Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I’m conducting a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Carolyn Crump. Carolyn is in Houston, Texas and I’m in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today’s date is January 27, 2009. It is now 9:07 in the morning. Carolyn thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.
Carolyn Crump (CC): Thank you so much.
KM: You are welcome so much. Please tell me about your quilt “From Vision to Victory.”
CC: My quilt was designed for the people that touched my life growing up. As I moved from Detroit to Atlanta to Houston, the people that I have in the quilt are the people that reached me. When I was growing up and I could see what the Civil Rights Movement was trying to do, just the people that touched my life on television or when I watched them in a march. That is why I used forty-eight people that touch my life. I knew there were thousands of people that touch people’s lives or made a different in the movement but these are people that I knew about.
KM: How did you go about constructing the quilt?
CC: First of all, it was supposed to be that you could work any size you wanted. [CC was one of the 44 artists invited to participate in the exhibit “Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebration of our 44th President” at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. from January 11 to July 30, 2009.] As I started about a week later, they called and told us that it couldn’t be any larger than 36 inches so I had to restart my process. I still was able to keep some of the heads larger than the other ones since I couldn’t put everybody large and stay within the 36 inches. I wanted them to look like a sculpture and that President Obama was sitting on this statue and just looking into space thinking about all the people that had paved the way for him in stone. This is the first quilt that I have ever painted on. President Obama part of the quilt, was totally appliquéd, but the stone part of the quilt I wanted to look like it was chiseled so I went with painting on the fabric and then quilting the painted faces, but the sky and the grass was totally appliquéd and quilted, but the stone part of it and the White House behind him were painted. I thought it would be easier that way because of the people, some of the people were no larger than an inch tall, little sculptures and it actually was even harder because it was so tiny and to make it look like the person and it took longer for me to try to make it look like it was chiseled in stone with fabric and paint to go back into it and then quilt it. I used the appliqué process on some of the quilt and I used paint and thread on the other part of the quilt.
KM: Was it hand or machine appliqué?
CC: It was machine appliquéd and then it was put together by hand. When I quilt every part of the quilt is like a little quilt. Each one of those people on the quilt is small little quilts that I connect them by hand. But each part is a stand alone quilt and then put together at the end so you have hundreds of little pieces that make one big quilt. The Obama character, the legs are separate. The arms are separate. The head and the flag, the little sheets of paper and the hand, everything was separate and then put back together to give it more of a 3-D effect.
KM: What size were you originally going to make the quilt?
CC: It probably would have been about 60 inches across or more and probably 60 inches in height. As I think about it, I really wanted it large so probably it would have been 120 inches long because the six heads at the top of the quilt, that is the size every head would have been and it was almost forty different people on the quilt and then I wanted the bus coming out the quilt for Rosa Parks, which I couldn’t do it that small so I just put her in the quilt, and like with the buffalo soldiers, I put the horse there with him but I actually wanted the buffalo soldiers, horse to be 3-D, I wanted the Tuskegee Airmen, plane to be coming out, I just wanted it to really be a 3-D quilt. Larger I could have made it like that but trying to keep it 36 [inches.] by 36 [inches.] it was almost impossible to do it in the time span we had to make the quilt.
KM: Do you plan to make it again and make it larger?
CC: Yes I am. I have already started the quilt I have all these faces sketched out. Everybody, the heads and the bus, each little sculpture I had already sketched it out and since I have the sketches already I might as well go ahead and produce the larger quilt it would be totally different than this one.
KM: What are your plans for this quilt?
CC: It is something I want to pass on to my girls. I’ve started a collection of quilts and I wanted to do this large one and keep it for my girls. I have three daughters [Ashley, Allison and Andrea.] and I want them to have a part of history. I’m actually going to break it up in three parts, the middle part of the quilt will be like the quilt at the museum but it will be all the large heads, it would be with the White House the same size, that will be the middle and then to the right and to the left will be the background and the sky and just the heads and the bottom of the sculpture and the rocks and the grass but I want to do it in three parts and I will give each one of my daughters a part of the quilt.
KM: If someone looked at this quilt would they say, ‘Oh yes, Carolyn Crump made this?’ Is this typical of your style?
