Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories (QSOS) is the largest oral history collection about quiltmakers in the world. Our archive for the original audio recordings and photographs is the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The project was co-founded in 1999 by a dedicated group of Quilt Alliance board members and volunteers who identified an extraordinary gap in the quilt world: no one had ever created an oral-history project to capture the history, craft tradition, and personal experiences of America’s quiltmakers. They envisioned QSOS as a grassroots effort and designed the interview process in ways that would make it accessible to interviewers and quiltmakers at all skill levels and backgrounds, allowing them to explore the central question: “if this quilt could talk,” what would it say? Now, almost twenty years later, the collection includes over 1,200 recorded interviews with quiltmakers from novices to professionals.

The Quilt Alliance celebrates the twentieth anniversary of QSOS in 2019 with a whole new way to share our archive online. When the project is complete, you will be able to listen to the audio recording, read the summary and transcript and view the photos for each interview, and search or browse the entire collection.

Listen to Running Stitch, a QSOS Podcast

Running Stitch, A QSOS Podcast, is hosted by Janneken Smucker, Professor of History at West Chester University. Join us as we explore quilt stories, revealing the inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations of contemporary quiltmakers by drawing from the Quilters S.O.S. — Save Our Stories oral history project. We’ll dig into the QSOS archive to listen to excerpts from past interviews, and bring back interviewees to ask them about what they are working on and thinking about presently. Season one episodes will be released in June and July 2020.

Visit the new QSOS website

Here you can browse a sample set of 20 QSOS interviews that demonstrate the collection’s new features, such as original interview audio recordings and enhanced descriptions. Subscribe to the Quilt Alliance eNewsletter to receive updates as interviews are added to the new site.

SELECTIONS FROM QUILTERS’ S.O.S. – SAVE OUR STORIES

Read some featured interviews below. You can also search or browse the full archive of QSOS transcripts. 

QSOS Interview with Ann Holmes

QSOS Interview with Ann Holmes

Alice Helms (AH): My name is Alice Helms. Today is September 15, 2010. I’m conducting an interview with Ann Holmes for the Asheville Quilt Guild Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. We’re at a quilting retreat at Lake Logan in Canton, North Carolina and it is 1:50 p.m. Ann, tell me about the quilt you brought today. Ann L. Holmes (ALH): All right. Thank you, Alice. This quilt was important to me in that I realized, with a new technique that I developed from my stained glass background–I’ve been a stained glass artist for over thirty years and I wanted to recreate some of my original designs in fabric but my designs didn’t lend themselves to traditional piecing. And the quilt that I brought today has a lot of points and curves that would be difficult to piece in a traditional way. You could hand appliqué it but that would take a long time. As a stained-glass artist, I was used to building my windows on top of a drawing and I made patterns then that I used glue stick to glue on the glass to cut out my pieces and with a product called French Fuse, I found that I could build my quilt tops without any sewing, turning under the edges using a glue stick and so everything is very direct, everything–you don’t have to reverse anything, it’s exactly the way you look at your drawing with the freezer paper patterns on top. I add seam allowances to all my freezer paper patterns. I’ve developed a magic button, it’s just a button that I had taken out of my button box and added it to the side of my small rotary cutter with 3M double stick tape and what it does, it just gives me a visual aid for automatically adding my seam allowance. When I roll my button along the edge of the freezer paper patterns, it’s automatically–my blade is over about a quarter of an inch, that’s where I’m cutting–so it’s automatically adding seam allowances, it’s an easy way to add seam allowances. It’s not precise for machine piecing, but anything that you turn to the paper, this works very well. And so anyway, when I first started this technique, building right on top of my drawing, I put one continuous piece of French Fuse over my drawing. The French Fuse is an interfacing that dressmakers have used for many years for knits and people that make t-shirt quilts use it as a stabilizer, so I had some on hand and I noticed that you could see through it, it’s soft and it’s drapable, it’s fusible just on one side, so you just put one continuous piece over your drawing with the fusible side up and then you build your quilt right on top of that. You build the whole quilt appliqué style, that I learned from when I took some hand appliqué classes, everything has a seam allowance and as you look at your pattern you say what is in the background, what is in the foreground and as you’re building to the foreground, you just turn under those seams that need to be a finished edge. Anything that is touching something else, that’s going to be a finished edge, that’s what you turn under. And originally when I started this technique, I thought it was just going to be suitable for wall hangings, but this particular quilt is for a twin-size bed and I was very excited to see that’s it’s possible to make a large quilt with this technique. AH: So this isn’t the first quilt you made using the technique. ALH: No, I made lots of wall hangings, smaller pieces, first. And I was motivated to make this particular quilt because the year that I made this, the big quilt show in Paducah, Kentucky had a special award that year, it was a $10,000 prize for a quilt that would be selected for the new heart wing in Kentucky, in Paducah, their hospital. Unfortunately, I didn’t get in the show, but I think it’s a very cheerful and fun quilt and anyway I had fun doing it. But that wasn’t the only reason, I also had a girlfriend whose 25-year-old son had to have a heart transplant. He had had heart problems as a child and as he grew he was taking so much blood pressure medicine, he needed some surgery and his aorta burst and it was very touch and go for a long time so I was also thinking of Ryan when I built this quilt. This quilt has rows of tulips and there’s heart-shaped pieces in the tulip and so that’s why I call this quilt “Tulip Bed with Heart.” [Ryan is well now and a doctor of Radiology.] AH: And does it have a name? A title? ALH: Yes, “Tulip Bed with Heart.” AH: And why don’t you just describe the colors of it too. ALH: Well, there’s spring colors, because tulips come up in the springtime, so there’s lots of greens and yellows as a background and there’s a green and white checked gingham border. It’s really an upholstery fabric rather than a cotton fabric and there’s lots of pink, because I love pink so there’s pinks and purples and some white in it. AH: And have you gone on to make other large quilts using this technique? ALH: Yes, yes. This was my first large quilt and then I was president of the Asheville Quilt Guild in 2005/2006 and when you retire, they will make you a friendship block and you get to select what you want and I asked them to make me a Flying Geese [block.], just a traditional Flying Geese and the pattern that I asked them to use was something from a Patricia Hair workshop, one of my first workshops that I took as a guild member. Anyway, so they made these traditional [blocks.]–those were hand sewn. [corrected to machine sewn.] But then I designed this queen-size quilt using the squares that they made me. were only six inches–or they were rectangles, six inches by three inches so I made this very large queen-size quilt and I call it “Working Together to Achieve Our Goals.” The center I designed is a five-pointed star and Carol Bryer Fallert is an artist that I always admired. We were lucky in our guild to have many fabulous teachers come to our guild and I loved her Flying Geese where they’re a swish. She was an airline pilot [hostess.]and so she did these curvy swishes with the Flying Geese that were all graduated in sizes and so that’s what I did going into the center of this star. They fed into the center of the star. So the sixty inch center of the queen-size had no sewing in it. Anyway, I built this whole quilt with this technique but I feathered the star. I’ve always admired the traditional eight-pointed feathered star, but I wanted to do this unique so it was a five-pointed star that I feathered and then had her big Flying Geese swish from very tiny to very large on the outside border come into it. Anyway, so the only traditional sewing in that was a six-inch border that went around the center sixty-inch, what you call a medallion or something, with the star in it and then the [outside.] borders themselves. I just designed those with lots of straight strippy pieces but the big curvy swish of the Flying Geese went out to the border. It was a fun project to do and I love scrappy quilts and I made it blue and yellow and orange. It was a perfect color combination. [both talk at the same time.] And people had signed the traditional Flying Geese, people who made those blocks signed those, so it’s essentially a friendship quilt. AH: Very Nice. ALH: Thank you. AH: Okay to get back to “Tulip Bed,” how do you use this quilt? ALH: Well, right now I’m a quilt teacher with my new technique and so it travels with me to have samples of my work. AH: What are your plans for the quilt? ALH: Well, I think my granddaughter will get that at some point, when she’s a little older, she just turned four, so when she’s just a little older. AH: Okay. Let’s talk about your interest in quilting. When did you start quilting? ALH: Well, I’ve always admired quilts. I grew up in Pennsylvania so I had seen a lot of the Amish quilts but I was never motivated to make them. I thought they were lovely but I had no desire. My grandmother–I never actually saw her sewing a quilt but she had made a couple of quilts and she gave us a quilt in a typical quilter’s way, [in.] that she got it done the year after we were married. [laughs.] Anyway, I have her quilt that I still use and it’s pretty threadbare. She used her old house dresses and things like that to make it and so I’ve always cherished that and then when my brother got married many years ago–our mother died when we were young and she grew up on a large farm where the school teachers would go around and stay in different peoples’ homes and this school teacher evidently taught my mother to embroider and so I found some of her blocks that she had embroidered, her sister told me, and so when my brother got married that was the first big quilt that I ever made and I didn’t know what I was doing [laughs.] but I used–the quilt blocks [that.]were like a Star of David and so there were four of those across the pillow and then were two extra blocks down at the foot of the bed and then I duplicated the shape of the Star of David with some calico fabric that was the color scheme, mostly it was a white, like on a sheet [laughs.] and I had big stitches, I did quilt that by hand but– AH: What year was that? ALH: That was probably in, probably in ’70, probably1970. [corrected to 1974.] AH: And you were self-taught? ALH: Oh, yes. And it wasn’t really until I moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1998 that I became involved with our quilt guild. And I had seen an exhibit of quilts downtown at the Arts Council in their building on Biltmore Ave., yeah, and it was a lovely exhibit and I thought, ‘Well that’s really cool, you know I’m moving to a new place and my kids are all grown,’ and I thought, ‘Well that would be cool,’ and I called Connie Brown and she gave me information about the guild and then I joined up and I really didn’t know very much about quiltmaking until I came to the guild meetings and I was so impressed in how friendly everybody was and so I originally started doing the more traditional things but then I’ve been this stained-glass artist for over thirty years and have stacks of my own designs and I wanted to be able to do some of my own designs in fabric but as I said before, they didn’t lend themselves to traditional piecing and I didn’t know how to go about it and so I gradually developed this technique and now I’m really thrilled because I can do complicated designs without a lot of intricate piecing. So the top has no sewing until after I make the quilt sandwich and then I quilt and stitch all at the same time so it saves time too and it’s just a fun way to work. I mean it’s not real spontaneous, I still plan. As a stained-glass artist, you know you have to plan and make your drawing ahead of time and that’s the way I’ve approached my quiltmaking. But with this technique it’s very easy to make color changes or design changes if you find something that’s not going well you can just easily pull up a piece without ripping out seams and replace that pattern piece or if you want to just draw another shape on it, make another pattern piece. AH: So when you joined the [Asheville.]quilt guild, and you started doing traditional quilting, did you take classes at that time? ALH: Yes, I did. This Patricia Hair was one of the first workshops. I thought what she did was just a very fun technique. Her workshop, I think, was you take a Flying Goose and end up with Duck Soup, or something like that because of the way she made the Flying Geese, you end up with two free cutoffs when you sew your triangles. You take a rectangle, say it’s a three by six rectangle, and then you take two three by three inch squares, and when you sew, instead of sewing right, you draw a line across the corner and then you sew a quarter of an inch on either side of that and then cut on the line, so you have no waste, that’s really cool, so you end up with a freebie and it was those freebies that I had people feather my star with, with the friendship quilt, the “Working Together to Achieve Our Goals.” The star–so the only sewing in that outside feather was the diagonal line which was the cutoff from that rectangle that they had made. So when they gave me that rectangle with the Flying Geese, they gave me the two cutoffs with it and that’s what I used to feather the star. AH: Now, do you still do stained glass? ALH: Oh yes. Yeah. I do commission work so I’ve been fortunate I’ve had a couple of nice pieces around Asheville. I can’t remember what year it was, there was a competition, a design competition, for a new sign for the arts council downtown. They had a call for artists to present a proposal for a new sign. The new building was purchased by someone and they wanted to name the building the Suzanne Marcus Collins building. And originally they weren’t thinking of stained glass at all. They really wanted to put a sign above the window on that pretty herringbone brick they had up there and they had very specific size requirements and stuff but I’m looking at the picture of the front of the building, that black hole and they had those old landscape windows which was just clear glass and during the day it just looks like a big black hole and so I’m thinking to myself, ‘That’s where it needs to be.’ And so I did a proposal, did a lot of work for it and when I turned in my proposal, they said, ‘Oh well we weren’t thinking about stained glass,’ and I said, ‘I realize that but I hope you’ll show it to the committee anyway,’ and so they did do it. But now, I don’t remember how many years later it is now, maybe ten years later, the thing’s been up there about ten years, now the arts council has moved out of that location and a restaurant just went in there so I don’t know what will happen to that window. It’s sad to me because I think it was a nice colorful addition to the downtown scene there. AH: And I’m sure it was built to last. ALH: [laughs.] Of course. AH: The stained glass. AH: So how many hours a week do you quilt? ALH: Well, it just depends what I’m doing. I try to work in my studio, for my whole career, when I started doing stained glass, I would work from 10:00 to 3:00. That seemed to be a good time frame for me when my children were younger, I’d take them to school, go grocery shopping, whatever and get in my studio by 10:00 and by 3:00 they were ready to come home and I was tired because it’s physically hard work because I stand most of the time, you know, to do that. And I have maintained that schedule pretty much when I work on a quilt. I mean there are projects that you get carried away with and work longer hours, but you can maintain a pace for a long time and not get burned out if you just set some parameters. Unless you’re under a deadline crunch or something, but– AH: So is that every day that you work from ten to three? ALH: Not every day, but mostly, yes. If I have a project going, I’m pretty dedicated. I like goals and deadlines. AH: Ann, what is your first quilt memory? ALH: Well, I guess it’s my grandmother’s quilt that she gave us after we were married. We were married–and anyway, I’ve always loved that quilt and it’s well-worn. [laughs.] AH: Okay. And aside from your grandmother, were there other members of your family who were quilters? ALH: No. My mother didn’t sew at all. My Aunt Katherine did teach me some sewing. I was in 4-H and did 4-H sewing projects and stuff and I ended up becoming a Home Economics major, that was my background in college. AH: Oh, okay. How does quiltmaking impact your family? ALH: Well my husband is probably my best promoter. He’s excited about what I’m doing and quilting, you know it’s a softer thing, it’s really almost easier and not quite as dirty as working with stained glass. [laughs.] Stained glass can be really messy and once you make a window, it’s hard to–you have to have a place, really, to put it. I mean it’s hard to put it in a box and transport it. You can, but you know it’s very fragile and a quilt, you can just fold up easily and transport. My husband–right now he is working at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. We’ve been up there for two years and we’ll be there another year and I made him a quilt for his office and it’s from an Escher design with the flying geese, because that’s the way our life has been because we’re going back and forth from Arlington to Asheville, North Carolina and so I named the quilt “Are We Coming or Going?” because the geese are going in both directions. That was a fun one to do and people come in his office all the time and admire it and I’ve gotten a couple commissions from that quilt hanging up there too so that’s kind of cool. AH: And how about– ALH: See he’s always encouraged me and my kids have always grown up with me doing something and so, ‘Mom’s working on another project.’ [laughs.] AH: Have you made them all quilts? Your kids? ALH: Oh surely. Yeah. A couple different quilts. AH: But none of them are interested in quilting? ALH: No, my daughter loves history and anything to do with art but she’s not so much interested in doing it. We did make a quilt for her [together.]one time that was just like Chinese Coins, just straight pieces, that she’s actually got hanging on her wall in Egypt right now. She is in Cairo, Egypt teaching and we used that to decorate her apartment because she had this big wall space and it’s very colorful, behind her dining room table. AH: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time? ALH: Well, I’m going through a tough time right now, my son is going through a divorce and it’s very nice to have something creative to focus on. I think quilts are very healing and you know, it’s just nice to put yourself in, submerge yourself in a project. AH: What do you like most about quiltmaking and what do you like least? ALH: Well, I love the challenge of designing and figuring out colors, at the same time, it can be very frustrating and challenging. It’s very–it’s worth trying to do hard things sometimes, making those difficult choices, but it’s very satisfying. The thing that I have always struggled with is the machine quilting. When I first started to learn to do machine quilting, I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this at all,’ but with this technique I have gradually learned how to control my machine and I’m using a zigzag stitch instead of all straight stitching and for some reason, with the zigzag stitch, because there’s no sewing in my project, what I have to do–now it’s all turned edge, under edge, so I don’t want to satin stitch anything but I use a small zigzag stitch, it’s like one point five or one point six width and it’s just all free motion, I use the free motion foot and so I just have to guide it around all the individual shapes. Now, when you get to the top of a curve, like the top of these hearts and the zigzag doesn’t go in the right direction, I switch it to straight stitch and just with very light hand movements, just do that zigzag until I get over it. So I plan my work. With this quilt, there’s a lot of vertical shapes in it, you see, so I did most of the vertical stitching first and then you just turn the quilt and then stitch in the background as a horizontal. So you just kind of have to plan your work, you just look at your quilt and figure out, ‘Which is the most practical way for me to proceed?’ But that was the struggle, was figuring out to do the machine quilting. AH: I know you mentioned the Asheville Quilt Guild, but are there other quilt groups, or art groups you belong to? ALH: Well, right now, living in Arlington, Virginia, I was a member of the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery where they did quiltmaking, felt making, all kinds of weaving and knitting and anyway, it’s lovely to be up there and to be part of that organization. They’re a guild, like our guild, where it’s open to anybody, and then there’s the gallery part of it where you’re juried into the gallery part and then there’s a gallery space in the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virgina. There are seventy members of that gallery space and it’s a cooperative so each work a couple days a week [corrected from week to month ] and they put a new show in every five weeks, they take everything out and put new work in and so that’s been a fun thing to be a part of that group and it’s stimulating to be around other creative people. AH: Have advances in technology influenced your work? ALH: Well, yes, I mean I use a sealing iron when I make my quilt tops without any sewing, I’m using this French Fuse which is fusible on one side and so I use a small sealing iron, it has like a five-inch head, with a very pointy top, it’s actually used in modeling, when people make model airplanes and stuff like that but it’s a perfect appliqué iron, and because it’s got a very pointy top, it maintains its heat, so I don’t know how long French Fuse has been around, dressmakers have used it for a long time but it’s a tricot fusible interfacing, so I mean I don’t think that was around a long, long time ago and I use glue stick. I use Spray Baste to layer my quilts so I don’t have to pin them or baste them, I use 505 Spray Baste, has been a very good product for me because it doesn’t have a lot of odor like some of them do, you’re still supposed to work in a well-ventilated area but you know the smell is not bothersome at all. But it holds our quilts together, that is amazing, that is a huge time saver to not have to pin it all and then you know you worry about all those puckers, and to take all the pins out, so that’s a wonderful advancement. AH: I agree. Describe your studio. ALH: Well my fabric studio is my family room in my house. When we moved to Asheville, North Carolina, we just bought an old ranch-style house but it has nice rooms, it had a nice size living room and a nice size family room and I don’t need all that living space, you know, and my kids are gone so in the beginning I was just going to sew in a little corner of that family room, one end of it was going to be my sewing studio and then it was going to be like a computer room and family room, I had a sofa and all that in there. But [then.]I made a stained-glass window, it was a commission for some people in Asheville, a very large window called “Oriental Garden.” It’s eight feet wide and seventy-nine inches tall and there were fourteen feet of transoms over the top, and after I did that window–it turned out quite nice, it’s in a private home–and I was thinking I would love to use that design to try to make a quilt. But at the time, I didn’t have my technique yet. I didn’t quite know how to do it so I’d read books by–oh my goodness–Ruth McDowell. I love her work, but it was very difficult piecing but I did my sky, my mountains and my water with all that curved piecing that she does, but it was very tricky. But after I did all the background, then I still had all the flowers and the trees and the rocks to add and so I had seen an article in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine, Sharon [Malec.] it was like in [October.] 2002, I had seen an article where it was called “Freestanding Appliqué” where she constructed the face of a cat and she did it with freezer paper, much like I’m doing my thing, but she assembled this unit, off the background, and then applied it to her background. You know, she just assembled it, turning under edges using the freezer paper as a guide, you know for putting the pieces together. And so that’s the way I did that for “Oriental Garden” that’s the way I fashioned my flowers and the rocks, as individual units and then appliquéd them to the background. But that started me thinking, ‘Why can’t I just build the whole quilt that way? That’s like what I’m doing in stained glass, is putting all these individual pieces down but then my solder holds it together.’ And so anyway, I found I had some French Fuse, I was going to do something–my father had passed away and I had all his ties and those are bias cut and it was Laura Casey, in our quilt guild, that said, ‘You need French Fuse as a stabilizer for that.’ And so I had some on hand and I noticed, ‘Well my goodness, you can see through this.’ So that’s really where I got this idea to just start building this and in the beginning I was a little nervous about it all falling apart, so I would just do a little section at a time. I would build it on the French Fuse, a few pieces at a time, but then I’d take it to the sewing machine and stitch. Well, in 2005, I had bunion surgery that didn’t heal properly and I was off my feet for a long time and I didn’t know if I was going to get my quilt done for the quilt show and so I just took a chance. I thought, ‘Well, why am I sewing it twice?’ So I thought that would save me a lot of time, rather than taking it and sewing it and then you make your sandwich and then you have to sew it and quilt it [laughs.] I thought, ‘Well, why am I sewing it twice?’ So that was really the beginning of it, the desire to finish my quilt on time, I just took a chance and I did “Rainbow Falls,” that was the first quilt that I did this whole technique without any sewing in it, and that quilt was thirty inches wide by eighty inches long. And there’s a neat story about that quilt. I had it in our quilt show and then at the time I had booth space downtown [Asheville.] at the Woolworth Walk and I had it displayed downtown and also another little, smaller wall hanging that I had made because I was president that year, the theme–I had made a smaller, like mini-quilt with a Mariner’s Compass in it that was the theme for that year and both of those quilts were stolen from the Woolworth Walk and I listed it on Lost Quilts.com and almost two years later, I get a package at my front door, and it’s “Rainbow Falls” returned to me and it was kind of an anonymous letter saying that this lady had found it in a thrift shop in Asheville and my label was still on the quilt, it was in perfect condition so it was really kind of a miracle that I got that back because it’s– AH: Amazing. ALH: Yeah. It was very special. [laughs.] AH: I wanted to ask you–I know you teach quilting –so I wanted to ask you to talk about that a little bit. ALH: Well I’ve enjoyed quiltmaking very much because as an artist, most of my career I’ve worked by myself, you know it’s wonderful when I have a big project to hire people to help me and I’m able also now to hire some people to help me with my quiltmaking because I can be more efficient if there’s–you know you can get lots more done if you can hire somebody to help you. But, I have loved going out and teaching. Quilters are generally very friendly and eager to share and want to learn so it’s a very good environment and I can make more money that way, honestly because you know I would struggle so hard for a two hundred and fifty dollar stained glass piece that somebody would want and you struggle for days or a week and now I can go out and give a lecture for two hundred and fifty dollars, so that’s pretty cool. AH: And how many times a year do you teach? ALH: Not very often. Right now, sometimes it’s twice a month, sometimes it’s once a month. I’m going to teach in Atlanta, [Georgia.] October the 4th, and then I’m in Hendersonville [North Carolina.] November so then I don’t have anything for a while and next June at the Quilter’s Unlimited in Arlington, Virginia, I’m going to be teaching at their big quilt show. But I am in the process of writing a book, I’m working on stuff for the American Quilter’s Society, they have given me a contract to write a book and I’m going to try to go for a May deadline, I don’t know if I can reach that goal or not, but anyway, once my name gets out like that, perhaps I will be busier as a quilt teacher. And I don’t want to be completely swamped, to do it once or twice a month, that would be nice, you know. I think I’d like that and that’s the wonderful thing about this career, there’s so many quilters that are beyond retirement age, I don’t need to retire just yet, you know it keeps you young, I think, to be able to go out and continue to share what you love. AH: That’s great. Ann, I meant to ask you this earlier, but I was wondering whatever became of the quilt you made for your brother. ALH: I actually remade that quilt. My brother and his wife used that for many years and several years ago, they gave it back to me because they didn’t want to throw it away but it really was in tatters. Where they had it on their bed, the sun faded it all on one side and the fabric was fraying and stuff, so they didn’t want to give it away, but they didn’t know what to do with it, they didn’t want to throw it away so they gave it back to me and that same year, I was in a little fiber bee here in Asheville and they had a recycling exhibit, that was the theme, recycling and so I decided to recycle that quilt, so what I did was just take my rotary cutter, I just cut out the good parts and made a plan. There were just three of mother’s embroidered pieces that were okay, the other three were no good, there were six originally and so I redesigned it so that it would be like a large wall hanging and anyway, it turned out pretty cute, it’s hard to describe it in words but I recycled it. I just took the rotary cutter and sliced it up and then on my table, I just butted the joints together and then cut red fabric and made little sashing pieces and that’s the way I joined it and then put a new back on it, that helped hold all the back together and then requilted it. Originally it was hand quilted with my big looping stitches [laughs.] and now I stitched, machine quilted around the original hand stitching so anyway, it turned out pretty good and so they have it back, I gave it back to them. [Both talk at the same time.] And they’re happy. AH: And it’s still bed-sized? ALH: No, no, no. It’s smaller, it’s like a wall hanging. It’s not as large as a twin. It’s a large wall hanging. Maybe it’s thirty-six wide by, I don’t know, sixty long or something like that. AH: Well that’s interesting. ALH: And three of my mother’s original blocks [are.] in it still. AH: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? ALH: Well, with my new technique, you know a lot of people are set in stone, you know they have very specific ideas but then there are a lot of people who are open to new ways of doing things, so sometimes you know, people just kind of turn up their nose and you know–but I think there are other people that are saying, ‘Well you know, that’s pretty cool.’ And now, as quilters are getting older and having a hard time with holding a needle in their hand, you know that small needle, you get arthritis in your hand, I think some people have enjoyed this technique and then being able to finish it on the machine. AH: I think we’re very close to the end of our time, so is there anything else you want to add about quilting, your quilting story? ALH: I am just very grateful to all the quilters that have come before me. I got into quilting–we were out in California in 1990/1991. That was the first time I ever walked into a quilt shop and learned about the rotary cutter. That’s revolutionized quilting, man. [laughs.] AH: It sure has. ALH: And I picked up my first quilting book which was by Donna Slusser, it was watercolor quilts. So I was very attracted to those because they looked like a Monet painting to me, dabs of color and line and so I spent a couple years just cutting up scraps, you used very large bold prints then and you cut them into two inch pieces, so you can kind of fracture the design and then you have to arrange them by color so I spent a long time doing that but I have done several quilts like that and it was fun but it was very time consuming. AH: Okay. Well, I think this concludes the interview then. ALH: All right, thank you very much. AH: Thank you and it is now 2:32 p.m. ALH: Okay, thank you. [laughs. ] I hope I did all right. AH: You were wonderful. Visit Ann Holmes’…

