did her own surface design. It was in the early days of her business, she began to dye her own fabric because she couldn’t find what she wanted and she was working on her masters project and I met her early on when she started out and she just incredible inspiring to me. I would say early on the other person was Libby Lehman, and it’s because Libby was, although her work was somewhat traditional, she also colored outside the lines. She was probably one of the first people at the quilt festival whose work really spoke to me. I am very inspired by Hollis Chatelain. I think that she has danced to the beat of a different drum and I believe that her painted quilts and using her own imagery have taken quilts, elevated quilts, to another level. Those are three that just come to mind without having thought about it in advance.
JF: That’s good. There are several steps to making a quilt, is there one particular step that you enjoy the most?
LTJ: No, actually. And I would have said I love all of the steps, and they’ve all become almost equally important to me. Probably twenty years ago I wouldn’t have made that response because I started out as a traditional quiltmaker, I loved piecing quilts but I didn’t like hand quilting very much. I mean I did when I was doing it, but when I figured out how to do machine quilting, and figured out how to make the machine quilting unique to my style, that became as important as anything. And thirdly, for me this whole process starts with idea to translation onto cloth. The making of the cloth for my quilts has become as important to me as the construction or piecing of the quilt and the actual machine quilting. Each step is equally important to me.
JF: Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quiltmaking or teaching.
LTJ: An amusing experience? This is where I wish I had looked at it ahead of time. That’s mean [laughs.] An amusing experience–
JF: I’m sure you can think of something.
JF: Maybe not.
LTJ: Can we come back to that?
JF: Yeah we can.
LTJ: OK. Let’s skip this one.
JF: That’s the trick question of the day.
LTJ: An amusing–
JF: In your artistic life, I know you belong to series of organizations, what organizations do you belong to and do you think belonging to these organizations is valuable to your artistic journey?
LTJ: I belong to the Alliance for American Quilts. I think that’s a very important organization to belong to and the reason, the main reason that I personally feel that it is important to belong to the Alliance is that I think it’s so important to document stories of the whole gambit of quiltmakers because I feel strongly that women’s history has not been well documented. Although there are male quilters, I do believe obviously most of the people who make quilts are women, and I think it’s a very interesting lens through which to look at history. I feel very strongly about that. It’s one of the many things that the Alliance does that is very important to me personally. I am a Professional Artist member of the Studio Art Quilt Associates. I belong to the Surface Design Association. As well as the local organization, which is, the Fiber Artist of San Antonio. Well I guess I also belong to the Modern Quilt Guild now too.
JF: How do you think the latter organizations help you with your artistic journey? Like the Modern Quilt Guild?
LTJ: I love the energy of the Modern Quilt Guild. I think it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, there’s a lot of sort of carving our own path, and it’s traditional work with an eye toward the future with the color selection, with adding one’s own personal touches, and I like being around that. I think it’s great. I just think it’s fantastic. The Fiber Artists Organization I belong to, and I failed to mention I’m also a member of the Art Cloth Network, which is a small organization that’s a juried organization that is created to elevate art cloth, which is a little different from quilts, but it’s to see art cloth as an entity in and of itself. I think those are important because being around people that are creative helps you not work in a vacuum. It helps to elevate your own energy to get feedback or exchange ideas; I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing to be able to support other people as artists, to offer some of your own resources or gifts that you have, and to get them back. I think anytime you give information, you get more back than you ever thought about giving. I think it’s important to be involved in those things.
JF: What other areas of quilting are you involved in? Such as teaching, curating, quilt collecting.
LTJ: All of the above. I’ve been a collector when I could do that. I love collecting work of people that I admire. I’m particularly happy when it works that I have the opportunity to buy in a fundraising event toward another cause, such as the American Cancer Society’s fundraiser. I think that it’s always a good idea, and it supports an organization that I believe in so it’s all good. I’m also a curator; I’ve curated number of shows with my teaching partner, Jamie Fingal. I also was a member of a little cooperative gallery in San Antonio and we curated shows with a focus on fiber artists. I had some experience curating for the gallery; I’ve done several online exhibitions as a curator and we’ve, you and I, have curated four exhibitions together. And then we are teaching together as faculty at quilt festivals and also mixed-media retreats. All of the above, but I haven’t been teaching all that much until the last couple of years because I had children at home and I had deferred that until I had more time to do that.
JF: Getting back to quilts, what do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?
