Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Maria Shell. Maria lives in Anchorage, Alaska and I live in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today’s date is October 9, 2008 and it is 1:15 in the afternoon. Maria thank you for doing this interview with me. Tell me about your quilt, “Boxy 9-Patch” that you chose for the interview.
Maria Shell (MS): I, we had talked about this, that I kind of wanted a different quilt, but in the end I think it is the first quilt that I have been working quite a bit with innovative piecing, like nontraditional block settings. In traditional quilts, you have quilt blocks, and then you put the sashing around it; and then you put the border around it; and I really didn’t want to do that; and I had tried a couple of different ways of doing this; I call it kitchen sink quilting. I think I am jumping around a bit.
KM: That is okay.
MS: When I first started quilting, I really felt like I couldn’t just–I have three boys and at the time I was in the middle of having them and I wanted to quilt all the time, and I felt like I couldn’t justify quilting unless I was making a quilt for someone. I belonged to this play group through Parks and Rec in Valdez, Alaska and all the moms would make a quilt block for a mother who was pregnant with a new baby. I’d gather all the blocks, and I would be the person that would put them into a quilt. One of the women who was teaching me to quilt was an older woman. She was a grandmother and she would bring her granddaughter to this play group, and she introduced me to Gwen Marston’s book called “Liberated Quiltmaking.” And she said, ‘We don’t have to put these regular sashes on the quilt. We can do whatever we want.’ And so I really find that is important to me. You know the rules, but then you get to break them. I started just doing this crazy stuff, where I would put in other blocks, but there is a method to it. I would build the blocks into strips, so as long as you end up with strips that are the same length you just attach them. I started teaching this technique at the quilt shop in Valdez, and people were interested in it, but they were kind of intimidated. So I thought I’m going to do a dummied down version, which is what “Boxy 9-Patch” is. It is just nine patches, which is about as simple as you can get, and then strips of different sizes and lengths and shapes, and I would build those out around the nine patches. I guess the other thing that is interesting about this quilt is when we moved from Valdez to Anchorage I started teaching at a quilt shop here called The Quilt Tree, and I had someone call me and ask if she could buy a quilt. She didn’t end up buying the quilt, but it made me think, oh maybe, maybe my stuff is good enough that I should send it out. I had some of my pieces professionally photographed and “Boxy 9-Patch” is the first one, not the first one to be accepted into a show, but the first one to get a ribbon and it got first place at the Albuquerque Fiber Arts Fiesta so it is a special quilt to me for those reasons.
KM: Did you machine quilt the quilt?
MS: Yes, which is another, sort of, I guess interesting story. I learned how to quilt in Valdez. My husband and I moved up to Alaska because he works on the water, and we are from Kansas, and there is not a lot of water there. We got married and decided we would seek our fortune in the final frontier, so we drove the Alcan with our two, my two cats. We got married in Las Vegas and then we kind of hit the road. He was–at the time, he worked as a mate on a tugboat, and he worked in the Prince William Sound which is the waterway that is near Valdez, and I was in Anchorage [which is a six hour drive.] going to graduate school to get a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. (He worked six weeks on, and then he would be off for three weeks if we were lucky.) So, I was working on my thesis, and I finished my thesis which is a collection of essays and then in the middle of that we had our first child, and I was like I can’t handle living in Anchorage (with my husband gone six weeks at a time). I’m here all alone without any support system, so he took a portside job in Valdez, and we moved from Anchorage to this remote Alaskan town of four thousand. It is on the road system which is something. Not all small towns in Alaska are on the road system, so you can drive out, but in the winter time you can be stuck there, and it snows. The average snowfall is 360 inches. It is the snowiest sea level town in North America. Anyway, Alaskans like their hobbies, and you have to have indoor hobbies (because of all the snow and cold). So, I had always wanted to quilt, I’d sewn since I was little. I started sewing when I was four and then my mom allowed me to use the sewing machine when I turned ten, and then I made all my own clothes. I think there are really two paths to quilting and one of them is sort of I made all my clothes in high school and the other is I’m an artist and I discovered fiber is a valid medium. So there are these two paths to quilting, and that is another thing I really think is interesting about being a quiltmaker. Anyway, I had always sewn. I worked in a costume shop in college making costumes for operas, but I had never made a quilt. I wanted to. I checked out books in the library and tried to make one on my own but, I didn’t get the quarter inch seam. [This was all before the Rotary Revolution. Years later.] I took my first class at the quilt shop [in Valdez.], and I really haven’t, just didn’t look back. I was supposed to be trying to get my essays from graduate school published, and all I wanted to do was make quilts. So then I started teaching at the quilt shop. Valdez only had one longarm quilting machine in town and that machine was at the only quilt shop called The Calico Whale. The woman who owned the machine decided that she was going to move to Wasilla, which has been in the news lately because that is where the Republican Vice Presidential candidate is from. Sarah Palin.