CC: Yes, the background of this quilt and President Obama is my usual technique, but this is the first time, like I said before, that I’ve ever painted on a quilt and if a painter or a collector that collects my paintings they would know it is my quilt but a lot of quilters, they didn’t realize that I started out as an artist. I’m an illustrator my trade and I started painting when I was eight years old. It depends, if you collected my art, you would know that this could have been my quilt but most quilters or people that collect quilts, they wouldn’t have known. I think some people would have figure it out or would think I collaborated with another artist.
KM: Do you plan to paint on quilts some more?
CC: Yes, because I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the process. I just started another technique that it combines my painting, my appliquéing that I appliquéd on top of sheer fabric and under the sheer fabric at the same time that it makes a smooth transitions and it is just something that fell into place and I was like this really is going to look nice and make a great quilt. I was really excited about that. That it is something new and I want to teach people the technique and how to use it because it is really kind of different than anything I’ve ever seen before and I have never tried before and like I said it was just something that just happened.
KM: Tell me more about the exhibit.
CC: The exhibit, it was so beautiful the day that I arrived and I had a chance to see the different quilts and there were so many people in the exhibit and they were just loving the quilts. I think quilters quilt from the heart. I’ve always been around painters and I’ve been around quilters lately but I think quilters they quilt from the heart. I could tell from this exhibit, it was people quilting from their heart. They just poured out their feelings and what they felt in the moment for the president and history. It was just touching. People were coming up to you and thanking you for giving them a chance to see your quilt and that was the first time that anybody ever said anything like that to me. It just touched my heart, but I think that show was one of the first shows that I could really feel people quilting from the heart and they wanted people to see their work and were hoping that the president one day would get a chance to see these quilts. I think it was a heart touching exhibit. I think, the show, the movement of the struggle for years that we have a chance. What I liked about the exhibit that it was people of all races had a chance to quilt, they all had a chance to show their quilts and I thought that was fascinating also.
KM: Do you have any favorites?
CC: I liked Linda Gray’s quilt. I liked Dr. [Carolyn.] Mazloomi’s quilt. Dr. [Marlene O’Bryant.] Seabrook’s quilt. I liked all the quilts to be honest. Andréa Cruz, I loved her quilt. I loved all the quilts to be honest. The ones from Hawaii and Africa. I’m a lover of art. I love all art. It doesn’t matter to me who made it, if it is abstract or if it’s realistic or if it’s figurative. I just love art. I’ve always loved art from like I said from the age of eight it is just something I love. I was actually kind of scared to try quilting. I’m a fifth generation of quilters and when you come from a long line of people and this is what they do and they are great at it you don’t want to jump in and be the only one that can’t do it the correct way. I finally tried it. I started quilting doing Hurricane Rita [September 2005.] when it was suppose to hit Houston and that was the first time I start to quilt. They said, ‘The power was going to off.’ So I just started quilting and when it was over I had finished the quilt. It from my heart. In this exhibit, I felt the people’s quilt in my heart. Everybody’s quilt–I just loved everybody’s work.
KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?
CC: They’re proud of me. I have a very supportive family. My first paint set was giving to me by my sister, My sewing machine came from my mother. Everybody, they travel to see the different exhibits. They’re impressed. They love what I’m doing, my friends and family. Everybody is just excited about what’s going on in my life. It is happening really fast. I don’t believe it myself sometimes. I’m wondering if I’m dreaming about getting a chance to exhibit in different museums and in different shows but everybody is proud of me and I truly know I’m blessed.
KM: How do you balance your time? You talked about being a painter and a quiltmaker?
CC: I just started quilting full time or started doing my art full time and I just have to balance this because my family is very important to me so I do my art in the morning and I have to divide my weeks up. I will quilt three days and I will three two days and when my girls come home from school then I spend time with them and then after they get situated I will start quilting at night or painting. I’m a graphic designer. I do a lot of marketing for artists to help market their work. I usually do that at night or on the weekends if I have any free time, but it is really difficult trying to do both of them because I have client that likes painting and client that likes the quilts so I have to divide my time equally.
KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials in quiltmaking?