LTJ: I think a quilt that’s artistically powerful is artistically powerful for the same reason a painting would be artistically powerful, or any other piece of art. I think the principles of art apply to a quilt. You have to have value range, composition, a good color balance, and you have to have a focal point. I’m speaking more directly to art quilts when I say this, but to some degree that’s true of any quilt. I tend not to differentiate what I would consider good artwork that’s an oil painting or a textile piece. I think it’s all the same.
JF: Have advances in technology influenced your work?
LTJ: Yes they have. Part of that has to do with the access to digital reproduction of imagery. I am photographer, my photography informs my work very frequently, and very directly my photography is often integrated into my work. Access to better reproductive technology onto textiles has, it’s not exclusively what I do but it is influenced how I can create and interpret some of the things I want to interpret. So that is certainly a part of it and I believe just access to more information as we all have for especially the last ten years or so certainly has an influence. And I think it has affected the genre as a whole because back when I was still living in the Midwest, I would come to quilt festival because it was where I had access to the newest, best stuff. Now there’s the internet, it has become a great equalizer for people who need access to supplies that they might have had to fly to Houston for. Not to say that flying to Houston isn’t wonderful because we are all tactile people and we love to see everything up at the show. But still, I think that has influenced people as they do their work.
JF: How many different kinds of fabrics do you use in your quilts? And what do you use? Like cotton–
LTJ: I use cotton. I use silk, a variety of silk: silk broadcloth, silk organza, silk charmeuse, silk cotton combination, bamboo. That’s pretty much all of it isn’t it?
JF: What’s the most unusual thing that you’ve used in your quilts?
LTJ: The most unusual thing? Well, I have several of those but I will say that I have discovered kind of by a happy accident that I can take my Oil of Olay facial wash cloths that I use every night to take my makeup off, which I know sounds kind of disgusting, but I accidentally ran them through the laundry a few times and they didn’t fall apart, which made me feel like there was a potential for something else to happen to them. I took them to the studio one day and I put them underneath the silk screen with some thickened dye, and oh my goodness wasn’t that fun. I found that they took dye beautifully and while I was paying attention to what was happening with the facial cloths, I started to notice that the marks I was getting in between these facial cloths was pretty interesting too. I was getting two for the price of one, I was getting this drop cloth that, sadly, sometimes the drop cloth is better than the actual project, but I was getting two for the price of one, that I have done a lot of work with. My old FedEx and Priority Mail envelopes take acrylic paint beautifully and they stitch beautifully and they melt really wonderfully, so that. I have also done a lot of stuff with shredded paper, and I have done a lot of stuff recently with paper that I have laminated to sheer and then screen printed over. I’ve got a lot of stuff going with paper and cloth now, which is really interesting. There’s a real interesting textural appeal to me about that.
JF: What do you think makes a good quiltmaker?
LTJ: A good quiltmaker?
JF: A great quiltmaker.
LTJ: I think you need to work with intent. You need to be true to yourself and you need to just get in there and do it. I think you’ve got to get on the beast and ride it. I don’t think you can get better at anything, I don’t care if it’s playing the piano or making a quilt or sitting at a sewing machine and sewing, if you don’t do it. I hear people that lament that they wish they were better at fill in the blank, and I say, ‘Just do it.’ The joke in our studio, I share studio space with several other textile artists, and the joke is just do the work. I think there are very few people, very few artists of any genr,e who were hit by lightening and woke up one morning and could go in and paint a museum quality painting. This is just not how these things work. You just have to do the work, you have to keep doing it and be persistent, and that’s it. Eventually you’ll have a few ah-ha moments. Sometimes when you’re the most frustrated, some of the best things I’ve made, I believe in my own opinion, have been things that two hours before I was ready to wad up and throw it in the garbage bag because I was so frustrated and then I tried one more thing, I just kept pushing it and whoa, something good happened and I got excited about it again. I think that’s the nature of the thing, I just don’t think you can get better unless you do it.
JF: Do you plot out your quilts or do you just kind of, fly by the seam of your pants?
LTJ: Oh I try to plan them out, believe me, and it never works out for me. I usually start out with an idea. I am not a person who sits down and sketches out and comes up with a few weeks later with exactly the thing that I thought I was going to have, oh no I couldn’t be that lucky. I usually have an idea, and I will start working at it and it I’m fortunate, it will lead me to the end. Although sometimes it’s not without great angst involved. Usually those are the things that I’m saying when I am the most frustrated with them and I’m ready to walk away, those are usually if I just keep pushing myself, those are the things that end up being successful pieces in my eyes. I would love to think that I could do that. Occasionally it has happened, but oh if I could only figure out how to bottle that I would be really happy, but it doesn’t ever work that way for me somehow, or rarely.
JF: Tell us about your studio.