MS: Vicky (the woman who owned the longarm machine) told us–we were talking at the shop and she said, ‘If you guys can figure out a way to buy the machine, I will sell the machine to you.’ It was the teachers and the owner of the shop who were just chatting about it. She said, ‘You guys can buy this old machine and then I will buy a new one when I move to Wasilla.’ She was opening a yarn shop in Wasilla. So the owner of the shop and one of the other teachers and my self pooled our money and we bought this machine together. At the time it was probably about seven years old, but didn’t have a stitch regulator on it. Kind of a basic Gammill longarm machine. I taught myself how to quilt on it and “Boxy Nine Patch” is quilted on that machine. I actually went down–I had an opportunity to go down to Texas and take some classes with Linda Taylor, and that was really helpful. It didn’t have a stitch regulator on it, and for me it makes a huge difference. So when my husband found out that the company he works for wanted to move us to Anchorage, we were very excited. Valdez is really small for me, and I was, I was really anxious to meet some other quilters that were interested in doing things that push the boundaries of traditional quiltmaking. This wasn’t really available to me in Valdez. So when we moved here [back to Anchorage.] I knew I wanted to own my own longarm machine and take in quilting for people. We bought a house that could allow us to have a longarm machine in it which is really nice, so I started quilting for people. But, and this frequently happens, longarm quilters get very burned out on quilting for other people.. I really have a small client base that I work with now, and if I don’t have any quilting to do [which hasn’t happened yet!] I will take in a new client but for the most part I’m kind of booked. So I did quilt that quilt.
KM: How, how do you balance your time between quilting for other people, quilting for yourself, are you still teaching?
MS: Yeah, I teach at The Quilt Tree. That was a huge problem, because I like to do good work. When someone gives me a quilt I want to honor it, I want to do the best thread work on it that I possibly can, and I was getting way behind, and I kind of had a little-mini breakdown last March, and I sent all my clients an email saying you are in line but that doesn’t mean that you, like say you are number three in line, that doesn’t mean that you are going to get your quilt next week because my oldest son may break his arm, or my husband may leave town for two weeks and it is just really hard to balance everything. There were quilters that took their quilts back, most people waited and I’m just now finishing up that pile so it feels pretty good to have done that. Now I try to quilt six customer quilts a month, and then the rest of the time I either am working on class samples or making quilts to send to shows.
KM: What is, how do you use “Boxy 9-Patch”?
MS: I’m sorry.
KM: How do you use “Boxy 9-Patch”?
MS: I don’t.
KM: How do you use it? Does it hang on the wall?
MS: No. [laughs.] Well it has gone to several shows and now I think eventually it will go on one of the walls in our house, but right now it is stored with my other quilts. I’m hoping that it–actually this spring I may teach it as a class so it probably will be hanging up at the quilt shop.
KM: Now it is 51 inches by 63 inches, is that typical size for you?
MS: Yeah, I like to make kind of big wall quilts. 60 inches by 80 inches I would say is a big size for me, but in that range there, 40 inches by 50 inches, big wall size. I guess I feel lucky that I can do bigger quilts because I do have the longarm machine. It allows me to do pretty intense thread work.
KM: Talk to me a little more, you talk about the importance of the stitch regulator. Explain a little bit more to me about that.