CC: My favorite technique is the appliquéing. I’m in the process of learning how to do traditional quilting. I get kind of bored of doing things the traditional way, you know cutting tradition shapes but I have to show people that I can do it. The appliqué is easier for me but I love doing it, I love using the batik fabric, I like to hand dye my own fabrics. I do a lot of bleach discharge. I love creating, I love fabric and I love paper and it doesn’t matter what kind of fabric it is because if it is something that I don’t like about a piece of fabric I will dye it or I will paint on it. I’ll use markers on the natural muslin, and then I’ll paint different solutions to make it disperse and then I’ll go back with the black marker and draw on top of the markers. I love the look when it’s finish. It gives it a very unique look.
KM: Describe your studio.
CC: My studio is my garage, so it’s a large studio. I have several shelves that go around the walls, because I block print in one area, I sculpt in another and I have a print station. I have two different studios. I have my smaller studio upstairs and that’s where I quilt. When I’m block printing and painting, and all the other stuff it gets kind of dirty so I do that in the garage. I have metal racks that holds my fabric. Some of the fabric is roll up and put in plastic pails so I can see the different combinations of color and then I put my batiks in the container. I have an area for my thread, an area that I put different techniques that I have tried on a corkboard so I can see my samples and they keep me motivated and give me ideas when I see things around me.
KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?
CC: I don’t. I’m about to join some now. It was too much working a full time job trying to raise my daughters and do my art on the side and I think it would have been to much to try to join a group, a guild and add something else to my plate. But now that I’m doing it full time the guild [Women of Color Quilters Network.] with Dr. Mazloomi that is the one I plan on joining and there are several other guilds that I want to join. I want to join the fiber guild. I like putting my hands in different pots and make it work for me.
KM: Are you concerned about doing this full time? Are you confident?
CC: Yes, I am. I’m never one to worry about a lot of things. I put money up for a rainy day. I’ve always been the type that just jumps and do something. It kind of worried me at first because, I have a daughter in college who is twenty-one and I have two daughters in high school, one is the eleventh grade and one in the tenth grade but I just realized if I don’t start now, you know the way the economy is going would I be able to send the other two to college, what will happen to us. I was in the newspaper field, you know what is happening to newspaper with the internet. It won’t be long before that is gone and I realized that with everything going and the cutbacks on the job it was just time for me to just start. I don’t mind taking a chance in life. I’m very ah confident in myself and I just have a lot of faith and I really thought that it was time for me to start doing this full time. I used to do it full time before I moved to Houston. I was in Atlanta, and I made a decent living. We did well and when I moved here I took a job. I didn’t want to start over trying to find new clients so I just started working again. I have been on the same job for seventeen years and it was just time for me to be gone. I had build up clients with my graphic designs freelance and that’s how I pay my bills until my quilts and my art get to the point that it can pay the bills.
KM: Good for you. I don’t remember a president inspiring so much art, at least not in my lifetime. Why do you think Barack Obama inspired so many people to create art?
CC: The artists that I have spoken with including myself figure this is the best way to capture the way will feel and to remember history or to record history. Artists we draw, we quilt or we paint to record our history and I think so many people was touched by this because this is the first time that a president or any leader has brought people together as a whole. He inspired people stop the hatred, we all really want love each other and I think that listening to him and even seeing him and his wife how they treat each other, it just touches your heart. He made people paint about romance or quilt about romance. They did pictures of him and his wife and hugging and kissing or whatever. He touched people’s heart. It makes you think–I think we paint from our heart. We write from our heart. Or we take pictures from our heart. I think what is in our heart makes us do what we do and that’s what touched me. It made me want to do a series on him because he touched me as a person as an individual and made me want to be a better person. I don’t know too many people that listened to his speeches or came in contact with him that didn’t want to be a better person just because they knew him or touched his hand or listened to his speech. It made you want to be a better person. It made you want to leave a part of history. The quilt that I designed is a part of me and when I’m dead and gone that quilt is going to be here and that is a part of me that I left behind saying this man touched my life
KM: How many quilts do you have planned?
CC: Actually I have forty-four quilts planned. This is a series that I want to leave behind. Depicting his journey from childhood to the presidential inauguration. I’m working backwards from president to childhood life and I guess it is something I want to leave behind. One day I can do a big show with the forty-four different quilts showing his life and what it meant to America.
KM: Tell me about your creative process.