LTJ: I have two studio spaces that I work in. Primarily, I am very fortunate to have a large space in my home, which isn’t ideal for everything I do, but is wonderful for most of the things I do. It’s not a great wet surface design studio, but it’s a great design studio where I have my sewing machine and design board and my cloth and so forth. I can do a small amount of screen printing there, but I don’t have a great sink to work in. I also share a studio space with several other textile artists in San Antonio. The space is called Art Cloth Studios; it’s shared by several textile artists. I am very fortunate to have access to that because if I really need to make a big wet mess, I can go there.
JF: Do you have a design wall?
LTJ: Yes I do. I have three 4×8 pieces of building material that I have wrapped felt around. I don’t have them attached to the wall and I think eventually when I redo my studio, which is in the mix in the next couple years, I’ll have some design walls that will be permanently attached to the wall and then I’ll have a couple I move. Having walls that move is very helpful to me because I need to have a larger surface to work on for flat. I like having the flexibility of being able to move them around, and they’re lightweight so they’re easy to move.
JF: Tell me how you balance your time.
LTJ: Balance, what’s that? It’s much easier for me to balance my time now that the last pup is out of the box. My youngest child is a senior in college now, I don’t have obligations, family obligations that take me out of state anymore, that’s been true since 2003. It has been easier for me to focus on being a fulltime studio artist and my husband is very supportive of that. He has encouraged me from the getgo to pursue my work and do what I want to do, and I am very fortunate that I am in that position and I’d never take that for granted. One of the gifts that my mother gave me after her death was that I was given the gift of time again, and so I have a long hallway that leads back to my studio, I’m not going to cry, but every day when I walk back there, I thank her for that.
JF: Do you teach quilting?
LTJ: I do, I don’t teach it very often. I teach a variety of things that dance around it, I guess. I have taught free motion quilting. I’m a little afraid to teach it in a place that I don’t have good technical support because although I can help anybody with a Bernina problem–
LTJ: Thank you. I’m going to try not to let this become a problem I love teaching free motion quilting, but I discovered really quickly when I did a two-day quilting class a couple of years ago, that I just don’t have a good technical skillset for machines that I’m not familiar with, so I was really glad that I was in a quilt store and I asked if they were going to be able to help me if somebody had a question, and sure enough they did. Although I said I wanted people to have some kind of working familiarity with their machines, often they didn’t and I would have been in trouble if I’d been someplace without a technical support on hand. I love teaching people how to do that work and I think it’s very satisfying. As a teacher it’s very satisfying to see people have those ah-ha moments and I would say that about anything that I teach. In my former life as a nurse, I did community health education for a lot of years, and I think that helping people have those ah-ha moments (and it doesn’t matter what it is: it can be anything),and it’s such a pleasure to be able to facilitate that, that I always feel like I get more than I give when I teach.
JF: You talked about the other mediums, kind of that you have done painting, what are the other ones that you’ve done, and how have those affected your quilting?
LTJ: I think they all inform each other. I’ve been a photographer forever, and I don’t know that I’m that great but I do it for my own pleasure and so I think that that has been helpful because I believe that it helps me really look at things. I think that’s one of the best things about being a photographer is that you really look at things. I think the other thing is that in looking at things, you’re thinking about things, and you’re thinking about composition etcetera. I think that’s been very helpful. I’m also a painter, although these things tend to take more dominance or less depending on what I’m focused on. I do both oil and watercolor. I haven’t done oil painting for a number of years now, but I was very focused on that for a number of years to the exclusion of everything else. I’m currently participating as a contributing artist in the Sketchbook Challenge, which is an online project, and it has been great for me personally because it’s held my feet to the flame in terms of drawing more and doing more watercolors. I believe that any of those things inform the other, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing and sometimes having something other than that particular focus is a really good outlet because I found that often it I’m stuck, if I’m working on something and I’m frustrated because I haven’t quite figured out how to interpret that thing, if I just breakaway and go to something else, I will often find that it lets me see what I need to see about the other project. I’ve learned to honor that. It used to drive me insane about myself, but I’ve learned to accept and honor that process, that that’s the way it needs to be and if I just allow it to happen, and quit being so freaked out about it, what needs to bubble up will bubble up.
JF: How many hours about a week do you think that you donate all that you’ve spent quilting or getting teaching packets ready and curating?