MS: The longarm machines sits on a track system. With a regular sewing machine you move the quilt underneath the machine. With a longarm, you move the longarm machine over the quilt so you are actually moving the machine, and it sits on a series of rollers that allows you to move it 360 degrees. You can stitch big circles with it. Now, just like on a home machine, when you are quilting you don’t use your feed dogs, and the stitch size is determined by how fast you are hitting the gas, which is your foot pedal, and how fast you are moving your quilt underneath your machine. If you get either one of those things going too fast or too slow you are going to end up with these big huge stitches or a bird’s nest on the bottom. Non-stitch regulated longarms work this way too. The speed of the machine must match your movement of the longarm machine over the quilt in order to get a good stitch. So you have to pace yourself, both of those elements have to be in sync in order to get a nice even stitch. With a stitch regulator, you can tell your machine I want twelve stitches to an inch and it will do that. So no matter how fast you move it is going to compensate by stitching slower or faster in order to guarantee twelve stitches to an inch.
KM: That has made a huge difference in your quilt–quilting?
MS: Yeah, the thing that really makes it for me is that I can actually stop what I’m doing, say I’m using a ruler, there are these big thick acrylic rulers longarm quilters use for stitching around. They are like rulers quilters use for rotary cutting, but they are twice as thick. You move your longarm around the ruler, say it is a circle ruler, and you use it to get a nice clean curve. If I want to make a complete circle with the stitch regulator on, I can actually move my machine to get like a quarter of a curve, stop, the needle will not go up or down as long as I am still, and I can move my hands or move the ruler and then continue stitching. It is as if you could–on a home machine reposition your fabric while you still have your foot on the pedal. If you stop moving your fabric then your needle is going to go, it is going to stitch up and down and form a big bird’s nest on the other side. That doesn’t happen with a stitch regulator.
KM: Very nice.
MS: It is, it allows for a lot of control and people can do really intricate work.
KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?
MS: They have always been really supportive of it. I think my husband is. His family they are artists on his side of the family. His mother’s family owned a circus back in the day when circuses were the thing, and his grandmother was a Ziegfield Follies girl, and his grandfather was a big band musician, a trumpeter in Dean Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis’s band, and my husband’s mother is an artist for Hallmark. She is a three-dimensional, she does ornaments and sculpture work for Hallmark, so they, his side of the family are very artistic and so he grew up with–his mother was, you know she worked when he was little, she worked at home a lot, and so he was used to, that was the environment that he grew up in, having a mom who had a studio and was making art. It is, I think makes sense to my husband, like it is not odd, like ‘Why don’t you get a regular nine to five job?’ And fortunately he has a good job that so I don’t have to make a bunch of money, because that would be an issue. Quiltmaking at least at this point in my career is not necessarily a lucrative job.
KM: Describe your studio.
MS: It is awesome. I, well I guess I started to say this to my husband [speaks to son, You don’t want these gloves, okay.] Can we say while I’m interviewing that I also have a four year old that?
KM: Um, hum. [MS laughs.] It sounds like he wants to go outside.
MS: Outside and play in the snow, so he is getting all geared up now. So my husband, I think he is very artistic as well. His main art project is our house which is, he made this really nice studio for me and he helps me a lot with color and he names all of my quilts. It is kind of–and actually the kids get to name quilts too. Which is kind of, they enjoy doing that.
KM: What kind of names have they come up with?
MS: I had them name almost everything, but I told the kids a while back that they could each name a quilt and so my oldest son, immediately, he is ten but at the time he named the quilt, he was still very into Pokemon so it is. The quilt is called “Spinda” which is a spider Pokemon and the quilt is from a pattern called Paper Weight, and it is a contemporary version of the Spider Web Block, so it is kind of interesting, I mean he didn’t know that, he didn’t know it was a Spider Web Block, but he could see that it looked like a spider web and Spinda is the spider Pokemon, so it is called “Spinda” and that quilt actually went to several shows. It went to Paducah, and it went to went to Denver National, and Machine Quilters Showcase, but and I love the quilt. It has one of the things I really like to do is that I have an intense fabric collection, fabrics from the depression era, feed sacks. I have a good selection of psychedelics from the sixties and seventies, which are probably my favorites and the modern fabrics and hand dyes and I like to put them all together. If you look at “Boxy Nine Patch”, you can look at that quilt; you can see there are fabrics from the 1920’s in the quilt. I don’t know where I was going with that.