QSOS with Roy Mitchell Jr.

QSOS with Roy Mitchell Jr.

  Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Roy Mitchell, Jr. Roy is in Woodridge, Virginia and I’m in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today’s date is December 29, 2008. It is now 9:08 in the morning. Thank you for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Roy Mitchell, Jr. (RM): Thank you so much for allowing me to do it. KM: Cool. Tell me about your quilt “Watermelun Babies.” RM: The “Watermelun Babies”, I’ve always been an advocate collector of black memorabilia and I’ve always enjoyed and I’ve studied the history of African Americans and our background and I wanted to know more. As I have gotten deeper involved into the history, African Americans have always been negatively linked to watermelon and I wanted to find out why. When I did the research I was checking it out and I found out that it was so negative I wanted to make it something positive so I decided to make the “Watermelun Babies.” With the babies I wanted to take the not so attractive look and make it a cute look where it would bring a positive effect to people when they saw it instead of the googly eyes and the large mouth and stuff like that. I started the quilt and I completed the first one, I think it was 2006. I can’t give you the exact dates. KM: That is okay. RM: I completed one and it is two of them, the one that was featured in the National Quilting Association Magazine is the smaller version and I have a larger version too which goes into a little bit more detail of how the characters look. I just wanted to make sure that where we took something that was negative I wanted to give it a positive effect and let people know that it is okay to eat watermelon in public and to enjoy watermelon and eat it the way you want to so that is why I created the “Watermelun Babies.” KM: How did you become known as the Watermelun Man? RM: I belong to a group Daughters of Dorcas and Sons where Ms. Viola Canady is founder and president and when I decided to do this the group said, ‘Oh you are the watermelon man.’ And that is how I actually got the name of being the Watermelun Man. The group there started calling me that, as I was creating more babies. Each week that I would go to the meeting on Tuesday I would have a new baby or new babies and they would look at them and say, ‘Oh! here comes the Watermelun Man,’ so I just got that name. I was the newest male member of the group so as I was creating the babies they just started calling me the Watermelun Man and that is how I got the name of the Watermelun Man, so I took that and decided that was going to be my trade name. KM: How do you use this quilt? RM: The quilt has been in the show, in the National Quilters Association. A National Slave Museum is going to be built in Fredericksburg, Virginia and they would like to display the “Watermelun Babies” quilt. Quilts I should say as they have seen both of them. One of them has never been shown and is going to be on display at the 2009 National Quilters Association show in Columbus Ohio. The smaller one will be shown in Lancaster in March. But this one right here is traveling to different shows. This smaller quilt right has been shown in the school system here to let children know about the negativity and how they can create something that can be a positive influence. KM: What are you plans for the quilt? RM: My plans for the quilt is to have it where it can be archived and one of them will be donated. I would like to have it donated to the Smithsonian museum where it is part of African American history where it can be an influence to others to come and see where something was negative and now you can see a different effect of African Americans eating watermelon. I would also like to see it display in the White House. You can see different ways of the way we have been portrayed as African American people. I would like to have one of them where it is donated into a museum where it can stay. KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. RM: My interest in quiltmaking started when a friend and I–Faith Smith, she had come to Stafford, Virginia. I was living in Stafford, Virginia and the job was very hectic and I had to commute into the Washington, D.C. area so it took me like two hours, three hours sometimes a day to get to work. I said, ‘I needed to find something to relieve stress. She was coming from Ohio and we went to a State Fair in Manassas, Virginia and we started looking at the quilts and stuff. I said, ‘Wow this one is nice. This is nice.’ We were looking at different quilts but when I saw the price of it was it just unbelievable. The both of us me and her were both like ‘whoa.’ I was like, ‘No way can I buy this quilt.’ I couldn’t appreciate the price because I didn’t understand the details or the thought, the work or anything that went into it. I just say it is a quilt because as a child a quilt you just put on a bed so I never looked at it as an art. It was just something to keep you warm. When we looked at the quilts and stuff and we saw the prices and then we said I could make this, I told her I could make this and so I decided to take a class. I took one at a quilt shop in Stafford, Virginia. I was the only male, only African American in the class and the ladies were so nice to me. Everyone was a beginner and they waited for me to get down the highway. We met once a week and we made the first blocks we made was a Nine Patch and we did the Bears Claw and we made different others, starter things to get us started and then I made a Double Wedding Ring after the class was over and the quilt shop had closed down. I continued to do it until my son was born, and when he was born in ’92 I stopped but I still always had the heart for wanting to do this and I continued to do it just little sewing squares together but not completing anything, just starting it so I can still have my hands involved in it. In 2004 I got back into it, because that is my passion. When I got into it I wanted to create something that was unique and I was sitting in my kitchen. My kitchen is filled with black memorabilia and I said I ought to make something with people eating watermelon and I just had to. I had an artist that worked with me and we sat down and decided to create different characters and I just went on ahead and started doing it. KM: Are they appliquéd? RM: It is a stitching called couching. Ms. Canady, who is the founder and president of Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, she does a lot of couching. She does excellent hand work but she does a lot of couching. She showed me how to do the couching when I first joined the group because I didn’t know how I was going to put these characters together when I showed her. When I did the first one, she showed me how to do couching. Couching is where you use twelve, you can use twelve, six, three, according to how small you want the outline to be and the “Watermelun Babies” have been done with twelve, you use twelve strings and then you use another one to wrap around it, so it is thirteen strings that I used on it. Some of them I’ve used four and some I’ve used just three. It is not to say when people say is it appliqué. It is called couching and it looks like an embroidery machine has stitched around the outline but it is all done by hand. The watermelon quilt is all hand couch and this one that was in the National Quilters Association show was all hand quilted also. KM: You like doing things by hand? RM: I do, but I am willing to try something with a machine. Now the clown that I’ve done, that one was done by stippling, that was done by machine, but the couching, all the outlines of anything that I’ve done has all been done by hand, couching. I do a lot of work with couching. I guess that is going to be my trade mark because Ms. Canady taught me that and she made me perfect it. [KM laughs.] When I first finished she asked me, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘This is couching.’ She said, ‘This is not couching. Do it again.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to.’ Each week I kept telling her, ‘I’m going to get better. I’m going to get better.’ And when I did the first outline of couching around the character, she told me to take it apart and do it again. I said, ‘Ms. Canady, I will start over before I take this apart that’s too much work.’ She wanted to make sure I perfected everything that I done. She has been a big influence with me and my work and making sure that I perfected everything. She sees my work, it makes me proud when she sees something and she says you did a good job on this. It makes me feel good because when Ms. Canady gives you the seal of approval, you really got the seal of approval. KM: Tell me about the Kings of Quilts. RM: Kings of Quilts. When I joined the group in D.C., the Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, I was looking to be involved with the males because I know the arena of quilters is dominated by women. Men are not exposed or they are not out, so I decided that I would like to have a men’s group, I knew there were men who did it because I’m one. I knew there would probably be other men who would be interested in this. My son Tre won a contest in school when he did a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado out of fabric. Everyone was fascinated by it and I said, ‘I can do that.’ So we need to have a men’s group. I spoke to Ms. Canady and mentioned to her that I wanted to start a men’s group and she told me what I needed to do. I had guys that were interested, my neighbors and friends of mine who were fascinated by my work and said, ‘I would like to do this. I said, ‘Well I need to start a men’s group.’ So my Dad, who is Roy J. Mitchell, Sr. and my son, Tre and two other men we got together and we sat down and I decided to form a group. Those are the original charter members and then there are three more guys that are also in the group now. We have a group now of about eight. So we are pulling in more men and they want to do it. I would like for this group to grow to where we have more males, where we can be recognized as quilters. It doesn’t have to be hidden in the closet where you can’t take it to the barbershop. I take my quilt into the barbershop and the guys are fascinated by what I’m doing, so it is a different thing, so I would like to try to get the men, you know to bring it on out whatever you do, art work or whatever, it is okay. I myself and the Kings Of Quilts will be doing a project with the school system here in Prince William County and we are going to be teaching forty young men how to quilt, so that will be kicking off in January. It is a young men’s mentoring group and we will be working with them to get them to show the young men how to quilt. KM: How often do you meet? RM: We met once a month. Unless it is a special project, we will meet two to three times a month. At the current time we are trying to get a quilt into the show for the Chapter Gallery in the NQA show so right now we are meeting three times a month. If we have a special project that we are working on we meet more. We are all based in the same vicinity so it is not like we have to commute. KM: How many hours a week do you quilt? RM: I quilt probably about sixty hours. It takes me twelve hours to do one watermelon baby and so I quilt about sixty hours a week. I am working on two projects, three projects right now. One with my son and then my own that I’m working on, so I’m involved with that. Since it is the holiday’s I can dedicate more time, because I’m giving at least sixty plus hours a week. It is therapy for me. I can just go into it, I have a studio in the house and I can just go into it and I can create and design and prepare and see what I can come up with. I put that there, and see how I can change, and I always let my father and son look at it and tell me what could I change about what I’ve done, and I take their opinions to heart and they say, ‘Move this and change that,’ and I will say, ‘Let’s see what it looks like.’ Once I get the final, we say, ‘Okay I will put it together.’ KM: Describe your studio. RM: I beg your pardon? KM: Describe your studio. RM: My studio is about twelve by sixteen [feet.]. I have my cutting table in it. My neighbor across the street made me my cutting table. I’m six foot three so the standard cutting tables that they have in stores is not a good height for me without me having to bend over, so my neighbor custom made a table to fit my height where I don’t have to lean over to cut fabric, as well as my ironing board. I have maybe three feet by six feet ironing board and that way I can lay down a piece of fabric. I have all my fabric separated. I have a shelf that is from ceiling to floor that has all my fat quarters and it has my authentic fabrics. I have fabrics that I hand selected from Africa and I have fabrics that I have designed myself that are in my studio, and then I have a closet with all the bolts of fabric in it, so there I can go in and everything is categorized by color. It is also categorized by what type of print it is, if it is an Oriental, if it is an African print. Everything is categorized so I can go in and if a fabric has more blue then green, then it goes into the blue section, even if it is a pastel or if it’s a print, whatever the dominate color is that is how I categorize it, that way if I’m looking for something with some blue in it, I can get it that way. I have three sewing machines in my studio. I have a window that is six feet wide and three feet tall, and my sewing machine is sits in front of the window and it looks out onto the street from the house so therefore I have lots of sunlight. Lots of sunlight comes into the room. I have my TV. I have DVD player, the VCR. I have an antique sewing machine that belonged to my great, great aunt who was a seamstress. I have her machine in there which motivates me to know that I have part of my history in the room with me. This machine was given to my father when he was a child and I got it when I was twenty years old, and it has moved with me everywhere I’ve been, so that is in my room too. I have the antique and then I have the up-to-date machine. I have my very first machine that I ever sewed on when I made the first quilt. I have that machine and then I just invested in a newer one, so I have that. My room is categorized with everything and it is very comfortable. I have the high chairs. My sewing machine table, they don’t make it wide enough. I’m six foot three so when I set down my legs won’t go under the normal sewing machine cabinets so that is specially made too for me so it can be up off the floor where I have a lot of space between the table and my legs. I’ve had a lot of work put into it so it can accommodate my height, as well as my son, when we both sit in the room together, so I have the machines set up beside each other, that way he can sew and I can watch how he is doing it to make sure he is doing it right. The machines are beside each other so we both can look out the window and enjoy the sunlight and everything as seasons change. KM: Tell me about designing fabrics. RM: We travel to Africa every year and we usually stay for about a month. When I went there, my first time when I went there I saw the technique of how they could tie dye and we call it batik, but the tie dying technique and how they would weave fabric and stuff and I was fascinated and I decided that I wanted to create my own designs, so I have a staff there that I tell them about the colors that I would like to work with and how they could blend them and they do a sample and they will send it to me over the Internet to tell me to look at what they have done and I can say, put more blue or put more green, so I’ve done what I call a mood fabric. It looks like it changes with your moods, but it is the way that blues have flowed down from a darker to a lighter to a greenish color. So that will be going into one of my quilt designs that I am going to be doing in the future. I’ve worked with the textiles, I’ve learned how to do the weaving and also to work with the wax cloth, how to put the wax onto the cloth for designs. I have the watermelon stamp for the wax cloth so I can stamp it onto the fabric with the wax and then tie dye it and the actual babies will be printed in wax onto the cloth, and then you have to boil the cloth to get that wax off and then you have to wash it and boil it again. It is a long process but it is worth it when you look at what you’ve created. I enjoy working with the textiles and we will be going back there hopefully in July of this year, excuse me of next year and working again so I can teach my son how to do it. KM: Where in Africa do you go? RM: We go to West Africa. KM: How long have you been doing that? RM: Since 2004. KM: Very cool. What advice would you offer someone starting out? RM: For someone starting out, if they have the–if they really want to do it then they have to believe in themselves. If they really want to do it. Others may say, ‘Why would you want to quilt?’ And I’m speaking from person experience, when I first started I had people say, ‘Why would you want to quilt? What it is about the significance of a quilt?’ If you believe in yourself then do it. Try it. Once you try it you will find it is therapy, the guys that are in the group, they can’t wait to get home, they say they can’t wait to get home to start quilting. They say, man this is therapy. Anyone that is just starting out, I would say don’t invest a lot into quilting until you find out if this is really what you want to do. Start off, get involved in a group, see what people are doing, do the basic and see if this is something that you want to continue and if it is then invest in your fabric. I wouldn’t say invest in an expensive sewing machine, I would say invest in a basic sewing machine that can do the basic stitches. Different little stitches, but not into an expensive machine until you really find out that this is what you really want to do and it is something that you really want to do then go for it, but you have to believe that you want to do it and believe in yourself. I believed in me, I wasn’t waiting on anyone to say, ‘Roy you can do this,’ or ‘Roy, why did you do this?’ I asked the questions, ‘Why?’ But I found myself explaining more and pursuing what I wanted to do so I didn’t explain any more I just went ahead and did it. Once I started doing it, then everybody was appreciating what I was doing. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it from 1990 and it is something that is my passion so if you, if you don’t know what your passion is and mine really developed after I got older and I appreciate it more now. Timing is everything, but if you believe, there is so much you can do with it, so I don’t want the people to think it is just a quilt. When you say you want to make a quilt, it is art. It is just like painting a picture that you are going to hang on the wall; you can do the same with a quilt. It is all how you join the pieces together and what you create. As an example, my son did a car and no one was saying that you couldn’t make a car out of fabric. I was amazed when I did it, so when others saw it he Tre really felt good about doing it. When Tre got excited about it, it motivated him even more because of what he had created and people liked it, he wanted to do it. That was a big blessing to me to see that my son was excited because I would like for him to continue on and pass this on. By him being young he will be an inspiration for other young men to want to say well if Tre can do it I can do this too, or I see what Tre made out of a car, made a car out of fabric. That way you can do anything, it doesn’t have to be something that you think you are going to throw on the bed. KM: Is this typical of your size. The quilt, this 40½ inches by 53 inches, is this typical? RM: Meaning? KM: Is it typical, do you generally work in that size? Or what size do you generally work in? RM: I’ve done a king size Double Wedding Ring and that was in the magazine, and that is a piece that my dad, myself, and Tre are going to hand quilt. So this is going to be a quilt that we are going to, the three of us are going to be working on, so this is going to be something that I’m going to treasure. KM: Yeah, three generations. That is very cool. RM: This is going to be something that my father, Tre and I, all three of us are going to work on this one quilt and this will be us. This is, will have a part of us that will always be together, that we did work on a project together just the three of us. Typically the size varies. I’ve done, I have several wall hangings and I have a larger one, the other “Watermelun Baby” quilt I can’t think, is much larger, it has twenty-four, twenty-four squares on it, 12 by 12 [inches.], that one is twenty-four squares on that one. I plan to have that one in the show and that one gives a little bit more detail. I have that one with actual synthetic braided hair that has been braided on the babies head, the characters’ heads. I have handkerchiefs hanging out of the boy’s pocket, so that one goes into a little bit more detail. I have earrings hanging on the young ladies’ ears and stuff. I have that, that one like that. The other one is 61½ by 77 [inches.]- the other “Watermelun Babies.” KM: You talk about this being an art, do you think of yourself as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction? How do you describe yourself? RM: I never thought of myself as an artist, I just thought of myself as a quilter. The more that people saw my work or have seen my work and when I had my work appraised the lady referred to me as an artist. I had never referred to myself as an artist, I just recognized myself as a quiltmaker, but now that I am creating more and more I look at myself as an artist. I create designs and I enjoy bring them to life. For example if I say I want a lady carrying food on her head, I will create her and bring her to life and give her a name. But if you have a vision create it, so I just take what I see and give it more detail and then I create it. I now consider myself an artist, but I’m still a quilter. I look at myself as an artist because I created it, but I look at myself as a quilter too, so I guess I’m a dual person. I’m both. KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? RM: Biggest challenge. Learning the technique. The biggest challenge, learning the technique, how to, what to create, where do you get started. You see so many designs, you see so many, so much art work from it, the way people have cut things, the way people have created stuff. The biggest challenge- where do I start? What do I create? You have to have a vision of what you would like to do and know how, have someone who can show you how to do it. Most people that, as an example, the guys in the group they don’t know what to create so they take a standard pattern and they work from there. The biggest challenge is what do I create and secondly what fabrics do I use. I always use 100 per cent cotton and I always recommend that to everyone because that is what has been taught to me and wash it. You have to know how to make a color selection. That is a hard thing after you decide what design you want to work with you need to know what colors would I use and then the next part is cutting, the technique of cutting to make sure you get an accurate cut and it is all going to piece together. Then the next challenge is, are you going to do it by hand or are you going to use a sewing machine? The hardest challenge I feel is the creative side. It is trying to figure out what am I going to make, and secondly I would say is the color selection, what colors are going to make this stand out or make it speak to people when they look at it, what is going to make this, where you say ‘whoa.’ KM: How do you want to be remembered? RM: [laughs.] How do I want to be remembered? I want to be remembered by [pause.] that is a good question. How do I want to be remembered? I would like to be remembered being that I wasn’t afraid of a challenge and of being a male quilter is an area that is dominated by women I did the “Watermelun Babies” quilt with love and want to share it with others. I can say it was a challenge and I believed in me and I want people to believe that if you believe in yourself anything is possible, anything. I believed enough in myself to follow a dream. This is a dream of mine and I want to pursue it and I want to be recognized by ‘I’m the Watermelun Man.’ I want them to understand that growing up as an African American child and growing up during the racism time and saw what I saw it didn’t make me show any negativity towards anyone, but I want them to remember that I took something that was negative and made it positive where people didn’t have to be ashamed of who they are or anything that they did. I want them to appreciate my work that I’ve done and know the effort and the time that I put into it where I’ve learned to appreciate others by being in this field and understanding how much time and effort and give quilters the respect that they should, because it is a lot of work that goes into it and I can appreciate it by being one myself. I just want them to know, there is no such job as a woman’s job or a man’s job any more. Everything is a job and there is no profession that women don’t do or men don’t do. It is just part of our life. Follow your dream. Follow your dream. I followed mine and I want them to follow theirs and appreciate who you are and just do what you do and be the best at it. Be the best that you can be in anything you do, just be the best at it. Success comes with it, and you don’t have to be an athletic player, a rap star, or any other things that you can be, whatever you want to be you can be successful in anything, be that you quilt, be that you, just be the best in what you want to do and follow your dream. Remember you are recognized by your own success and not mans. I want my African American brothers and sisters to be proud of who we are as African Americans and the accomplishments we have made as African American people. KM: How has the quilt world embraced you? You said it is predominately women, so how have women responded to you being a quiltmaker? RM: [laughs.] I have truly enjoyed it. I’ve truly enjoyed it. You go to a function and you are a male, I’ve been, and there are basically no males and you get all the attention. They appreciate you, they are eager to teach you. I’ve learned so much from the ladies that I can not even capture everything that they want to teach me. I’ve heard women tell me they would (the other women) would not teach me this, I couldn’t get that much attention by me being a lady, but you get it all. [both laugh.] It is just me, but I have learned so much and there are so many ladies that want to teach me so much and show me so much. I’m trying to learn everything somebody is trying to teach me and the ladies have said [tape temporarily stops due to low batteries.] In the area of being a male in the quilting industry, I get all of the attention and I enjoy it. The ladies want to teach me everything they possible can and I can’t grasp it all, so I’m taking notes wherever I am, I’m taking notes down. I get hugs, I get affection, everybody wants to say Roy let me teach you this, Roy let me teach you that, and being a male I stand out so they want to, I feel that they want to see me achieve something that has been dominated by women and they are proud when they teach me something and then I turn around and create it. I always give them prompts for whoever has taught me, I said, ‘Ms. So and So has taught me this or whatever.’ My biggest inspiration and person who has taught me the most is Ms. Viola Canady and she has guided me. She has told me Roy do this and so she has embraced me and she believed in me. She told me what I have needed to do and I have listened and she has always told me I’m a good student. So Ms. Canady is like my teacher and I’m the student and she tells me and when I get a grade F I have to bring the grade up. [both laugh.] I have achieved F’s with Ms. Canady and D’s too, so when I get an A, I just love it so I tell her when she looks at my work, I says, ‘You can. You are not going to find anything,’ and she looks at me and said, ‘This is good.’ I said, ‘Thank you Ms. Canady.’ When Ms. Canady tells me that I’ve done good that is the greatest joy that I get to know that a lady such as her, a phenomenal lady, and she is my mentor that when she tells me that I’ve done good. There is nothing nobody else can tell me and that even makes me work harder, it makes me even perfect it even more. My goal is–I want her to be proud of me because she created what I do. She showed me how to do it and had patience with me. She believed in me and she just kept saying, ‘Keep doing. Do it Roy. Do it,’ and the more she kept telling me to do it the more I did it. I enjoy being around the ladies. I enjoy it and they enjoy me being around them so. I always give the ladies hugs and I get all of the affection. KM: Is there anything you would like to add before we end our time together? RM: I would just like to tell the people, tell the world that I enjoy doing what I’m doing and this is, not a hobby, this is a passion. I believe in what I do and I like bringing characters to life. As to whatever it may be, I create them and I bring them to life and I identify them. They get a name as soon as I create them. I want people to know to follow your dream, believe in what you do, don’t ever let anyone say that you can’t always believe you can. Believe in God, say your prayers. I have a prayer that I say before I do anything, such as this interview. I believe in my prayer and it motives me. Have yourself around positive people because you get a positive influence. When you are around positive people positive things happen. Follow your dream. Just follow your dreams and believe in yourself. KM: Would you share your prayer with me? What’s the prayer you say? RM: You want me to read it to you. KM: Yah, yah I would love to hear it. RM: I have to go upstairs for this. KM: That is okay, take your time. RM: [pause.] I had to climb the steps so let me catch my breath. It is called “A Prayer Before I Start Work.” My Heavenly Father as I enter this blessed room I bring your presents with me. I speak your peace, your grace, your mercy, and your perfect order into this blessed room. I acknowledge your power over all that will be spoken, thought, decided, and done within these walls. Lord I thank you for the gifts you blessed me with. I commit to using them responsibly in your honor. Give me a fresh supply of strength to do my job, anoint my projects, ideas and energy, so that even my smallest accomplishments may bring you glory. Lord when I’m confused guide me, when I’m weary energize me. When I’m burned out, infuse me with the light of the Holy Spirit. May the work that I do and the way that I do it bring faith, joy, and a smile to all that I come into contact with today and throughout life. Lord when I leave this place give me traveling mercy. Bless my family and home to be in the order in which I leave it. Lord I think you for everything you’ve done, everything you are doing, and everything you are going to do. I lift your name up with the highest praise of Hallelujah. In the name of Jesus I pray with much love and thanksgiving. Amen. KM: [softly.] Amen. That is a great way to end our interview. I want to thank you for taking time out of your day for allowing me to be with you. We are going to conclude our interview at 9:49. RM: Thank you. Note: After the interview, Roy shared that he had never shared the poem with anyone before. It was an emotional experience for both Roy and Karen. Tre also says the prayer upon entering the…