CC: When I start a quilt I actually start from a sketch and I might do ten or twenty different sketches on the way I see the way a person’s face should be, I love doing figures and I’ll start with a sketch and then I will do a pen and ink drawing of it, then I’ll break down the different shades of a face and the different fabrics I have to use. Like if the person is a medium brown person I have to find four different shades of fabric that will match the skin tone of that person, the color range with the different fabric, I will find four different shades of red if it is a red top, four different shades of each color and then I’ll break down each shade and I attach an fuse it material. Then cut out the different shape and iron the different colors together. Then I will start to put the different shades together, I will start in the middle of the quilt and I like to make each object a separate quilt so when I put it together it looks 3-D look. I like it to jump off the fabric and some parts to lay flat. You could have hands coming off the quilt or having a fish jumping out of the quilt. It doesn’t have to be a flat object because it has no raw edges. After I’ve quilt everything then I work on a six feet by four feet foam board and I’ll pin and then stitch little pieces together one piece at a time until the small quilt become one big quilt. Then I’ll attached, the quilt to a cotton or felt backing.
KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?
CC: Pretty much I study Michelangelo because I like the 3-D look of his work. I study mostly paintings and sculptures and I love all quilters work but I don’t really study any one quilters work per say because I have a photographic memory and don’t want to end up duplicating somebody’s work I don’t want to one day be drawing something and not remembering whose work it is so I try not to. I will study the old masters and how they painted and sculpt and how they made things work for them. Like I said I remember techniques from years ago and I’ll know how to put it together so I don’t really try to study anybody else’s work other than the old masters, Michelangelo and different painters
KM: Do any of your daughters do art or quiltmaking?
CC: I have three daughters and one likes to draw fashion. She is very good at it and my oldest daughter, she is a painter and we had a show together. In her first show, she sold seven originals and now my youngest daughter is starting to draw. She likes to pencil sketch. So I guess it is in the family.
KM: How wonderful. What advice would you offer someone starting out?
CC: I tell people to follow their hearts and if it is something you love to do as in quilt, you know practice and study, get books, take classes, and more classes. I tell people put up a still life and draw it, because I don’t really like studying other people because I do know if you study somebody you will start to imitate their style. I really just don’t think that is the best way to learn how to draw. I think everybody could draw. I just think draw is a learned process. I think some people is born with it. I’ve taught so many people to draw. I taught my daughters to draw and my oldest daughter would be a better artist than I am, she really can paint really well. I just think it is a learned process. I do think that people can draw you just have to practice. If you could practice two or three hours a day just sketching. I think you could do anything if you learned how to draw first. I think if you can draw you could learn how to quilt, you could learn how to paint, you could learn how to sculpt, I really think that practicing is the key to learning how to draw. If you learn to draw first, I think the sky is the limit. If you get books and just learn all the different techniques, what makes the different shades, I think it would make a world of different in an artist’s life.
KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?
CC: Quiltmaking is important to me because it was something that was passed down to me. My great-great-great grandmother, she quilted and they passed her quilts down and it is something when I quilt I think about my grandparents and I think about my mother and how they quilted to keep themselves warm. They told me that the quilt was so heavy that when they would turn the wooden stove off, they didn’t even realize it was off because that quilt was so heavy that you thought you were laying with bricks on top of you. And when I quilt I think about the stories that my grandparents told us and my mother told us about how when they got home from school they would get in front of the fireplace and quilt. When I quilt I think about this. It brings about happy memories in my life and one day my children will be telling their children stories about me and how I used to quilt and that is just something. I don’t think that when they talk about my paintings that it will be the same. As when they talk about me as a quilter. I think it will be more inspiring to my grandkids one day.
KM: What is your first quilt memory?
CC: My first quilt memory, are you talking about of mine or my grandparents?
KM: Of yours. What is your first memory of a quilt?
CC: My first memory was when I was when the hurricane came, Rita was coming to Houston.
KM: I want to know when you first you first encountered a quilt. What was your first memory of a quilt?