KM: [laughs.] Other names?
MS: Other names, well my husband, we both, he is a deadhead. Well, I think he still thinks he is a deadhead, but we are actually kind of older than that now. He likes to name things with references to the sixties. One of my quilts is called “Owlsey’s Owls” and it is a pretty neat quilt. It is at Houston right now. I took a class with Roberta Horton. Actually I got a chance to take three days of classes with her and it was really just an amazing thing, and out of that class I started using fabric, like within the fabric. These owls are on a tree and the owls are made out of paisleys and Christmas ornament fabric for the eyes, so (I started) taking novelty prints and other prints that have a motif in them and using that motif in a way that it wasn’t necessarily intended to be used. There are leaves that are used as feathers and daises are the claws for the owl’s feet. So I don’t know, “Owlsey” was the Grateful Dead’s LSD supplier. So that is the name “Owlsey’s Owls”, and another quilt that he named is called “A Hofmann’s Obit” which is also an LSD reference. Huffman was the inventor of LSD [and he died this year.], and that quilt is all thread play. I just finished it and it looks like–it is on black. It is a whole cloth quilt and it looks kind of like the galaxy. I drafted swirls on freezer paper, and then I put them on tissue paper, and then I, I stitched through the tissue paper. I laid out the quilt fabric on my longarm, and then I laid the tissue paper over it and then I stitched the swirls to get the outline, and then the swirls are filled in with micro-fill of different colors coming in curves and circles in and out of each other, so it looks kind of like the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, but done with thread.
KM: Tell me about your studio.
MS: My studio is, the thing that is really nice about it is that we have a split level but the previous owners built a big entry way onto the front, some split levels you come in and you have to go up or go down immediately, but they built a big landing. It is like a mudroom on the front of the house, so you come in and there is the mudroom and then if you go downstairs there would be, if it wasn’t my studio, a big living room with this 1970’s lava fireplace, and my husband took this room and he built workspace up over the fireplace so the fireplace is no longer there (well, it is there but you can’t see it!), and he built shelves underneath it so I’ve got, ‘oh I’m not doing a good job here.’ I’m going to walk into my studio. The first thing is that I have a vintage Rocketeer Slant-o Matic Singer sewing machine that is on the landing there and it is, these are amazing old sewing machines that have a real atomic 1950’s design to them, and that little machine sits in the front there and then over to the left I have an antique wardrobe which is where I store all of my clients quilts so they are protected. I have batting and stuff, and then I just have sort of industrial shelving going around the perimeter of the room, the kind that you get at Costco, big metal shelving and I have tubs, mostly clear tubs and they are all categorized and labeled. I am pretty tidy in my work. I like to be able to find things pretty quickly. I had everything in tubs, but this summer I actually went through and labeled everything because I was tired of trying to find a tub because it wasn’t labeled, anyway, they are all labeled. In front of those industrial shelving units, my husband made this design wall that goes in front of the shelving. I can lift the design wall off its hooks and get to the tubs behind or I can have it hanging there. It is pretty standard design wall made from pressed wood, and then we have batting and flannel over it so I can pin things onto it. Behind my longarm, where the fireplace is, I have another big design wall. It is a little harder to get to, so I have a little stool. I can put things up there, and they will be up for a while. I can look at it, I’m not necessarily messing with what is on that design wall, but I’m looking at it. The other design wall is one where I will more likely be moving around things. Underneath the design wall behind the longarm is a nice shelving unit that has all my longarm tools and books. I have like a work space right behind me, when I’m working on my longarm I can turn around and I will have rulers and books and my sketch pads and that sort of thing are all back there, and then the shelving underneath I store the rulers and stuff. And then as I circle around my room, I have my fabric storage is in another unit that Walt built. Walt is my husband, and I have that all organized. It is nice to look at because I organized it by the rainbow, all the colors are in their set places, and then one of the things I really like and I don’t know, I am surprised more people don’t do this but I have a–he built me a