QSOS with Mary Kay Davis

QSOS with Mary Kay Davis

Joy Combs Spence (JS): My name is Joy Combs Spence and today’s date is April 26, 2010. This is 3:00 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Mary Kay [Carrico.] Davis in Sunnyvale, California for the Quilters’ S.O.S.-Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the California State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Mary Kay Davis is a quilter and is a member of the Santa Clara Chapter. Mary Kay, I would like you to tell me about the quilt you brought in today, “It’s Never Pointless.” Mary Kay Davis (MKD): Okay. Originally I designed the quilt back in 2004 for a Moda Challenge. The challenge was to use their fabric which was about twelve different neutrals and create your own design and then you could use any other fabric you want, but it still had to be Moda, on the top of the quilt. So this was the first time I’d ever really done any sort of design of my own, not using someone else’s pattern. And I think I went a little bit crazy because I included so many teeny, tiny little triangles. The center blocks are sort of a prairie style; I don’t know what else to call it, and then the outer blocks are just ascending triangles? I guess maybe you could call them birds of flight. The point of the quilt for me was more about the piecing. The quilting is pretty rudimentary it continues the motif of all the triangles and that’s why it’s called “It’s Never Pointless” ’cause just about anywhere you’re going to set your eye, you’re going to see a triangle or a point, some sharper than others. This quilt has been a lot of fun for me because a lot of things have happened to me because of the quilt. A lady saw the quilt at a show and she asked me to be in her book and so she sent me a letter and asked me to be in a book called, “100 Tips from Award Winning Quilters” [by Ann Hazelwood.] and that was very exciting for me, I’d never had anything published before and she asked me for a quilting tip and I talked about using rulers, I think. And then I–it gave me enough confidence when somebody liked the quilt for me to submit it to a bigger quilt show and I submitted it to the Road to California quilt show. I think it was in maybe 2006 and it took 1st place traditional in the wall quilt category. And so that was very exciting because then I went down to the show and I saw the quilt hanging in the show and I got a blue ribbon and that was a lot of fun. And, not too long ago, the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, asked guilds to send quilts from the Pacific Rim–so California, Oregon, you know, the coast–and just to submit quilts and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do that, but everybody’s going to submit a quilt.’ In my guild, [Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association.] we have almost 500 people in our guild, [laughs.] and they called and they said ‘Your quilt’s been accepted.’ And what that meant was I got to see my quilt hanging in the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. So once again I got to get an airplane ticket and fly out to Paducah and have my picture taken in the museum and it was very exciting. I had never been to Paducah before. I had never been to the museum before and the quilt’s just been great. It’s done a lot of things for me. JS: I’m interested in the fabrics that are being used in the quilt. Suppose you tell us about that. MKD: Okay, so originally the neutrals were the basis of the quilt, which was kind of fun because you know they go with everything; but then I needed to find some sort of a focal fabric, and I went to Carolea’s Knitche in Sunnyvale [California.], my–one of my–favorite shops at the time, and they had that black fabric with the floral print in it and I really liked that that just, that called to me. So I tried to pick all the other colors out of the black focal fabric and I think that sort of tied it all together. JS: So what colors do you say we have in this quilt? MKD: They’re fairly soft or muted like a maybe a chambray blue, and a soft red, and a very soft green, highlighted by the black and then the neutrals kind of give it a little just of a background. JS: What kind of a setting would we put the quilt in if we were going to put it into a room? MKD: Oh my, I don’t know. It’s a pretty traditional quilt. I don’t know I’d probably put it into my family room [laughs.] JS: Beiges, blacks? MKD: Beiges, blacks, oh I think against a beige wall. I had it on a beige wall at my house, and it stands out pretty well. I wouldn’t put it on a really dark background. JS: Well, I feel that this quilt has a special meaning for you. Did you–how do you feel about it now that it’s hanging and been traveled around and more people have seen it? How do you feel about it now? MKD: Oh, it’s kind of dear to my heart. It was one of the first ones I’d ever designed. It gave me confidence to do more things and I think I think of it more that way that it gave me confidence to do try other things and to try new things. JS: Now, why did you choose this quilt to bring to the interview? MKD: I choose it because it was one of the first ones I’d designed and I’m being sort of repetitive here, but I took some chances on it. I tried some settings I hadn’t used before, on-point. I was fairly new to quilting when I started this. I’d only been quilting a couple years and it was stepping stone for me to move on to do other things. JS: How do you think someone viewing this quilt might view you as a quilter and as a person? MKD: I think they’d say, ‘She’s pretty traditional.’ [laughs.] They’re not going to go, ‘Oh, abstract.’ Maybe not so much more about–it would be more about the piecing than the quilting, I think. They’d go, ‘Oh, she likes to do her piecing. She likes little, tiny pieces.’ Which I don’t really like but I think they–I don’t like piecing them, but I think they look really good once they’ve been pieced. JS: Well, your smallest piece looks to me like it’s one inch in diameter. MKD: Those, those are pretty tiny. [laughs.] JS: And to piece that and to have it work out as well as it has is a kind of an original thought I think. [Mary Kay laughs in background.] It’s very beautiful, very beautiful indeed. I like the blue background, mostly, and it seems to make the other colors stand out. Is that how you felt about it? MKD: Blue is my favorite color. It was going to be in there no matter what. JS: Now, how do you use this quilt in your everyday life? MKD: Well right now it’s being stored on my son’s bunk bed. I have found since that I’ve made a number of other quilts and I try to rotate them. And so things come out and things get put away. JS: Do you have any further plans for display of this quilt? MKD: If I had another wall, it would probably be up all the time, but I’ve run out of walls. JS: Do you plan to enter it into any other contests? MKD: I actually just did and in an odd way. [Joy laughs in background.] There is a contest currently going on, on a website [www.accuquilt.com.], to design a block for a barn wall and they said it had–they’re going to be 20’ x 20’ painted on a barn. I think in Nebraska. So I took a portion of the quilt, which is actually made up of about nine of the blocks, and I edited out some of it and I used it and I submitted four of the nine as a single block and we’ll see if it gets painted or not. JS: Mary Kay, what do you think makes a great quilt? MKD: A lot of it for me is about color. I seem to be struck by color. In fact this quilt is a little bit unusual for me because it fairly muted. I like really bright colors and I like things that just sort of–they stand out and grab you and it could be anything too. After I see the color, the original design. I’m always fascinated by amazing quilting. Where do they come up with the idea for how to quilt something, because that’s something that stumps me. You know, I might–I can piece forever and I’ll lay it down and or I’ll put it on the design wall and I’ll go, ‘I have no idea how to quilt this quilt.’ And I know that there are people that design their quilting first. They’ll figure out how they’re going to quilt it and then they’ll design the quilt around it and I’m just–that’s very difficult for me. JS: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? MKD: Again it’s the color, the design, sometimes it can even be about the size. I recently saw some miniature quilts, you know, 12″ x 12″ and I was just stunned by the workmanship, and the craft, the craftsmanship of putting together those tiny little pieces and then you’ll go see a quilt that’s the size of a whole wall and you wonder, ‘How did they fit that in their sewing room or under their sewing machine?’ Things like that fascinate me–how things are done. JS: Well now, this quilt is 54″ x 54″ would you consider putting it into miniature? MKD: Not on your life. [Joy and Mary Kay both laugh.] JS: Well you have so many small, small pieces but it would certainly be a challenge wouldn’t it? MKD: It’d be fun. [laughter.] JS: Whose works are you drawn to and can you give a reason why you like them? MKD: I was recently looking at Sharon Schamber’s work. She’s won a number of awards and I’m just–I was looking at one of hers today. She called it her competition quilt in process, or something like that. And she does just fabulous–I believe she’s a longarm quilter, I think that’s how she does it. She had white and the most intricate quilting and she did it all in black. So the contrast and just knowing you couldn’t make a mistake. That to me, and again, how did she come up with these quilting designs in her head? I wonder, did she plan it out ahead of time? Caryl Bryer Fallert is another one. She does beautiful color. Her colors are so beautiful, and she does a lot of interesting piecing, curved piecing. I’m always fascinated by that and I don’t know if I have any particular favorites. I just see a quilt that I like and I like it. [laughs.] JS: Are you drawn to the Amish– MKD: Yes. JS: –style? MKD: Yes, again, that’s about the colors again and the design is very simple and the color is pretty much what makes it and, of course, the hand quilting. Again, just absolutely fabulous hand quilting. JS: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? This is a burning question in many quilters lives and then we’ll get to the longarm quilting next, but right at the present time, how about machine quilting versus hand? MKD: Well, I’ll have to tell you a story. When I first started quilting, I took a quilt-as-you-go class. It was my very first quilting class. And I didn’t know what to expect, and I had this wonderful teacher. I took it at the Granary [in Sunnyvale, California.], her name was Leah Jespersen, and she taught you how to use templates, and she taught you how to do everything the old-fashioned way, if you want to call it that. And, the new way with rotary cutters and she taught hand quilting. And I didn’t know it but I thought it was a class like high school and you had homework and you had to finish it. And so I hand quilted that thing in four weeks. I thought you had to have it done at the end of class and that was the last thing I ever hand quilted. [laughter.] Since then, I’ve taken some classes on machine quilting, which I really enjoy and in its own way has its own challenges. I would love to be able to hand quilt. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. I for one don’t have the time and I tried to practice but I just never got any good at it and when the machine quilting became more popular and more accepted, I think it was just easier for me to do. JS: Well this has beautiful machine quilting, I must say, because you kept very close to the master fabric and that I think adds to its beauty. Can you tell us what sort of tools that you use in this on your machine? MKD: I just have a regular home sewing machine. I love my walking foot, because it keeps the layers all together. Once in a while, lately, I’ve experimented with some of the fancier stitches on my machine. You know, maybe a little bit of a–oh, I can’t think of it–oh maybe a blanket stitch or a buttonhole stitch. I tried to get outside of just straight stitches lately. JS: Feathers, all that sort of stuff? MKD: I’ve tried to do feathers. I’m not very good. The quilts I’m working on right now, I’m going to do some floral motifs. We’ll see how that goes. [laughs.] JS: What about thread? MKD: Pretty much just cotton thread. Lately I’ve started to like something called King Tut [from Superior Threads.] thread, which I think maybe I just like it because I’m fascinated by Egypt, but it’s a nice cotton thread. There’s a million threads out there. Mostly I just stick with cotton. JS: What about the size of the needle? MKD: You know that’s interesting too. I’ve tried different ones lately. Some people tell me to use a jeans needle which has the bigger needle for the quilting. Lots of times I use something called a Sharp, a Microtex Sharp, which is just kind of, not so much a universal needle, but seems to work well for piecing and quilting. I’m not into the really fancy threadwork so I don’t go– JS: So what kind of machine do you have? MKD: I have a top of the line–used to be top of the line–it’s a couple of years old now [laughs.] They change so quickly, Viking, Husqvarna Viking. What is it? The Designer SE. [Joy agrees in background.] But, it’s still just a home machine and even for all the thousand of stitches, I pretty much use about ten. [laughs.] JS: You do have a [inaudible.] keeping up your machine, however, keeping it oiled and in good condition and to a beginner that is the most important thing is to have a machine that was workable. MKD: And I’ll tell you the other thing to always keep in mind, change the needle. I know people [Joy laughs in background.] who never change the needle. I change my needle at least after every project even more often than that. The funniest thing I ever heard was when a lady came in and said can’t figure out my machine’s not working and she hadn’t changed the needle in twenty years. [laughs.] I don’t understand that, but– JS: Maybe she thought she didn’t have to? MKD: I guess. [laughs.] JS: [inaudible.] I guess if you had an everlasting needle that would be great, wouldn’t it? MKD: I wouldn’t want a doctor working on me with the same needle [laughs.] JS: Now, what about longarm quilting? MKD: I think the people that do longarm nowadays do absolutely stunning, stunning, work. It’s art, it’s artistry. I’ve actually had my son try out some of the longarm machines lately and he’s actually fairly proficient on it, but I can’t afford one of those right now. [laughs.] Or I don’t have a home for it either. JS: In what way has the quilting–[pauses.] I’m sorry. In what way has quilting affected your family life? MKD: Well, it’s interesting because I have two sons and you wouldn’t necessarily think they would get too involved, but actually from a very early age they’ve been hanging out with me. Took them on their first Shop Hop [stopping at various quilt shops over a given period of time.] when they were very young. I had to bribe them with Game Boys [hand held video game machines.] but they came. They know what a fat quarter is. They know to stay out of the sewing room sometimes when Mommy’s quilting. [laughs.] But they do help me. Lots of times with basting my quilts because if it’s sort of large I need to have a couple of extra pair of hands so they know, they know how to baste a quilt. I have had them do design work for me. One of my sons actually designed one of my patterns, one of my quilting patterns, a quilting motif for me, because he’s a pretty good artist. And lately, as I mentioned, he’s been trying longarm machines out at the different quilt shows and I think he could be very good at longarm if he choose to do that. In fact he would like to have a machine to maybe get a little employment maybe? JS: That would be nice. MKD: Yeah, yeah. JS: [clears throat.] In what way do you think quilts are important to American life? MKD: You know, it’s funny I think they sort of bring families together in an odd way. I recently made a quilt for my mother-in-law–she just turned 90–and I had made one for her when she turned 80. I didn’t know I’d be making one for her when she turned 90. And, it was so much fun because of the Internet age, so here I sent her this quilt which was fun, but then her granddaughter took pictures of her opening up the box and showing the quilt and then she put that out on Facebook [an Internet social community.] so that I got to see the pictures so the whole family was involved in seeing this quilt and learning about the quilt, and I think that was a lot of fun. And there’s also family history. She also–my mother-in-law–sent me a box of blocks and some of them weren’t in such good shape and–but, she had eight that were in good shape and one that wasn’t so good, so with today’s reproduction fabric I was able to make one more block. It was a maple leaf block; so I could make her a quilt with the nine quilt blocks, but I ended up keeping it. I couldn’t give it away. So I made her another one. [laughs.] JS: Well, now that we are almost at the end of our interview I would like to learn a little bit more about you personally. Now, do you collect or sell quilts professionally? MKD: I collect the ones I make. I can’t afford some of the others that I’d like to have. [laughs.] I don’t really sell my quilts. If someone wants one generally, if they’re willing to pay for the–I’ll make it for them. The time involved nobody could afford anymore to pay that kind of money for a quilt. JS: What about membership in a quilt group? Do you do that? MKD: Oh, I belong to my guild, the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association, and I think it was about two years ago helped them design their opportunity quilt, and I was–I don’t know what you call it–the featured quilter at their quilt show in 2009. So that was a lot of fun. And then I’ve joined a lot of different organizations, the Alliance for American Quilts, I recently joined. In fact, I just participated in one of their contests with the blocks my mother-in-law sent me. [Joy laughs in background.] And, let’s see, the National Quilting Association, I try to join them all because I figure, even if you don’t participate in everything, you’re contributing money to help them out and keep them going so I like to do that. JS: But it also keeps you aware of what’s going on in the quilt world as well. MKD: Uh huh. [agrees.] JS: Do you teach quilting? MKD: I sometimes teach at the quilt shop. I teach at the Granary, which is ironic because that’s where I took my first quilt class. I’ll teach there on occasion. Other than that, no, I’m pretty much a homebody for that. JS: And tell us about your awards, because I’m impressed with that. MKD: [laughs.] I’ve won a couple of awards and as I mentioned to you earlier it’s because I just keep trying. I figure you can’t win an award if you don’t enter the show. And I also figure you can’t have a show if you don’t enter a quilt. So, I’m actually–I feel very kind of strongly about that. About people, ‘Oh, I will never enter my quilt into anything because, you know, it will never win anything.’ But then, if you don’t do that nobody ever gets to see anybody’s quilts. So, I think you should always enter. I’ve won a couple of awards, one of the most fun awards I’ve ever won was a contest I entered a couple of years back for P&B; Textiles. They had a contest similar to the Moda challenge where you had to use their fabric to make a quilt top and the fabric was designed by Alex Anderson, and the first prize was you got to meet her and it was national contest and the only reason I did it was because I was very competitive with another gal in the shop and she said she was going to enter. [Joy laughs in background.] And, so I had to enter and then she didn’t. [laughs.] And, it took first prize–I won the grand prize. And it was very exciting. There was money involved and she [Alex Anderson.] came to our store and that was great for our store. [The Granary.] We had–you couldn’t even get in. I don’t know if you came that day but you couldn’t get through the door. So she gave a talk and I got to wear a tiara; it was a lot of fun [laughs.] But the best part about that was she, Alex Anderson, then asked me later on if I like to include a quilt in one of her books. So I designed a quilt for one of her books. It’s a Dresden plate design. And that was included in one of her books and since then we’ve been–and we’ve become friends and now I work for her on a part-time basis. JS: Oh wonderful. I think that’s– MKD: So, that was very fun. JS: So, now you’re becoming such a professional. MKD: [laughs.] JS: Do you have a room that you work in or and a design wall? And do you have all the accoutrements that go with creating? MKD: So that’s a funny story too. When we were remodeling my, our house, that we’re in now, it was a very small house, it was 1200 square feet and we were trying to make it a little bit bigger and we had a very large living room designed and I kept looking at it going ‘Why? We never go in the living room.’ And at the very last minute I asked my husband if he couldn’t put up two more walls and make a room. There’s no closet, it’s just a room and he said ‘Sure, grumble, grumble.’ And I live in that room now. It’s my sewing room and he built me a wonderful sewing table with a built-in so the machine can go up and down. And, I don’t have a design wall. I have design floor, [laughs.] which is the foyer of my house. And, my children just know not to walk through the foyer and even my dog is trained to walk around anything on the floor in the foyer of my house. JS: Do you think the wall versus the floor, do you think the floor versus the wall is better? MKD: Absolutely not. [laughs.] I would love a wall. Maybe some day. JS: I have a question about your quilts and patterns that may have been published. Do you have pictures of those or do you have books of those? What have you been published in? MKD: Oh, I just realized that the quilt we’re been talking about has been published in the “100 Tips from Award-Winning Quilters” and I mentioned the Alex Anderson, “Neutral Essentials” book. I was also recently in the New Quilts from an Old Favorite: Burgoyne Surrounded contest and I was a finalist so they included my quilt in that and I actually got to go back to Paducah and see that quilt hang in the National Quilt Museum and that was a lot of fun. It was really fun because it was our 20th wedding anniversary and my husband went with me [Joy laughs in background.] So that was a lot of fun to see that. I actually have my own little pattern company called Threads on the Floor [www.threadsonthefloor.com] Yeah, because I always have threads on my floor along with my quilts on the floor. Where I just design a few patterns that I sell at The Granary in Sunnyvale and sometimes I teach those classes. And I’ve been in a couple of calendars and here and there. JS: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today? MKD: Time, money [laughs.] I don’t know if it’s the same for everybody, but I talk to a lot of quilters and if it’s true that you always have a project going you’ll never die, no quilters will ever die, because I always have six or seven projects going on. I can’t seem to–I’m not a ‘start to finish’ person. I’m a ‘Let’s work on this, oh that’s kind of boring, let’s go work on this.’ Or, I have to do something for the shop where I have to squeeze in a sample or do something else. So, I’m always looking for time and I’m not good at sewing at night so I’m usually up in the morning trying to get something done. Or I have my kids help me now, which has saved me time as well. So. JS: Now, you say that we’re balancing time with money; how do you do that? MKD: Well, I work in a quilt shop, that helps with the money. I think. [laughs.] I do have a couple of part time jobs, and mostly, truly to support my quilting habit. And I try to look for bargains and I try to use my stash. I’m sure all of us have nice large stashes, and so I try to use that up or I’ll trade with my friends. Or something like that. JS: I would take it that your family is most supportive. Is friend-husband supportive also? MKD: My husband is great. He has no problem with me buying anything if I use it and I mean that in every sense of the word. He’s the one who encouraged me to buy the good sewing machine because I didn’t want to spend that kind of money, but it’s been a blessing because now I finish my projects and so he’s just happy if I finish the project, and if I’m happy–and you know it keeps me motivated. It keeps me going. JS: He sounds like a keeper to me. MKD: He is. JS: Mary Kay, is there anything you would like to add to this interview? MKD: No, I think we’ve talked about just about everything. JS: Well, I’d like to thank you, Mary Kay, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters’ Save Our Stories. Our interview concluded at 4:00 p.m. on April 26,…