LTJ: Well it depends on how close to a show or retreat we are, doesn’t it? I think that I probably at least spend 30 hours a week at it. I really consider myself a full time studio artist. Whether it is physically creating a quilt, doing the quiltmaking, writing, doing photography, thinking about those things, whether I’m writing for a magazine or I’m writing for myself anecdotally, it’s pretty close to full time. I don’t say as job, I mean that sounds dull and boring, but I spend a lot of my waking time thinking about it and it could be when I’m driving down the street, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am in my studio 30 hours a week but I’m always thinking about it. Call it an obsession, if you will. I call it a lot of joy.
JF: Have you ever won any awards for your work?
LTJ: I have. I won best of show in San Antonio in 2004 for a piece that I’m very proud of and I have been part of several collaborative pieces that have been recognized here at the Houston Quilt Festival.
JF: Do you sell your work or do commissions?
LTJ: That’s never been a driving force for me. In fact, I had to, someone had to practically wrestle a quilt away from me a few years ago. I’ve never been too concerned whether I sell my work, although my husband made enough fun of me over that one episode that I decided that maybe I should stop being that way about it. One of my painting teachers said something very important to me, she said, ‘Your work is like your children, you need to let them go.’ I think that’s true and I think that when you have the ability to let them go and with the caveat if you need them back for a show or whatever, you have the option of doing that, it makes it easier to let the children go. My husband was making fun of me because I truly did not want to sell a piece, it just had a special significance to me, you know what I’m talking about, and he said to me with this look on his face, ‘Where is it now?’ and I said, ‘It’s rolled up in the closet,’ and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be better is somebody was truly enjoying that everyday?’ and I said, ‘Yes, [laughs.] okay I’ll sell it.’ And I’ve never regretted doing to but to actively offer things up, I’m happy to sell my work, but I don’t market my work as much as maybe I should. I don’t know, that’s not important to me.
JF: I know that you use kind of unusual backings on your quilts; do you want to tell us about that?
LTJ: Yes I do have quilt, I do have major quilt back vanity. I admit it. I really want my quilt backs to look good. When I quilt my work, I use almost exclusively MonoPoly thread, because I like the dimensional quality of the thread but I don’t really want to change bobbin thread that much. So it’s really laziness and combinations of vanity that have sort of made me evolve to MonoPoly. I really like to have interesting, crazy cloth, sometimes it’s my own cloth but more often than not I’m really kind of addicted to all this crazy, commercial, novelty cloth. If I find cloth and it just amuses me in some way, I don’t even think twice, I just buy it, and I always buy at least two to three yards of it. Then at some point it will become the back of a quilt. I like to make a couple of medallions on the back that go with the front and put my documentation on the back that way.
JF: What do you write on your labels?
LTJ: I put the title of the quilt, if it’s made specifically for something or someone I will put that, my name, the date that I completed it, and then up on the sleeve of the quilt I will put my email address, my address, my phone number, etcetera. I put that on there, although, you know, I think it’s important to have it on there for contact purposes if it’s lost. I put so many addresses on my shipping, it’s insane. But anyway, it’s on there. I think the main things are to put your name, the title of the quilt, and the date that you made it. Perhaps the location should go on there, I don’t know, I never have, but it’s always on the sleeve.
JF: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history in America?
LTJ: I think that they have special meaning for women’s history in America because like I said earlier, I think that it’s an under documented subject for one thing. That is how women told their stories; that has been a mechanism for women to tell their stories, it has been a mechanism for women to stay connected to each other. Back when people were going across the prairie in a covered wagon, and they were leaving Ohio to do that, and they knew that they were probably never going to see these people again, their friends would make them a friendship quilt, a signature quilt. They would be able to have that with them and carry that with them and it was a little part of those friendships and those meaningful times that they had with those female friends. I think that that is an incredibly important thing and it’s too bad we don’t know more about those and I think that people told all kinds of stories in the block patterns that they created. The Kansas troubles block, for example. I think of all those patterns that had a very specific meaning for people back in the time and they had no other way to communicate those feelings. I think we can all learn a lot from looking at those things.
JF: What is the smallest quilt you’ve made and largest quilt?
LTJ: The largest quilt I’ve made, area wise, is probably a king size quilt. The smallest quilts have probably been the postcard quilts. I made a million of the postcard quilts that we sold as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society event. The king size quilt, on a commercial machine, you know I don’t recommend doing that too often: it’s a little bit daunting. Probably the craziest size I’ve ever made is lying on the floor behind me here but we’ll get to that in a minute.
JF: How many quilt projects have you been involved in?
LTJ: Oh, that’s a tough question. I’m going to say, somewhere around a dozen in different pieces. I did a few when I lived in Kansas, I can’t remember exactly how many. I have done several with an Austin art group and a couple of collaborative two person quilts. So, around a dozen and change.