countertop space and on top of that is my rotary mat and I have a light box and Thermofax and all those things are there on that countertop and underneath it he built me shelving units that I have these plastic tubs. They fit fat quarters, I like to buy yard and a half lengths of fabric, and I will wash it and then a yard of it goes into my flat fold storage and then I quarter up, I make two fat quarters out of the other half yard ,and those are all in these tubs that slide in and out. Kind of like an index system, an index card system. I can pull out a tub and I can look all through all my oranges and see what I’ve got, then and I can shove it back in and pull out another one. Next to the cutting table are rolling carts that have all my small spools of thread, and then my big spools of thread are on what are those called? Pegboards. Then I have my sewing machine which is on a–eventually Walt is going to cut the top so that I can set my machine down in it, but right now I have this old, it is really old wooden desk that I like because it has those two little wooden boards that you can pull out on the sides like, so I can actually make a U-shape area to work in with my sewing machine. I have my ironing board and then I have another cutting table. So that is my studio.
KM: How big is it?
MS: It is the size of a nice size living room. It’s big and the funny thing is it is in the traffic pattern of my family which is awesome, and at times it makes me a little crazy because they tend to–like I’m looking at it right now I’ve got a giant Rescue Heroes submarine thing and I’ve got a big tub of blocks and a Darth Vader costume. I’ve got all this kids stuff. My oldest usually does his homework in here when he gets home from school, so they are very much in the studio with me, it’s not shut away. You come in the front door and you walk down to my studio and then actually the door to the garage is on the back side of my studio so when my husband is working on the house it is this constant traffic pattern through my studio. The funny thing about when I first started quilting I took over the dining room table which I think a lot of quilters do. They take over the dining room table and it gets to be this sort of point of contention that the family wants to eat dinner and you’ve got your quilting all over the place. We lived in this house that had a lower level that wasn’t finished. The previous owners, this is in Valdez, had moved the washing machine and dryer downstairs so my husband converted the old laundry room, which you know, most people’s laundry rooms are really small, into a sewing room for me. It was big enough for me, no one else really could be in there at the same time but it was neat. He made a little cutting station, I had my tubs up high so I could store things way up high in the room and then I graduated to this, which to me is luxury.
KM: Sounds wonderful.
MS: Yes it is, it is a nice space. It is not, like Carol Taylor, I look at her studio online and it’s, it’s not like that, it is pretty industrial but it is very functional.
KM: It works for you.
MS: It does.
KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?
MS: Well, Carol Taylor, I really like. I like piecing and although I’m doing more appliqué. I really like people, I like the works that sort of straddle the traditional but are contemporary. Work that takes traditional blocks and really works within the tradition but pushes those boundaries. I love Pamela Allen’s work, and I love and I’m not sure how to say, is it Susan Shie or She?
MS: I love her work. I don’t even know how to do what she does. It is just so amazing to me.
KM: Do you belong to any quilt groups?
MS: Yeah, I belong to the Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters Guild, or actually we are not called a guild, it was one of those crazy Alaskan things, we don’t like to be called, defined by anything. It is the Anchorage Lob Cabin Quilters, Inc. No guild in the name. That’s probably the only, well I belong to SAQA and I belong to the Machine Quilters, I don’t even know what they are called, International Machine Quilters Association, I think that is right. Yep, and I think that is it. [I also belong to Fiber Artists for Obama. We made an amazing quilt. I did the final pieced border on the quilt, and then quilted it. It is going to be shown this year at Houston in an exhibit called Patchwork Politics. I’m pretty excited about this.]
KM: Why is belonging to a group important to you?
MS: Well it was really important when I moved from Valdez to Anchorage. I think I kind of acted like a nut about it because when I first moved here, it was just like I wanted to meet, I just wanted to meet other quilters and now I’m kind of like okay I’ve met people, I can go back into my studio and hunker down, but there was a point where I really wanted to interact with other people that shared my passion.