QSOS with Carter Houck

QSOS with Carter Houck

Le Rowell (LR): My name is Le Rowell. Today’s date is November 12, 2001 and it is 10:38 A.M. and I am conducting an interview for the Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts, and I’m here with Carter Houck and we are in her home in Charlottesville, Virginia. So Carter, tell me about the quilt that you brought with you today. Carter Houck (CH): Okay, it’s one of my remade 1930’s quilts. I bought the blocks in Vermont and some of them are feed sack and they were in the usual fashion, buttonhole stitched in black, for no reason known to anyone. And they’re on muslin, very heavy muslin but could not have been hand quilted for which reason I had it machine quilted. I had to take the blocks apart and restitch them because they were not well done shall we say, and I was lucky to find at the quilt museum [Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.] to matching feed sacks to make the border and I had another feed sack I could cut up for the binding. So it’s all 1930’s. LR: Talk about the feed sacks. What is the history of feed sacks in quilting? CH: So far as I know feed sacks in prints were only manufactured by a company called Bemis Bags in Minnesota and they must have had, of course it was the 30’s and everybody was poor, they must have had a million artists whose work they could tap to get the designs for the feed sacks. They were all designed by women I understand and they just turned out I don’t know how many hundred, somebody is keeping as much of a record of it as they can in North Carolina and they remember, I remember they’re appearing in the late 30’s perhaps or maybe mid 30’s and my father bought his feed in these printed feed sacks and when my daughter was born he gave these to me as he would get them and they made the cutest little dresses for her and they’re very soft like linen. So she liked them better than this starchy stiff fabrics off the bolt, but at seven years old she went from a one feed sack size to a two feed sack size [laughs.] so he had to get matching ones. I’m basically a maker of clothing, not quilts. So that’s where feed sacks came into life. LR: And why is this particular quilt special to you? CH: It’s typical 30’s in every sense. The feed sacks, the terrible black buttonhole stitching. It’s all something that was never done before or after and the butterfly design was everywhere. Any woman who thought she could appliqué and probably couldn’t did a butterfly quilt. LR: So you rescue old quilt tops? CH: Tops, blocks, odds and ends, anything that will make up into a quilt. LR: How did you get into quilting? CH: My background is in fashion and I studied at what is now VCU in Richmond. [Virginia.] LR: And what is VCU? CH: Virginia Commonwealth University. It was when I went to it a part of William and Mary. It was also the only school in the south with a fashion department that was recommended by Vogue’s school directory. And you could write to Vogue at that time and get from their directory a listing of whatever they recommended particularly in the fashion field. I also went to St. Margaret’s in Tappahannock [a town in Virginia.] on the Rappahannock [a river in Virginia.]. LR: Tappahannock on the Rappahannock. CH: Tappy on the Rappy as it was known [laughs.] to the girls in school and when it got time to see about college I knew I wanted to go into design and so I wrote to Vogue and they said the only recommended school in the south is VCU. It was then the College of William and Mary and so I applied and they gave me a working scholarship for part of my tuition and I think it cost a red hot $600 a year then to go to college [laughs.]. So we had a marvelous design department and art department and you could get a two year certification. So that’s what I got and went to New York. LR: And then how did you follow that? CH: Well, at first I worked for Singer Sewing Company as a teacher and they had classes, day and night classes, and I was the youngest teacher they’d ever hired. I was nineteen, and I had to submit work and so forth and so on and was hired as a teacher. And then Singer was not a joyful company to work for and it was very male ruled and they took a dim view of these ladies who knew how to use those sewing machines. And then I went to Butterick Pattern Company and worked for them and I can go on with what I did if you want me to? LR: The designs you did for Butterick– CH: I didn’t do designs, I was a pattern maker. LR: Pattern maker? CH: I was again the youngest pattern maker they’d ever hired and under some scrutiny for that reason, but my patterns seemed to have turned out okay [laughs.] and this was clothing of course, not art of any kind, not quilts or anything, and when I married and moved to Fort Worth [Texas.] I had two children and a tremendous need to get back into my work in some way. So I did a couple of columns on sewing and took them down to the local newspaper, The Fort Worth Star Telegram, which was at that time the largest newspaper in Texas and said brashly, ‘I could do a column on sewing for you and women are all starting to sew again after the war.’ They looked it over and said, ‘Yeah, three times a week.’ So that was neat because I could do it and take care of my children and not leave the house. I don’t think I ever saw the people at the Star Telegram again. I mailed my column in for two years, moved back east and they accepted my finishing a year after I moved east but they preferred to have Texan writers. So then I sort of pulled my credentials together and went to Parents’ Magazine and said, ‘Do you need a sewing column?’ and they said, ‘Yes, we do’ [laughs]. I was very lucky. I mean I just, you know, every time I said this is what I want to do, I could find somebody within the first two people I went to who wanted it, and I think there are not many people who really study the nitty gritty basics of sewing and I had done that in college. I wasn’t a designer with a pencil and a piece of paper. I worked in fabric with a wonderful professor and so that was an entrée always to whatever I wanted to do. LR: And then, talk now about this transition into the world of quilting, because you’re very much linked. You are referred to as an expert. CH: Well, I’m only an expert in that I know something about design and I know a lot about construction. It has nothing to do with the number of quilts I’ve made. It has to do with what I know is in a quilt when I look at it and take it apart and so forth. 1976 of course was the year that quilting suddenly emerged. Now there had been a few people quilting throughout the 60’s and early 70’s, but not many, and when it emerged I was working for a magazine company that had a lot of magazines. I have to search my brain on this because I was doing a magazine on sewing and embroidery and it was kind of a general thing for women who did things with their hands and needles and threads. It was called Ladies Circle Needlework–I have old copies out in the garage–and then when ’75 came around I’d been doing the needlework for maybe three or four years and my boss said, ‘What’s this about quilts?’ And I said, ‘Well there’s only one quilt magazine on the market, it’s a black and white, privately published by Leman in Denver.’ LR: Is that L-E-M-A-N? CH: Yes, it’s Bonnie Leman. LR: Bonnie Leman. CH: Bonnie started her magazine on the kitchen table, she will tell you any day, and it was all black and white. We had color capability at the magazine I worked for. So I said, ‘If we put in a block of color that would be eight pages, we would outdo anything that’s on the market.’ And I had this marvelous photographer that I had already been working with named Myron Miller and he has to be mentioned because he was a big part of what I did and he had gone with me on these scouting trips to find needlework. We always did some articles on needlework in old houses, houses that were open to the public and we would go in and find what they had that they would like photographed and we’d mention the house and that it was open and so forth. We’d gone to one up in Connecticut that had quilts on the beds and they were absolutely spectacular and Myron who has as great sense of design said, ‘These are it! Forget all of that piddly diddly needlework, quilts are really exciting.’ So then I went back to my boss and said, ‘How about a quilt magazine?’ and that was when we started Ladies’ Circle Patchwork Quilts and that, I’m sure, was ’74, ’75. And so it started out four times a year and then I got an assistant, Karen O’Dowd, to work with me and we went to ten times a year. And we had been running exactly twenty years and my boss decided that he was going to get his finger in the pie and tell us how to do a quilt magazine and one day he got very heavy handed about it and I said, ‘You know I just figured out I worked twenty years for you and I’m way past retirement age and I think it’s time you get a new editor.’ [laughs.] At which point he hit the ceiling [laughs.] cause that wasn’t what he had in mind [laughs.], and my co-editor and my art director were sitting in the next room and they said you could hear him hit the ceiling. [laughs.] So that was the end. I mean I did it for twenty years. That was it and in that time, yes I learned a lot. That’s the only reason I’m any sort of an expert on quilts. If you handle them and look at them and photograph them and look up the names and history of them you learn a lot. Has nothing to do with me being a great quilter. LR: But on the other hand your expertise in design and your experience has led you into exhibitions, to judging exhibitions, could you talk about that? CH: Well, I can’t even remember where and when I first judged but I judged for one of the very early Houston shows and the difference between the Houston show then and the Houston show now is something you could write a book about. Absolutely remarkable what they’ve done there. LR: In what way? CH: It’s one of the biggest trade shows in the country of any kind and it’s too big, it’s overwhelming to me, but at first it was a down home quilt show with a few booths with people selling thing and it was all Karey Bresenhan’s idea and she has just ridden it to the heights. She’s done them in Europe. I’ve been to one in Denmark and one in Austria and can’t remember, oh, one in Holland. And there have been others I haven’t been to. But she’s done a remarkable job. LR: Talk about some of your judging experiences in exhibitions, the pros and cons. CH: Alright, some might not need to go into print. [laughs.] LR: Share what you would like. CH: They’re funny, they’re funny– LR: Good. CH: I guess I started judging around New England and there were some big groups of quilting guilds that started putting on shows so they got to be pretty good, pretty early, but there were others that were really down home. You know there was just–everybody and anybody brought in anything they’d made. They weren’t pre-screened or anything like that. If you got fifty quilts in some of them you were lucky and then the numbers mounted and the people running the shows still thought three judges could judge all the quilts in one day, a hundred and fifty, a hundred and eighty, two hundred and ten and we all had to put our feet down and say, ‘Sorry, two days, we can’t do this. We can’t even write up,’ because we like to write a little critique to give to the quilter and you can’t do it in that kind of time. I judged out in the Midwest and I’ve judged in California. Oh, that was a nightmare. We judged six thousand quilts. Three days. Four judges. [laughs.] LR: What was the event? CH: I don’t even remember what it was called. It was some enormous thing. We just weeded out a lot of them and said, ‘We’ll judge these, we won’t judge these.’ And they weren’t hung and people just turned them back for us to look at. It’s a very unfair way to judge. I don’t even want that talked about. You can run a good show if you’re running it for money, but they also got to squeezing the wrong places occasionally like the judging and the hanging and I will say that I don’t think Houston has ever done that. I think they do a good honest job, but it’s a nightmare job to do and all of these businesses that have cropped up, of course, show at all the shows. That’s the new thing after, let’s say, 1980. There were hardly any businesses between ’75 and ’80 in those early shows. I used to judge a big show out on Long Island [New York.], I mean big for the time, and I can remember when they first had commercial booths and there were lots of loose ends and problems and so forth, and then there are still the little quilt shows. We put on one here in Charlottesville–has a few booths. I don’t think they do terribly well because people go to more well stocked places to buy. LR: Are you part of a guild or quilting group here? CH: I’m part of two guilds and I don’t attend very often. I’m part of the greater Charlottesville Guild and the Crozet Guild and I like the Crozet Guild because it is a real down home group and I do demonstrations occasionally for them or something like that and I try to go when I can. They’re a nice group of ladies who really quilt. I mean that’s what they’re there for. LR: Before we leave the topic of your publications, I know there’s one book that’s still available which is The Quilt Encyclopedia Illustrated. Could you talk just a minute about that book? CH: Well, I’m very high on that book because Abrams is not only one of the best art publishers in the country, but they were around on the other side of my block where I lived in New York. LR: Oh– [laughs.] CH: I lived on West 16th and they were on Fifth Avenue at 15th. So that was kind of fun to work for them because I walked past them all the time and then somebody called me from there and said, ‘We understand you could do a quilt as art book for us’ which is what they really wanted. Not anything about how to quilt but just quilts as art. And so we had by then fifteen years of files of photography that Myron had done and so we went back through them and picked out an enormous number of pieces we thought were worth repeating and then they went through them and picked out what they wanted of that. And there were a few we had to leave out because we had absolutely lost all track of the people in those early shoots we did. We hadn’t kept the names and addresses. The names were in the magazines but we had no idea where to track them down and so we were lucky that we got most of the ones we wanted and a very interesting collection and I did the writing and that was it. And it’s still available. It’s a coffee table book. It’s not a how-to. LR: You have many definitions of terms that are used in quilting. CH: Yes, yes, and illustrations of same in the pictures. But it’s color throughout and if you’ve been in the publishing business you know that it’s golden when you get color throughout for a book like this. Because when we were first doing books, the color was in blocks, eight page blocks and you couldn’t move out of that. You could put in two eight-page blocks, but there they were. You couldn’t spread your color through the book. LR: Talk a minute about something you mentioned. You said, ‘Quilts as art.’ CH: Well, it’s an interesting subject because it goes two ways. Obviously people are creating quilts as art. You look at all the quilt magazines now and you will see hundreds and thousands of art quilts being created. But when you go back the other direction, you will realize that quilts were always art in some way. That people, the women who made them, were creating art and didn’t know what they were doing. They just said, ‘Oh, I like the way these colors look together and this line works and this doesn’t and this needs a border and this doesn’t.’ So it’s definitely art from various standpoints. I’m not sure I like some of the stuff that’s created as art as well as I like the earlier ones that were just, I want to say primitive art, but that isn’t quite the right terminology. This is one of my favorites that is art on purpose. LR: And this one you’re referring to is in your encyclopedia book? CH: Yes, and it’s called Hosannah and it was done by Joyce Schlotzhauer on commission for a church. And it’s a, as a matter of fact it’s been up for sale again in the last few years. The church that owned it–I don’t remember–disbanded, something happened, anyhow it’s for sale. And Joyce designed it to hang as a docile in the church for Christmas. And I would love our church to buy it, but they don’t do anything like that [laughs.] They’re all plain white and Williamsburg looking. So there’s no place to hang it, it would be kind of fun for the children. She was a very original quilter, Joyce. She invented something called the curved two patch. Remember? LR: Yes. CH: It was two pieces that you could do a million different things with. I probably have it in there under curved two patch, I’m not sure. But she died a few years ago, much too young. LR: Yes. Here it is on page 56. [Le opens the Quilt Encyclopedia Illustrated and points to the section on curved two patch designs.] CH: Yes, that’s it, that’s just one very simple one of her curved two patch. This quilt I own. [Carter points to the picture of an ‘Ocean Waves’ quilt on page 57 of the book.] LR: And which one is this? CH: Ocean Waves and it’s set the wrong way so to speak. It’s always set diagonally and this was done down in the mountains of southwest Virginia. LR: And this is vertical and horizontal? CH: Yes, it’s a full bed size and it’s got this very thick wadding that they used in the 30’s. It’s very primitive. LR: Talk a minute about some of the quilts in this Virginia area. I know you have been very interested in. CH: Oh, well in the Virginia area they run from ones like that [Carter points to the picture of ‘Ocean Waves’ in the book.], the primitive ones made with feed sacks, the 1920’s and 30’s quilts that were made by mountain quilters to these, that are very elegant, like the Baltimore quilts. LR: Could you describe this? CH: It’s a very fine Broderie perse appliqué and I think this may be the one that took three generations of a family to finish and that’s not as bad as it sounds because of course women died in their twenties often, so then a younger sister or daughter would pick up the quilt later and work on it again. But they’re very intricate and , as I say, the Baltimore ones are the ones that you’re most familiar with but there are plenty of Virginia ones and South Carolina in that same vein, pictorial and Jacobean, very elegant. LR: The term “tidewater” [coastal plain region form the Potomac River south to North Carolina.] quilts, what does that mean? CH: I really have never known. I think Tidewater quilts would be these, the more elegant ones because the mountain quilts are like that earlier one I showed you, they’re pieced and they were made to be used and made to be sold. I can remember when the ladies used to have them hanging out on the clothes line by their house up in the hills here, have four or five quilts hanging out and they were maybe forty, fifty dollars a piece. Pretty well made for that. Tidewater quilts were never for sale. LR: Interesting. CH: They were for family. They were to show what elegant embroidery and appliqué a woman could do. Totally different society. LR: So talk for a minute now then about the trends you see in quilting. CH: They go in all directions now because not everybody goes along with the very modern artistically designed wall pieces that you see a lot of. There are plenty of people just making quilts and they trade patterns and they trade ideas and they improve upon ideas, and there are lots and lots of block by block quilts being done in groups, you know, where everybody does a block and then you put in a frame and quilt it and then you auction it, raffle it, whatever. So there are a lot of those being done. There’s a lot of everything, good, bad, and indifferent. LR: I want you to talk a minute about the leftover fabrics that you have and what you do with them. CH: [laughs.] I think you’re talking about my latest madness with my leftover fabrics. I discovered through my church that there are a lot of children in Central America who have nothing, absolutely nothing. They’ve had floods. They’ve had earthquakes. They’ve had everything that can happen to you. The little kids, until they get sent to school, frequently are virtually not clothed. And it isn’t that warm all the time and it isn’t that comfortable to go around in your bare nothings and so we saw these pictures that Carter Via had at our church and LR: Who was that? CH: Carter Via. LR: How do you spell it? CH: V-I-A. LR: Ah. CH: And so I’ve now dubbed this the two Carters’ program, but he’s a priest who works for the Episcopal Church and who goes back and forth to Central America and has a lot of people who work with him who go. And I called him up and said, ‘What would you think about people making very simple clothes for these children?’ He said, ‘I think it’s a nifty idea and we have plenty of people who can stick them in their suitcases and take them down there so you don’t have to worry with customs and all that.’ So that’s, I’ve got about eight people, who work with me–not all of them every time, we meet every other week and I do a lot of work in between and so does one of the other women. LR: And what is the work that you’re doing? CH: We’re doing dresses and shorts for under school. We do size eighteen months to four or five years. LR: And all from leftover. CH: Leftovers and I thought I was going to get to rid of my leftovers and instead I’m getting more because people donate leftovers now that they know this is a game. So that’s what I’m doing much more than anything with quilts. LR: Back to design just a minute. What do you think makes a great quilt? When you’re judging for example? How would you define a great quilt? CH: Well, when you’re judging, you usually have a breakdown of say twenty-five out of a hundred points, twenty-five for general appearance and design and maybe thirty-five for workmanship and then that breaks down into the putting together of the quilt, pieced or appliquéd and the quilting itself. And then there are a lot of fiddly diddly things like points for the bindings and finishings and whether the quilt hangs straight. If you are judging quilts hung in a show, you usually give points for that. And lots of different things make a great quilt. I mean if we’re talking modern quilts sometimes humor is a great thing in the pictorial quilts of today [Carter’s phone rings and she excuses herself to answer it.] Excuse me. [Le turns off the tape recorder for eight minutes while Carter is on the phone.] LR: We were talking about design elements and what makes a great quilt. CH: Well, if you go back to the Baltimore quilts and those–they’re really embroidery designs and they’re very delicate and very intricate and a lot of them tell you more about the person and the time than they appear to. If you had a, oh what should I say, a guide of them that told you why this woman put in all the strange little things she did [Carter’s phone rings again and she excuses herself to answer it.] I’m sorry. This is one of those days. [Le turns off the tape recorder for approximately a half a minute while Carter answers the phone.] I don’t know where we were. LR: You were talking about design. CH: The design? LR: Quilts and you CH: Design, well quilts are art so they change with the fashions in art and people have thought of some strange and wonderful things in recent years that have worked and some that haven’t. And we have new elements like the Japanese are into quilting and we get pieces of their design ideas working their way in, and one woman whose work I admire a great deal is Hungarian by birth and I see elements of her folk art creeping into her work. And so you know there’s a little bit of everything that gets brought in and people try things that do work and they try things that don’t work. And quilts don’t always need a border. They don’t always need a lot of different things that you think of as being a part of a quilt. LR: Do you see any influence from foreign countries in this area for example? CH: No, not here. LR: Not here? CH: Not here, but you get it in New York, New Jersey area and California and you get a lot of influence from other places. LR: Like? CH: Well like Oriental in California and just, you know, whatever people bring with them, their sense of color. There’s been a sort of spate of very dark modern art type quilts that came in from Germany and that area. And I don’t even, you know I can’t even think what I’ve seen in the European exhibitions, but they’re obviously different and their obviously influenced by what’s familiar. There’s quite a lot of quilting in Israel and quite a lot of that is influenced by their feeling of the sun and sand. So that’s about all I know–everybody borrows from everybody else. Let’s put it that way. So I don’t think you can really label anything as being from a certain area any more as you could at one time when people couldn’t move around so much. I mean the Baltimore quilts were Baltimore quilts and that spread out a little and you find a few of them in Delaware and Pennsylvania and whatever, but. LR: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life? CH: Depends upon when you’re talking about. They were important as something brought from Europe at first: the English had their quilts and the Dutch had a different take on it, and all the white quilts came basically from France and were originally the clothing. They weren’t bed covers. They were petticoats and things that were all white. And so the migrations have changed. Of course, the Afro quilts that started in the south here, that feeling has spread and influenced other quilters. LR: How would you define the Afro quilts? CH: Usually very strong color and large motifs and often almost cartoon effect of figures, horses, children, birds, everything, but obviously drawn by hand by someone who was not a graduate artist from F.I.T. [Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City.] or some place. LR: Are there changes in the African-American genre of quilts today, do you see a? CH: I think you ought to ask Cuesta Benberry or somebody that question because Cuesta is an historian of African quilts, of all quilts, but particularly African. And I really, I don’t understand the likes and dislikes of African quilts. I’ve heard Cuesta and other African people just say, ‘That is a piece of junk.’ You know that somebody is doing something they think they’re making an African quilt and they’re not. So I really don’t know about them. LR: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history and experience in our country? CH: Not as much as we’d like to think. LR: Why? CH: Because women did all kinds of needlework and they made their own clothes and they made all the clothes for everybody in the family. Quilts were a sort of natural outgrowth of that, you wanted something more attractive to cover the bed than a very heavy wool blanket, and also they were in some cases more affordable if there were enough leftovers from everything else that had been done, that was particularly true in the 30’s, I think–20’s and 30’s. People really did scrap quilts and they really used the leftovers. But prior to that–in the 1840’s–they were an art form and they were done by wealthy women who had time to do them. And then the silk quilts of the late 19th century were sort of impossible little confections that were done to throw over the back of the sofa. During that time they weighted all the silk with lead. It not only made the quilts deteriorate, it wasn’t very good for the women wearing the silk either. Imagine taking a bath in lead every day. [laughs.] LR: Talk a minute about the preservation of quilts. CH: Again this is something that has almost gotten beyond me because when we first started photographing in the bicentennial year, people who had quilt collections, the grand houses and the historical houses of various kinds and a few museums, had then kind of generally tucked away somewhere or, in the case of the houses, they were thrown on a bed to be admired when people came through the house, in the historical house. They were touchable and we could hang them up anywhere we wanted and photograph them. Recently I went with a group of women to view quilts in a museum and they were brought out carefully by two people, one carrying each end of the quilt which was carefully rolled, and one corner was turned back that we could see and I got a commentary on that trip afterwards from one of the women who said the whole trip was wonderful, except the viewing of those quilts left something to be desired. And I thought so, too. I thought what are we doing with these? Why are we preserving them to this extent that they can’t be seen? Now once in a while I’m sure the museum gets them out and hangs them for a show, if you’re lucky enough to get there. But it’s sad to me that it has become such an art thing and not a part of women’s history, not a reality. LR: How would you make it a reality for women’s history though? CH: Well, I would like the quilts that are in museums shown more often. Now even the dear Metropolitan [Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.] which tends to be kind of precious about a lot of things, has in recent times had one room, smallish room where they have hung quilts and other textiles. They can hang about four or five pieces in it and it’s been dedicated just to that. That’s wonderful because they can rotate their holdings through there and then every so often they have a really “knock-out’ quilt show. We had one funny episode when we were photographing. Most museums were very generous with us and if we gave them enough prior notice they got an extra person in and people took the quilts out and did unfold them and did allow us to photograph them either hung on a stand or sometimes put on beds in the displays in the museums. We had a lot of freedom with them. But we had made an appointment to go to a museum, I think in Wisconsin, and it was supposed to have a very good collection and when we got there we were told that we had to enter through the shipping department where there was a big dock. We scrambled up on this dock with all the cameras and everything, three of us. We lugged everything into the museum, into the storage where we were supposed to see these quilts and choose ones to be photographed. And this nice lady told us what a lovely collection they had and how beautifully they stored them. They had little narrow long drawers where they could fold the quilts about in thirds and then lay them in the drawer and fold them again and she pulled out a drawer about eight inches and said, ‘Now this is such and such quilt, isn’t it beautiful?’ And then she slid that drawer in and then she showed us the next drawer and after a while Myron said, ‘Now where can we photograph these?’ ‘Oh, no they can’t be taken out of the drawers,’ she said. [laughs.] And this puzzled us a great deal. I mean what are they there for? I’m sure once in a while they have a real bang-up display of them. But if you don’t publicize these things in magazines and books, what then? They had no photographs to offer us. We did have the best lunch we’ve had almost anywhere that day in a nearby restaurant. LR: Our time is just about up so I want to say thank you for allowing me to interview you as part of our Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project and our interview concluded at 11:32 AM. CH: Thank you. LR: Thank you. CH: And now we can see what’s happened in Long Island [a plane crashed that morning taking off from New York City.] [tape…