JF: So what do you think is the key element in working with a group of people to make a quilt?
LTJ: I think you really have to have thick skin. I think the process of working in a collaborative piece is that you have to leave your ego at the door, and you have to realize that your vision may not be the same as everyone else’s and you have to be willing to let people cut your stuff up or paint over it, or whatever, because we’re pretty brutal with each other really. I think it’s sort of like going and having your work critiqued, Entering shows, people say, I hear people say all the time why they’re afraid to enter a show because they are afraid that it won’t get in, . I think you just have to step outside yourself and be a thicker skinned person because you’re going to have an opportunity if you do it. You’re going to learn a lot in the process. When you work collaboratively, you learn that process like you do when you enter a show. If you’re willing to take a chance and enter a show, you’re going to get feedback: whether it’s just the blunt ‘I’m sorry, we didn’t want to take your quilt’, well that’s ok, it gives you an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and look at it and ask yourself if there’s something about this quilt that needs to be readdressed or is it just that it didn’t play well with others, which often we know as curators is the case. It’s not about the quality of the piece, it’s about the collective body of work, and this particular thing didn’t fit in. You have to step back from the plate and ask yourself those questions, and I think working collaboratively is the same thing. It is really a slash and burn situation in our Austin [Texas.] group: I mean we will go in there with our little offerings and they maybe get re-cut into several pieces before we’re done and you just have to accept that that’s the way it’s going to be, it’s for the piece, not about you and your ego.
JF: How do you think that you’ll be remembered for quiltmaking?
LTJ: I have no idea to be honest with you, I have no idea. I think that my children will be happy that I made the work that I did. I think that they’ve been very inspired by just being around it, I don’t think that they want to be just like me or anything like that. I think that what has happened, I hope, is that by pursuing the things that I’ve been very passionate about, whether it’s working in women’s healthcare or working as an artist, I have worked with full intent, with full passion, with full energy, and I want that to be an example to my children. Hopefully it can rub off on some other people along the way. At the end of the day, it sounds very selfish to say it, but at the end of the day I really have to be working for myself and if the work pleases others, if the work inspires other people in any way, then that makes me very very happy and that’s important to me but it’s not what drives me.
JF: So its 5:55, do you want to go back to that funny question? The–
LTJ: Well what popped in my mind was–
JF: About an amusing experience.
LTJ: I’m sure there are several. The one that popped into my mind was in Cincinnati [Ohio.], when we were sitting waiting to get back into our classroom. You may have another idea.
JF: Oh yeah.
LTJ: I think that what I would say about the funny, you know there’s lots of funny experiences that we’ve had along the way but we being you and I, Jamie and I, in our first position as faculty members for the International Quilt Festival, we knew we were going to be teaching classes in the city of Cincinnati. Because it was the first time the festival had been there, they had a big party for us. We were given two wine tickets each and I guess we looked like targets because of the people who were at the specific table, and when everyone else was leaving they were dropping their extra tickets at our table, and there was a band playing and we were dancing a lot. We had a great time, let’s put it that way. We just really had a lot of fun, I mean we didn’t do anything that was too embarrassing but we did have a good time. And the next day, we taught our class starting pretty early in the morning. We broke for lunch and then when we came back to teach the afternoon part of the class we were waiting for them to come unlock the classroom door. We were sitting on the ground and I guess we probably looked like we had a pretty good time the night before or something because these women walked by and looked at us and gave us a meaningful look. [laughs.] And said, ‘We saw you last night, we know why you’re sitting down now on the floor.’ [laughs.] And I thought, uh-oh, so that came to mind but if you have any other ideas what I should talk about–
JF: Something amusing? [inaudible.] [laughs.]
LTJ: Yes we do have a good time when we travel together and we’ve done lots of crazy things that surviving the runway for ‘make it university’, including wearing unusual headgear and a few other things. I think that it’s safe to say that when we have attended festivals together which we’ve been doing for a number of years, you and I, and we have taught together, we have not lacked for having a good time. I think no one would accuse us of ever having a bad time when we’ve taught together and that’s–
JF: You’re being really serious.
LTJ: We’re not very serious and we don’t take ourselves very seriously but mostly we are about having a good time and having fun. That’s kind of my motto, don’t postpone joy and this isn’t a dress rehearsal so you better have a good time.
JF: Did you have fun doing this?
LTJ: I have no idea what I said but I think I had a good time, yeah.[inaudible.] [laughs.] [clapping.]
Leslie Tucker Jenison, Interviewee
Jamie Fingal, Interviewer
Alana Zaskowski, Transcriber
International Quilt Festival
November 2, 2011
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