KM: What is the group like in Anchorage? How many people?
MS: I don’t get to go. I used to, I had babysitting arrangements so that I could go to the guild meeting, but I don’t have those now, so I will start going to the meetings again next year when my youngest goes to kindergarten. The way it is set up is that they have, they meet the first and third Thursday of every month and then if there is a fifth Thursday in the month they do comfort quilts where they make quilts for the women’s shelter, the homeless shelter, and it is a really nice program that they do. Tuesday and Thursdays, I think it is 10:30 to 12:00 and they have a business meeting on the first Thursday and then the third Thursday they have a program of some sort. It might be visiting quilter’s studios or it might be a shop hop or it might be someone coming into town, or someone from the organization doing a trunk show and then there is also an evening meeting on the same first and third Thursdays but they are much more informal. They do a lot of challenges and block swaps and it is more of a social gathering. The evening group is more of a social group and the day group is the get it done group.
KM: What about SAQA, Studio Art Quilters Associates?
MS: Yeah, I am. I just heard about it and I went to the website and I thought this is really interesting, and so I joined. Part of why I joined is well because I wanted to be part of their chat room because they have a chat–they post things and I thought it–I belong to the QuiltArt Chat Group, which is another online sort of people post quilting messages and talk about their quilts and what they are doing, and someone there said they really liked this SAQA group, so I thought because I wanted a group that was maybe more focused on just talking about quilting and not so much talking about socializing, or I wanted more information from other quilters about quilting. I joined that and we actually had a couple of regional, like Alaskan meetings, and I’ve only been able to go to one of them but I convinced a couple of my friends from the guild to join and they have gone to the other meetings and said it has been really good. There is actually one of the women in that group is on the board of SAQA, Nelda. Nelda. [Warkentin.]Yes?
KM: Yes. Very good. What advice would you offer someone starting out?
MS: Well it depends on what you want to do with quilting. I think that some people–since I’ve moved to Anchorage I’ve really started thinking of myself as–and I don’t even know, the whole what you call yourself is kind of interesting. I like to call myself a quiltmaker but if you call yourself a quiltmaker then people think that you just make things that go on the bed, they don’t necessary think that you make something that goes on the wall, but I’m not really comfortable with calling myself an artist and then quilt artist I don’t know, it is like, so that’s, I don’t know, that is an interesting thing that people talk about within the community but I think if you, there is so many directions that you can go with quiltmaking. It is very honorable I think to be a classical quiltmaker and focus on craft and being, just creating meticulous beautifully crafted work and then there are other people that are more just free wheeling and now we have so many things that we can use to make quilts. You can glue every thing. You don’t even have to stitch it. There are people that glue their bindings on I mean, it’s a really a dynamic time I think to be a quiltmaker.
KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?
MS: Well for fiber artists I would think. Right now, I think being taken seriously. I don’t know why I feel like I always chose, what I want to do, is always like the outsider art form in a way that it is, and it’s hard for me. This is an example, I was writing about it this morning, I’m working with an architect and design company to–they are going to make a quilt and I’m going to quilt it for them, and the quilt will be used as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity and I’ve been a supporter of Habitat for Humanity for a long time and I’m excited about doing this. [But I am also wary of the project because I had a bad experience with an architect.] This summer I worked with a woman who is an architect briefly, I didn’t take on the project because it kind of made me feel bad. She wanted me to do something that wasn’t constructually possible. She didn’t understand the art form, she wanted me to make, to do this quilt, it wasn’t, just wasn’t going to go together. It was like as a construction unit it wasn’t going to work. She didn’t want to pay me what it would take for me to do it, and I really felt insulted like she didn’t understand that, she may be an architect, but I’m a quiltmaker and there is value in that also, and it was a really I don’t know, like how do you get people to respect quiltmaking?
KM: Good question.
MS: They don’t necessarily understand. They will say, ‘Make me a quilt. Why won’t you make me a quilt?’ It is like this is hours of my life.