QSOS with Carole Lyles Shaw

QSOS with Carole Lyles Shaw

          Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Carole Lyles Shaw. Carole is in Columbia, Maryland and I’m in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today’s date is January 18, 2009. It is now 10:55 in the morning. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. Tell me about your quilt “War and Freedom: African Americans Veterans Hail the Commander-in-Chief, #2.” Carole Lyles Shaw (CLS): Thank you Karen, I’m thrilled to be talking about this particular art quilt this particular weekend, what could be more fitting just two days before the inauguration. This quilt is part of a series of quilts and other mixed media art work that I am creating to honor the memories of ordinary men and women who served in the American Armed Forces, particularly in the early part of the 20th Century and most of the work features images and documents and so forth from 1960 or earlier. I do have some work that will also focus on Vietnam and etc. that will be coming in later work. This particular quilt is scheduled to be in an exhibit that will go up in February 2009 and the exhibit [“President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts,” will be from February 9 to March 5, 2009 in the main gallery (King Street Gallery) of the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Arts Center, Silver Spring, Maryland.] was organized by Sue Walen who had made a quilt documenting or celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama and then decided in November 2008 to see if she could quickly organize a quilt show because she knew other people were doing similar kinds of works. Miraculously she was able to make that happen and I was one of the people who helped her reach out to people and so forth. This particular piece I actually did not have in progress when she called me. I was doing another piece that I will talk about later on in the interview. But I said, ‘Yes, I will make a piece for this show. I think it is important to have as much art work celebrating this moment in history as possible.’ Now the piece itself is not in any way a portrait of Barack Obama. In fact in this piece, there is no image of him. For me as an artist, what I wanted to do in the art works that celebrate the inauguration is mark the transitional importance and the transformative importance of his election, of his whole candidacy and its meaning to this particular group of African American men and women. People who served in the Armed Forces in the 1940’s and even the 1930’s in some cases are still alive and watching this. Either they are going to come to [Washington.] D.C. and celebrate it as some of the Tuskegee Airmen might do or they will watch it like the rest of us on our TVs warm in our homes on Tuesday. I really wanted to show that there was a group of men and women who would salute Barack Obama as the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, which is of course one of his Constitutional roles. In this piece, it is a very dense and content and image rich quilt. It is not very big. It is about 36 inches by 40 inches. What I’ve done is I’ve transferred photographs onto fabric and some of these photographs are from my family collection that I have of my father, my uncles and some of their friends. I have a letter that was sent by the White House to my father thanking him for his service in the Armed Forces and that letter dates to probably the late forties or early fifties. I found the actual letter in my grandmother’s house when I cleaned it out after her death. I had photographs of that type but then I’ve been scouring eBay for a couple of years now buying photographs and documents and metals and I even have a uniform and these are all memorabilia from African American families that have just been tossed away and someone found them when someone’s estate was being cleared out or whatever and they are selling this stuff on eBay and most of it was really, really inexpensive. I have a lot of photographs and I have letters that people sent to their families and their medals and all kinds of things, so I’ve selected a few of those photographs and they are also on this quilt as photo transfers onto fabric. Then I also have some memorabilia and words and so forth that are about the election. I have the absentee ballot that I sent in. A copy of it of course since the original was filed, but I made a copy of it because I was thinking about, ‘You know, I want to keep this some how,’ and I have a copy of my ballot in this quilt. I have some newspaper headlines. One that says ‘Obama Makes History’ and I have words like ‘freedom’ and ‘on the wings of hope’ and the word ‘vote’ and an image of the map of the mall where the swearing in will take place and the presidential parade and so you see a glimpse of that in this quilt. Then I also have a copy of the presidential order signed by Harry Truman in 1948 that desegregated the Armed Forces. I happen to have been born in 1948 so in my lifetime literally we moved from a legally segregated army to a desegregated army although for many years there was still lots and lots of discrimination and limitations of roles that African American men and women could play. I downloaded the first page of Truman’s executive order and I superimposed over that these words, ‘They fought and died for American freedom before they had their own’ and those words, those are my words and to me it just captures once again the honorable service that African Americans have given since the Revolutionary War obviously, even though at the time of the Revolutionary War we were still enslaved legally. Following the Civil War we were legally free but not full citizens. That took many, many more years to happen, and now we have an African American supported by Americans of all colors and walks of life who will be inaugurated into the White House in a couple of days. Some of the words on my quilt are ‘land of liberty’ and ‘stars and stripes’ and ‘on the path to change. Those words, those themes are what I wanted to convey. It is a narrative quilt, a story quilt almost but you’ve got to kind of read it slowly to get the full story. The last piece of documentation that is on here is a copy of the program for the March on Washington [D.C.] at which Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speak and there is a copy of that in this quilt as well. There is a lot of stuff here, personal history, history of people of names I will probably never know because these were just photographs and other memorabilia I bought on eBay. When I was invited to this show as well as to another Obama quilt show which is up right now in Washington, D.C., at first I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do? What will be the message I want to convey?’ I wanted to do something that would link the past to the present and point towards a different future. I knew I didn’t want to do an Obama portrait and I didn’t want to do anything that really just repeated the now familiar iconography that we see everywhere in terms of Obama memorabilia. I wanted to do something that was much more personal and thoughtful about our history as a country and the honor and service and hope that African Americans have had all their lives and throughout the history of this country. I think I will pause there for a moment. KM: Before we talk about the other quilt, #1, [“War and Freedom: African American Veterans Hail the Commander-in-Chief, #1.”] what are your plans for this quilt? CLS: I hope that the show will also travel and go to other venues along with the other quilts in the show, not just my quilt. Beyond that, I have another piece in this whole series that is about African American women that are in the service, not about the inauguration but it is part of the War, Honor, Freedom series that is already traveling in a show. My hope is that this, these pieces along with some of the other mixed media pieces that I’ve done on African American veterans and their service, that some day I will have a show with all of those pieces in the show. I’ve done an artist book already and I’m thinking about doing a second book that I would actually print in a larger series. That book I would take sections or portions of each of these quilts and other pieces and write an essay essentially illustrated by shots from the various quilts and the other art work to really tell the story in my own words and what it means to me, but that is a longer term project. KM: Tell me about “War and Freedom: African American Veterans Hail the Commander-in-Chief, #1.” CLS: Sure. #1 is the quilt that I started when I was invited by Roland Freeman with the assistance of Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi [exhibit “Quilts for Obama: Celebrating the Inauguration of our 44th President,” at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. from January 11 to January 31, 2009.]. Roland, almost at the same time as Sue Walen, decided to mount a show of Obama Inauguration celebration quilters in [Washington.] D.C. and he was able to secure the [Washington.] D.C. Historical Society building. His show was opened the second week of January, so it is up during the inauguration which is, of course, very thrilling. This piece has the same type of imagery and in fact some of the same images are in both quilts. The first quilt focuses more on the veteran and less on the inauguration event itself. There is no map of the inauguration, etc. I do have some relevant words on it. One of the patches in this quilt is a transcription of the Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution which says the President shall be Commander and Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and all the militia of the various states, etc. That is in this quilt surrounded by some fabric that’s wavy red, white and blue flags, the American flags. Another large patch in this quilt brings the service of women veterans a little bit more prominently. I have a couple of photographs, one from the sixties, more Vietnam era and one from World War II and over it I’ve got the letters transcribed that say, ‘She’s a soldier of the U.S.A.’ Now that is playing off another patch in this quilt. I bought some old sheet music, really old sheet music and on the front of the sheet music you see some soldiers marching carrying flags, U.S. flags, and the title of the song is ‘He’s a Soldier of the U.S.A.’ and I often in these works will play on ‘He’s a Soldier of the U.S.A.’ and ‘She’s a Soldier of the U.S.A.’ African American women have not seen the kind of attention, as people talk about the history of African Americans in the military, so I’m trying to bring that history a little bit more to the forefront. I have from very precious memorabilia from women soldiers that was really hard to find but once again I found it all on eBay. There was also another piece of African American military history that I have in this quilt that is about women. There was a woman whose name, there is some dispute about her name but generally she is known as Cathay Williams who served as a man. She was an African American woman who disguised herself as a man and actually enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. She served for about two years before she became ill and was injured and was mustered out in 1868. It wasn’t discovered who she was, or that she was a woman until she applied for her pension many years later and then it was discovered that she was not a man, William Café, which is how she enlisted but she was Cathay Williams, a woman and there were other women that we know who served in the Civil War and disguised themselves as boys or young men and enlisted. There are probably more that we will never know because they died or they mustered out and no one ever knew. She is one that has been documented so it is known. These two pieces have similar imagery. The letter with my father’s picture is also in this piece. I don’t always have him in all the work but I usually have him or my uncle, something from one of them in the work because it was finding my uncle’s selective service card and the letter from my father and my father’s pictures of him in uniform and his friends, my uncles pictures who was in the emergent marines, finding that material in my grandmother’s house just sparked something in me as an artist. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it when I found it and it took a few years for it to come to the forefront and come back to life and become part of my art work. These two pieces are related. I don’t think I’m going to do another inauguration quilt, I think I’m done and I think I have several mixed media pieces on the inauguration so I think my inauguration series is done. That is good. [laughs.] I had fun doing them and I can’t wait for the quilts to come back home so I can see them again. I miss them. [laughs.] KM: Is this typical of your work. If you looked at these quilts that people say, ‘Oh yes Carole made them.’? CLS: That’s a very good question. I think they are. I think they, I think they are. I think they are. [laughs.] I keep saying that. Although a couple of people, Carolyn Mazloomi being one of them have commented that this particular series, the series on the American veterans and a couple of other series of works that it is the work that I’ve been doing in the last three years, two years really, is really the strongest, visually strongest and thematically strongest work I’ve ever done and I think that is true as well. Yeah, my style is not very structured, by that I mean you will find very few if any really straight lines and measured out little boxes and squares and my work is not controlled. I love chaos and movement and freedom. I like balance and contrast but I like the stuff to be somewhat distorted and almost moving around. I like people to have to stand there for a while and say wow there is a lot here. I did notice that when the quilts went up at the [Washington.] D.C. Historical Society people said wow there is a lot here, there is really a lot here. I said, cool, great, I’m glad to hear people say that [laughs.] because that is what I’m trying to convey, that there is so much history and we’ve really got to think about it, talk about it, and not lose the history, and it’s all present in the little boxes and bags we have in our attics and under beds where our family history is kind of hidden. The fact that a lot of the material I’m using, nearly all of the material in terms of the photographs and letters and so forth was really tossed away by many people and ended up on eBay because someone else picked them up out of some estate sale and said, oh well you know this has been discarded or sold by some family. Probably discarded, not even sold and then it shows up on eBay and I pick it up for $5.00 or $10.00 or whatever I might have paid. It’s my blessing but its unfortunate that we are as a nation we’ve become a little too ready to throw away history that is not even a hundred years old. Most of this material now may be fifty or sixty years old that I have, the original pieces, some a little older. I try to stay within my budget and when it gets older than that it gets out of my budget. [laughs.] It’s unfortunate that we don’t hold on to our history as much as we should. Maybe this inauguration will help people become a little more sensitive to that as well. KM: That would be wonderful. Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. CLS: I started quiltmaking in 1990, just on a whim. I was working hard and also in school and I have a bunch of wonderful nieces and nephews and I wasn’t seeing them as much as I used to so I decided on a whim to make them a quilt, each of them. That was quite an ambitious idea for me. I did not own a sewing machine, I did not sew. In the past, I had made a few simple curtains along the way and I think I must have owned a sewing machine at some point, an old Singer probably somewhere. I had no domestic ambitions. I was certainly no young Martha Stewart that is for sure. I went to the library, of course this was before the Internet was so big, and I went to the library, got a whole bunch of books about making quilts and I had seen one small baby quilt that a relative of mine had made for one of my nephews and I had seen that and he had it in his home. It was nothing elaborate at all, it is what we would call a whole cloth handmade, hand quilted coverlet. That was the closest I had ever been to a quilt really. I went to the fabric store, made all kinds of mistakes and started making these quilts. I decided from the very beginning that I just got so bored with the traditional approaches in cutting all the blocks the same size and lining them up exactly and making all your stitches the same, oh I just couldn’t stand it so I started doing crazy stuff even from the beginning. Then the universe provided and I went to an art quilt show and met some local art quilters in the Baltimore, Maryland area and joined a couple of groups, one guild and got a lot of help and support and they just opened my eyes. I also found an old book at the library of art quilts made in the late 1970’s and they were awesome. I met other people around the country and got involved in different networks. I went to the Art Quilt Network meetings in Ohio, two or three years in a row and met a lot of people. I went to Quilt Surface Design symposium. I did a lot of local workshops with people like Jennie Denson and other wonderful quilters. I was really fortunate in my teachers and colleagues because as I started experimenting and breaking the rules or not bothering to learn how to do certain things very well, like sew by hand or anything like that, I ran into people who said, ‘You go for it, do whatever you want to express. You are not trying to be the world master hand quilter, you really want to make art quilts. There are no rules, go for it.’ I was really lucky that I got so much encouragement early on. I know that if I hadn’t I would have just left the quilt community and gone off on my own and done other things. I hear from so many other art quilters who didn’t get that kind of acceptance. Even my quilt guild, The African American Quilters of Baltimore, when I joined, most of them, nearly all of them were aiming towards a more traditional quilting approach and I was one of the first to really start to break out and say, ‘Oh, you can paint the fabric. Oh what about photographs? What about this? What about that? What about no straight lines? What about fusing and not stitching?’ And all that kind of stuff. I would be bringing all these crazy wild wonderful ideas and the group just loved it. In fact, we have a show every two years now and we have been doing it for a number of years. At our most recent show I was standing and looking at the show with one of the other long time members and she is an art quilter and always has been, she said, ‘Carole, do you realize how we have infected the whole group?’ We started laughing because nearly everybody in that group to some degree, even the ones who have these fabulous traditional quilting skills, I mean master level traditional quilting skills, even they are experimenting in some way. We have influenced everyone to be more free to express themselves and some of them are doing photo realism. We are using all of the techniques you would see in any art workshop, mixed media workshop. This group is of course still identifying itself as a quilt group. It was really cool at the show, we just walked around kind of giggling and laughing and saying isn’t this wonderful how we’ve come so far because we are so inclusive of everyone. That’s my story. I woke up one morning with an angel whispered in my ear and said, ‘Why don’t you make quilts?’ Now today of course it is very hard for me to sit down to make a quilt that is actually going to go on somebody’s bed. Every once in a while I have to make a quilt for a baby in the family or for nieces and nephews who go off to college, that is one of the commitments, if you go off to college, if you get married and have a baby, I will make you a quilt. [laughs.] Sometimes it takes a while and they tease me and they say with the baby quilts, ‘Carole we don’t want the kid to be in college before he gets the baby quilt. Would like him to still be a baby,’ and I would say. ‘Okay, okay.’ Those are the ones that I definitely send out to other people to quilt because that is the part of the process that slows me down the most. On my art quilt pieces I generally don’t send them out for quilting. The large ones I sometimes do, but because my quilting is very, very idiosyncratic and it’s part of the surface design and unless I was standing there while they did it, it would be impossible for me to direct someone else to do that. Occasionally if it is a larger art quilt I may send it out for some very basic quilting and then when it comes back I actually add more quilting to it that is part of the surface design. I’ve now discovered some other construction techniques that make it even easier for me to fully quilt larger pieces. By larger pieces, I mean pieces that are bigger than 40 inches by 40 inches because I don’t have a long arm, I just use the regular tabletop sewing machine, so it gets a bit cumbersome when they are bigger than that. It is a lot of fabric to move around and gets very tiring and keeping it all flat is a bit of a challenge but I’ve learned some new techniques using some fusibles and things like that help me do that. KM: Tell me a little more about your creative process. Do you sketch things out, that kind of thing? CLS: I basically never sketch things out. Generally I start with an idea, whether it is one of the art quilts focusing on the African American veterans, well then I probably would start pulling out certain images that I want to build the quilt around. I’ve collected a number of photos of African American veterans with their families, sweethearts, sons, daughters, etc. and I have one wonderful photograph of a man with his whole family and he has a whole bunch of kids and it is just a gorgeous photograph so I think I’m going to do one that is about family, veterans and family. I know I have that idea. I’ve got probably five or six really wonderful images that will be in that piece. I will start by printing those photographs onto fabric and figuring out do I want to print them all sepia. ‘Do I want them varied? Do I want to colorize?’ I might print a photo two or three different ways and then I will put it up on the flannel on the design wall and step back and think about it and then I will start thinking about fabric. Now the veteran’s fabric tends to be the red, white and blue either sort of traditional looking or very modern looking fabrics but still in the patriotic fabric colors and I use the commercial fabrics. I also paint fabrics. For one of the inauguration quilts, I started by taking a large piece of white fabric and I painted it with red and white stripes and then a blue area where we would normally see the stars. I started adding images and other fabric on top of that, so there was a layering on top of a flag essentially. By the end of it, you could barely see the flag underneath but I know it’s there and a close look will reveal it. It’s a controlled design process that I follow in that I know the overall effect that I’m going for. I know the story, theme, idea that I’m trying to convey or the emotion. It is both ideas and emotions that I’m trying to impact the reader with. I experiment with stuff and I will put together maybe a photograph and collage some words and whatever on it and have in a sense a patch and that will be up on the design wall. Then I will keep adding patches and then something might come off and get put away for another piece or never used at all if it doesn’t work, or cut something up and say ‘oh I like this part of what I did but I don’t like the other part so I think I will take this off and put that with that.’ It is my eye but it is my intellectual eye and my emotional eye that is being guided. My physical eye is just the camera lens. I also think about composition and I think about contrast and I think about the eye moving across the surface. I’m not as disciplined about some of that as I would like to be. I study a lot of art. I don’t have an art degree but I study artists. I’m fortunate because I live in an area rich with free and low cost wonderful museums. In my other life, I’m a consultant and I travel to some of the world’s greatest cities. I’m very fortunate there. I try to make time when I’m there to visit a museum or two or three or four [laughs.] and galleries and so I study the work of other artists to see what is it that is drawing me to this, what is it that I like, what is it that I don’t like. I’m not a good draftsman. I don’t draw well so I don’t do a lot of sketching for most of my work. I have made some work that is more geometric and I haven’t done one of those quilts for quite a while now but for those I actually returned to more of the traditional roots of quilting. My geometric quilts I take a shape, a rectangle and then I add some lines to it so I’m drawing a block and then I would scale it up bigger and scale it down smaller and I would make blocks of the various sizes and assemble a quilt but they are all the same core block just different scale sizes. I’ve done some of that work which takes some real planning because you’ve got to make those things fit. [laughs.] That can be quite interesting. Occasionally I will get an impulse to do a more abstract quilt and so I might do something like that. I do a lot of cloth painting now. I love painting and I love collage work and so I probably spend right now maybe thirty, forty percent of my creative time doing art quilts but I’m painting a lot on those and using my own photographs as well. I also photograph the world. The rest of my time I’m doing mixed media, framed collages which may or may not have actual textiles in them. Sometimes I will print photographs on fabric and that will become part of the collage piece, but it is really more about the paint and texture and layering and glazing and transparency in paint, which then I will use some of those techniques on a whole cloth or piece art quilt. If I could, I would spend all of my time in my studio but I’m not at that point financially yet. But, this is 2009 who knows what will happen. [laughs.] KM: Tell me whose works you are drawn to and why? CLS: There is a long list. In the mainstream art world I’m drawn to people like Romare Bearden who is a collagist who is best known for his collage work. Sam Gillian, who is a contemporary painter, just has a masterful way with paint and color and layering and transparency. I was fortunate enough to visit him in his studio last year and he was pouring paint in a very controlled way onto the surfaces and it was just, it just gave me cold chills looking at the work, it was so wonderful. It is the color and the light and that is what I’m striving for even in my art quilts, although it is hard to get a feeling of transparency in an art quilt but I will figure it out without using really thin fabrics since that is not the way I want to go. But in my mixed media work I can do layers and transparency much more easily than in the art quilts. Other artists–Robert Rauschenberg, I love, love, love his stuff. The Impressionist painters. Picasso of course I mean we all owe a lot to him [laughs.] I don’t think any of use can talk about being contemporary artists in this century and not talk about him and the influence he had. I’m, and I’m very indebted to the impressionists, although again I’m not drawing, I’m not doing even that degree of representational art but I think the most recent set of mixed media pieces I did, collage pieces on memories and dreams. When I look at them, they are very impressionistic. Generally in those pieces there are one or two critical photographs but I’ve painted and glazed and layered color over them, acrylic color in very thin washes so that there is a very soft quality and it’s a dreamlike quality, but it is not surrealism exactly because they are not distorted in any way. You know it is a tree. You know it is a building etc., a person, but there is a dreamlike quality the way the impressionists altered our way of seeing the world. Arthur Dove, who is a 20th Century painter, maybe a lot of people don’t know about. I love his work. It’s pretty flat in a way. He has simplified the forms of the world and used flat layers of color in some of his work and I just find them, I don’t know why they call to me, but they just call to me. I don’t think I’m imitating, I don’t know how he has influenced me but whenever I can, whenever I see his work I find myself stopping to look at it. Edward Hopper because of his way of conveying a world waiting, sort of its an empty room but you know that somebody is about to enter or just about to leave and I’m just astounded at his ability to make us feel that with an empty room or an empty window. [laughs.] Some people sitting in a diner. Renee Stout, who is a contemporary artist, who I am drawn to her work because of the levels of symbolism. I’ve been looking at her work for about ten years at least now and she has challenged me to have more complexity and meaning in my work and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her and she does it in more 3-D. Her work is sometimes assemblages they call them because it is stuff, it is material in a box and if you could touch it you could reach in and move the things around. Of course you are not supposed to touch them. Although I’m not doing assemblage, I do want levels of meaning, layers of meaning. It’s like Romare Bearden when you look at his collages you see levels and layers of meaning and in her work there is a denseness to it of richness and she reaches into the psyche because she studied a lot of religious and spiritual belief systems and they have influenced her, the symbols that she uses in her work. I feel like I’ve got so much more to explore and so little time. [laughs.] KM: Isn’t that the truth. CLS: I know, but I’m no longer just a quilter. Before I found quilting I had taken different art classes at the community college and I had been a pretty serious photographer for a few years before that and then stopped doing that. I even had a darkroom years ago, just dropped it when my other professional career took off and I wasn’t active artistically but I slowly came back to the arts. Frankly learning to make the quilts was a huge boon because it got me back into saying I need to make space in my life for creative work and space in my home and that got me to create a studio and led me into other workshops and got me reconnected to the painting and the collages, all kinds of things. I owe quilting a great debt of gratitude. Although I probably make only one or two traditional quilts a year now. KM: How do you want to be remembered? CLS: As an artist. I want to be remembered as an artist who blended and transformed a traditional form of women’s work, quilting and used it to inform her artistic work. I want to be remembered as an artist who explored important ideas and important themes. Yeah, that is how I want to be remembered, and as a person who had a lot of fun doing it. KM: Works for me. [CLS laughs.] Is there anything else? CLS: If I could, and I do, I encourage everybody I know to find a way of getting connected to something creative. Because I truly, honestly believe that ever person has the ability to express themselves creatively. I’m a consultant and management trainer and I lead retreats for people and so forth but with some groups I actually have them make fabric collages and I give them a few simple materials, scissors, glue stick, pile of fabrics and some cardboard paper and I don’t listen to the people who say, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do it.’ Some of the people you would think would be the least creative have the most extraordinary pieces of art work in about an hour and a half. I have never seen anyone fail at the assignment, ever. I’ve done it with hundreds of people of all types. I would also like to be remembered as someone who encouraged other people to find whatever it is that they want to bring into their life to be creative with. It may not be art, it could be music. It could be mentoring kids, it could be sports, teaching people to play sports or fly fishing or whatever it is, find something that brings you joy. KM: Is there anything else you would like to share before we conclude? CLS: No I think that is it. KM: You did a fabulous job. CLS: Oh thank you. [laughs.] KM: We are going to conclude our interview. It is now…