CC: It was my grandmother’s quilt and my grandmother was sick and we went to Arkansas and the quilt was lying on the bed and my oldest sister was telling us the story that she remembered when she would go to Arkansas and they would put the quilt on top of her to go to sleep and how heavy it was. She couldn’t stand the heat and she hated to be under the quilt and she would kick the quilt off and my grandmother would come back and put it back on top of her and when I looked at that quilt and I saw the old clothes that they used to make their quilt and how precise the blocks was and how the points made the diamond and when I would look at the quilt I would think about the stars in the sky and the hands that made the quilt and you know my grandparents’ hands were so rough from picking cotton. I would see the delicate quilt, and I didn’t understand, how those rough hands made something so delicate. I remember the old clothes and my mother would tell us she remembered that piece of fabric from a pair of pants that she tore running down the street to catch the bus for school because my granddad, he drove the school bus and she had to be at the bus stop by the time he came to pick them up or she would be in trouble and she could tell us about the little hole right there, you can see the little hole because she fell when she was playing or wrestling with my aunt. That is the first memory of a quilt, I probably was about five when that story about the quilt happen.
KM: How do you want to be remembered?
CC: I want to be remembered as a person that loved the arts. A person that tried to help as many people as she could and a person who tried to do what was best for, not only myself and my family but what was best for the world and to leave something, a part of me behind. She really contributed to the world of art.
KM: Why do you feel the need to make traditional quilts?
CC: Because I get a lot of people saying that because I’m a painter my quilts you know look decent. I can do traditional quilt but it is something that I taught myself and it’s correct but I want to know how to do it the way that the big time quiltmakers quilt because one of my next quilt, as soon as I finish with this series, I’m actually going to do a traditional quilt blended into an art quilt. After that I probably more than likely start to do some kind of traditional quilting into every quilt. I don’t want to be known as a person that makes decent quilts because I’m an artist, I want people to say my quilts look decent because my technique is good, my fabric and the threads, everything works together well. The stitch count of the sewing machine, even when I want to hand appliqué I want people to look at it and say man her technique is good, not because I’m a painter and I can make my quilts look good and I use the same techniques from painting, and I just paint it from thread to fabric. I get a lot of people saying things like this, ‘Oh she is a painter so she is just making it look good because she has training as a painter,’ but that is not the case. I’ve worked hard to learn how to make my quilts look like a picture or a painting. I just want people to know that my technique can be just as good as my design or my paint like technique, what I call thread painting. I want them to know that hey my traditional quiltmaking is just as good and on the same level.
KM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?
CC: To be honest, when I look at a quilt, I think about what I feel when I look at it if I get something out of it. The color has to be vibrant, even if it is a totally cream colored quilt, you still have to see something in it. Something has to be powerful in it. The thread has to be powerful in it. The design. I think that to really, really get something out of a quilt or it has to be color or design or technique or you know it has to be one of those things involved in it to make it a strong quilt. Even if it is an abstract quilt, the color has to be there or the design, something has to be in the quilt to make it powerful. I’m a realistic artist so therefore I like to do figurative things, but I have started doing abstracts more because I have a daughter who loves abstracts so I’m doing abstract quilts just to leave them for her but I just think it has to be something in that quilt. Like I said a color or the technique or the design, you have to have one element of those three in a quilt to make it stand out.
KM: Is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude?
CC: I just think that quiltmaking is such a powerful entity of the arts. In the last five or six years that quilt making has been part of my life I create from the heart, when I quilt I can put more detail or put more intimacy in a quilt than I can when I’m painting because you can use the thousands of fabric. You can use the painting, the thread, the buttons, and the little trinkets. I just think that one day when we look back on the different quilts and the Obama quilts and we see the different parts and what the different artists thought of him and how he touched America and how we used our art to show how he touched us I think that people who saw the show, “The Forty-Four Quilts of Obama,” I don’t think their life will ever be the same. Just seeing the different quilts and the different quiltmakers and even if people had the chance to meet the different artists, I think that life is wonderful right about now and I’m proud and this is probably the first time in my life I can say I really felt like a true American and that is why I wanted to show the flag in the quilt and I just think it is just a good time right now in our lives.
KM: I think this is a great way to conclude and I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with me. We are going to conclude our interview at 9:48.
Carolyn Crump, Interviewee
Karen Musgrave, Interviewer
Kim Greene, Transcriber
The Barack Obama Quilt QSOS
January 27, 2009
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