KM: Materials are not cheap either.
MS: No, they are not. I don’t think people fully understand. People in my world, my husband or my family understand, but regular people just sort of, you know, don’t get it. A couple of years ago an interesting thing happened when I went back to visit family in Kansas. We go back almost every year. My friends all know that I’ve been focused on making these quilts. I’ve gone kind of berserk about it. Anyway, I gave my friends a sort of presentation of my quilts, and it was kind of like for them, I could see in their faces it was like, ‘Oh, she’s not going to make me a quilt for my bed, or for my dog to lay on. That is not what she is doing. It is something different.’ Most people don’t even know we are out there making these amazing things. I guess it’s just where we are at right now.
KM: When did you move to Anchorage? I guess we should get a timeline going here so that we have a little better understanding of your journey.
MS: We moved to Alaska twelve years ago and we were three years in Anchorage, and I didn’t quilt then we moved to Valdez and it must have been, I finished my thesis in 2000, so in the fall of 2000 I made my first quilt. We were there for seven years from 1999 to 2006, then in 2006 we moved back to Anchorage. So we have been back here for two years.
KM: Do you think you will stay in Anchorage?
MS: Yeah, my husband has a pretty interesting job. He is the director of marine transportation for western and interior Alaska for a company called Crowley Marine Services, and he is in charge of delivering heating fuel to all of western and interior Alaska. It is a challenging job for him because the waterways, they are, they can only deliver fuel when the waterways aren’t frozen, and these are places that don’t have road access, so the only way they can get their fuel is by boat or by plane. He finds it very challenging and stimulating, and I don’t think he will have that kind of opportunity somewhere else. It is a little bit difficult for me because I feel like I’m so far removed from things because I live up here, but as my kids get older I feel that less and less.
KM: Do you get to go to like Houston or Paducah or–
MS: I have actually gotten to go to Machine Quilters Showcase twice because it is in Kansas, and I’ve kind of coordinated it so that I can go back to visit family, and I can go to the show. I’ve done that the last two years and that has been really awesome. I don’t know, I do I dream someday that I will get to go to a big show, I can’t. Someday it might happen. It is hard. My husband, because he works so hard and we have three boys that there, somebody has to be home with them and that is me so. That is another part, interesting thing about quiltmakers. A lot of the women sort of come into their–hit their stride when they are older because they have been the primary caregivers.
KM: Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close?
MS: [long pause.] I don’t know. You know it is interesting. I guess when I first started quilting I was working on my thesis, I was supposed to be polishing it up and sending out these essays, and I just kept stealing time to quilt, and I was really conflicted over it. I didn’t understand that it was actually, that I had found my passion and how lucky someone is to have that happen. A friend of mine said, ‘Why are you torturing yourself? You obvious want to be making quilts. Why don’t you just make quilts?’ But at that point I didn’t. I didn’t think of it as an art or as a–I didn’t feel like it was a valid thing for me to do and over the course of these eight years I’ve really come to terms with that, and that is really it’s awesome to know and my family supports it and I have this lovely studio and everyday I get to come into my studio and make quilts and I’m pretty lucky. Yep, so I guess that’s it.
KM: That is good, that is excellent. What do you think makes a great quilt?
MS: I like a lot of energy. I think, yeah that is a hard thing. I’m a big fan of the Gee’s Bend quilts and every time there is a quilt art discussion about whether or not Gee’s Bend quilts are art, I’m just like, ‘How can it not be art to take old worn out jeans and make them into something that you can look at for a long time?’ To me that’s the definition of art, and I guess that to me is a good quilt. Something that holds your interest in whatever manner it does that, if it is by making you feel calm or by making a bold statement. Yep.
KM: “Boxy Nine Patch” certainly makes a bold statement.
MS: [laughs.] Yeah.
KM: Terrific. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with me, and we are going to conclude our interview and it is now 2:00.
Interviewee: Maria Shell
Interviewer: Karen Musgrave
Transcriber: Kim Greene
Project Name: The Alaska QSOS
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Time: 1:15 p.m.