QSOS with Pamela Allen

QSOS with Pamela Allen

  Tomme Fent (TF): This is Tomme Fent. Today is Saturday, December 10th, 2005, and it’s 1:06 p.m. Central Time. I’m conducting a telephone interview with Pamela Allen for the Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. Pamela is in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and I am in Sioux City, Iowa, in the United States. Pamela, thanks for agreeing to talk with me today. Pamela Allen (PA): Oh, you’re welcome, Tomme. TF: I really want to talk about your very unique style of quilting as part of our interview today. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about how you got into quilting in the first place. I know you had a lot of prior training in other media. PA: That’s right, I–in fact, I’ve been an artist for about twenty-three years and have worked in lots of different media and in the last, I don’t know, ten years I was doing lots of paintings and collages that frequently, when I looked at them, I thought, ‘Gee, you know, these looks like quilts to me.’ But the down side was that I had no experience in sewing, so I kept putting it off and putting it off until I discovered Lucky Shie, who’s my hero. She’s a fabulous fabric artist who offers a five-day workshop art camp. So I went there, told them what I was doing and what I wanted to do, and her advice was, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it doesn’t fall apart.’ So I came back after five wonderful days and just started sewing on my thirty dollar church basement sewing machine. And that’s essentially how my work sort of translated from painting collage into fabric collage. TF: Well, your quilts are really unique. One of the things you do that other quilters don’t do is you use a lot of unusual materials in your quilts. How do you get all of those unusual materials to stay on there? PA: Well, I have this theory that if you can drill a hole in it or if you can–if it’s metal and you can use this little gizmo I have to make a hole in it, then you can sew it on your quilt. So having come from a background at one time of making what I call ‘junk art,’ which is really assemblage art, I had masses and masses of interesting artifacts and found objects already in my studio, and I just began sewing them on my quilts. They do have significance for me, but they’re not necessarily significant to the viewer, they won’t have the same significance to the viewer. But it just keeps me interested in my quilt as I’m working to embellish. TF: For example, let’s talk about the quilt that you’ve chosen as your touchstone object today. What’s the name of the quilt? PA: It’s called “Grandmother’s Lullaby,” and there’s a significance to that in that I’m a grandmother even though I’m not a mother, and I have fifteen grandchildren, so this is a somewhat autobiographical quilt. It just shows a woman singing to an infant. TF: When did you make this quilt? PA: I made it quite recently. It’s 2005, but I believe it was early in 2005, in January. The significant thing in–it’s a milestone quilt for me because it’s the last quilt I ever made that didn’t have a proper binding on it. [laughter.] Since then, I learned to make a proper binding. TF: So you said that the materials that you use often have significance to you. How about some of the materials you’ve used in this quilt? I see bobbins and spools and garters and clothespins and keys. PA: Exactly. They’re kind of, sort of autobiographical things, and very literal in many cases. The bobbins, the little spools of thread and so on, are just making reference to the fact that I now sew. It’s also a generic thing because many, many women sew, and the history of women is that we provide our families with clothing or linens and so on, so it has a larger historical meaning for me. The keys around the neck are reference to a woman’s role as chatelaine. Even in medieval times, she may not have had too many rights of her own but one of the rights she did have was that she was the keeper of the keys of the household, so that’s the reference around the neck, plus it’s very decorative. The clothespins also, again, are a reference to a woman’s role as the laundress. The little wheels around the breasts are personal for me because I moved a great deal when I was a child and it was an unhappy thing for me and I often put wheels in because of the transitory nature of life. Now the garters, everybody always laughs at the garters, if they’re women of my age which is middle age, because we remember having to hold our stockings up with these awful garters. And I actually find them humorous and decorative at the same time. Now the eggs at the bottom are, again, a very literal reference to the function of woman, and in this case especially because it’s a grandmother and child. But, of course, this refers to the fertility of a woman. TF: Why did you choose this particular quilt for your interview? PA: I feel that it’s pretty stereotypical of the work that I do. Some of my quilts aren’t as embellished as this one is, but many of them are, and I think I, personally, get a lot of satisfaction and pleasure out of embellishments and I think viewers do, too. They always tell a little story and the viewer brings their own story to it, but I bring a story to it which keeps my interest in the work as I’m working upon it. TF: I see in this quilt both machine and hand quilting. Is that typical of your style? PA: Yes, it is. And again, the hand part, the hand appliqué, does come from Lucky Shie, in that this is her style, as well, and I really, really like introducing this coarser, linear element to my work with bright colors of embroidery floss. So, to me, it’s adding a line that scintillates because of its color and unevenness. I also want to introduce the hand of the artist. I want the artist’s signature to be on the quilt and not that mechanical stitching quality that a machine gives you. But on the other hand, the machine quilting is also important to me because it’s free-motion. I can do whatever I want. I can put–I can literally draw on the quilt with my machine stitching. TF: You also draw, if you will, on your quilts by the great variety of fabrics, not just prints but the different types of fabrics you use. Where do you get the materials that you use for your quilts? PA: That’s right, I do use–I have what I call–other quilters laugh at me because I say I have this pitiful little stash, and by most quilters’ standards, it is pitiful. It’s because I use almost always recycled fabrics. So once a month or so, I’ll go to this thrift shop or go to the Salvation Army and I’ll just go through the racks of Hawaiian shirts and flannels and hideous bridesmaids’ dresses and polyester and rayon, things that traditional quilters really don’t normally use. And I have no compunction about mixing fabrics. This one has cotton in it, commercial cotton. It has rayon sarongs in it. It has lace on it. It has upholstery fringe on it for the hair. It’s got netting on it. I just don’t care. If it looks right, I’ll use it. TF: So how many hours a week do you think you spend quilting? PA: People often ask me that. I work nine to five, Monday to Friday, in my studio. So I go every morning and I spend probably seven hours there and I come home. But I also do a lot of hand sewing at home in front of the television, and even if I’m traveling, I do it in the airports. I do it on trains and things like that. So I would say more than forty hours a week. TF: You sound like you’re very disciplined in your business, in working in your studio every day. PA: I discovered that really early on, that I had to treat it like a job because there was this mystique about an artist, you know going in the garrets and working and being inspired and working, and that’s not the way it is. It is a matter of just working, working, working, working, just as you would with any other career. The difference with me is that I really, really enjoy it, and I have probably lower expectations. I do not expect everything I make to be even saleable, let alone a masterpiece. So I’m constantly producing, but not necessarily work that can be sold. TF: Did you grow up around quilts? What’s your first quilt memory? PA: I did not grow up around quilts. As I said, I didn’t really even know how to sew. I made an apron in grade eight home ec [economics] class. It’s the art part of the fabric that appeals to me. It was only later that I discovered, through the Internet, this huge collegiate–college, really, of fabric artists across the world, but mostly in the U.S. and Canada. And it was that arts connection, I think, that appealed to me, so it isn’t the quilts. The quilt part, in fact, has been problematic for me because over time, I’ve had to really improve. I was really terrible, my sewing, at first. And I got a better machine and that sort of thing and I feel now that I’m sort of okay, sewing-wise. So I kind of came at it backwards. I think quilters, art quilters who started out quilting try to get out of the box and into the art quilting. I came out the other way and I’m trying to get in the box, in the quilt part of the box, just through my skills and my techniques. TF: Have you ever used quilting to help you get through a difficult time? PA: Oh, yes, yes, indeed. And that was the other thing that surprised me when I switched over to fabric because I’m kind of a very lively, up front, kind of hyper sort of person, and I would not have thought that I would have the patience to sit and sew as much as I do, but in fact I discovered it was very therapeutic and it was relaxing, and you sort of go into a Zen mode and creatively, it gives–when you’re doing the hand bit, you’re trying to think about what you’re going to do next and so on, and as far as the therapeutic part, because I work kind of–my subject matter comes from my own life and so on, it’s kind of inevitable that–this year, because my mother died and my sister got cancer, although she’s now in remission, and it’s just been a rough year. And many of my quilts helped me through that because the subject matter of the quilts were about that. TF: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? PA: Well, there are two things that I want to see in a work of art, and I’m talking as a work of art, not a quilt but as a work of art. I want to see the hand of the artist. I want to see the personal process of the artist actually working upon the material. And I also want a personal input into the subject matter. Now, there’s a lot of discussion about being derivative and having other artists influence you and so on, and I am a hundred percent with that. My work has Picasso influences in it, Matisse influences in it, and so on, but I try desperately not to copy or not to appropriate, and that’s what I look for in other art quilts is that personal injection that I know that this person has done something no one else has done. TF: Do you also make any other fiber art objects, like wearable art? PA: I don’t, actually. I was the kind of person who, when I tried to sew clothing, I’d always put the left sleeve in the right armhole, that sort of thing. It’s funny because when I think about it, it sort of goes against my personality. It’s following a pattern. I’m just not that kind of person. So to me, the spontaneous way that I work is perfect for me, and I think that’s why I don’t do clothing or anything that has to fit. TF: Well, I know that you’ve started doing some traveling to teach classes and give lectures to guilds and things like that. How is that affecting your work? PA: How is it affecting my work? That’s interesting. I think as for the content of my work, I’m not sure it affects it all that much, but what it has done is made me very, very happy to have found this genre. The more people I meet, the more I teach, the more traveling I do, I’ve discovered that it’s a huge–I was going to say sisterhood, but there are many men in this. It’s a collection of like-minded people who are so generous and fun and we share common experiences and that’s really affected me in my teaching and so on. I enjoy teaching, so that’s also good. TF: In what way is quilting important to your life and how does that differ from other types of art that you’ve done? PA: I think it doesn’t differ from other kinds of art, but I feel as if I’m–I feel as if I’ve found my niche with quilting. So whereas before, I was often anxious and worried about, you know, ‘I’m not as good as everyone else,’ or ‘I’m not on the cutting edge,’ and all that sort of stuff, that all went out the window when I discovered working with fabric for the certain reasons that I mentioned before, that it’s–actually it’s relaxing and it makes me happy, but also because I just enjoy it so much. I really enjoy going to work each day. I think about what I’m going to do next. When I come in my studio, I’ve got lots of colorful fabrics around and past-made quilts that please me. So I think that’s that same thing. TF: You mentioned that you don’t follow a pattern and you do really free-form work. What suggestions would you have for quilters who haven’t tried that type of work that would allow them to become a little more free. PA: Yes. It’s not a matter of technique. Even now, I try to analyze my own way of doing things, and it’s not technique, it’s attitude. And it’s sort of ‘in your face’ attitude, in a way. Like, ‘Take out the fabrics, throw away your rotary cutter, use your scissors as if it were a drawing tool, and just lay your shapes,’ and just confidence that, ‘Oh, if that doesn’t work, take it off, put something else on, or if some of it works, put something else on the part that doesn’t work.’ Just the confidence that eventually, it will work. And you just sew away and you quilt it and you are happy with it. It sounds pretty simplistic, doesn’t it? TF: It makes it sound very easy to do. It makes me wonder why more people don’t give it a try. PA: I wonder, too, sometimes, because quilt–now I do make a distinction between quilters and art quilters, and art quilters presumably are making art and a function of making art is to open up their mind and to be–I call it ‘stream of consciousness.’ You do one thing which suggests that you might do something else and then that suggests that you might do something else, so it’s always a creative and open-ended process. And when people get bogged down with, ‘I’m making this plan, I’m cutting out templates, I’m arranging it on my background fabric,’ it seems to take all the spontaneity and creativity out of it. Now, I couldn’t possibly work that way. I think others might benefit by sort of throwing out the templates once or twice and their patterns once or twice, and just sort of go with the flow, cut with scissors, choose the colors you like that aren’t on the color wheel, and that sort of thing. TF: Are all of the quilts that you make for display, or do you also make quilts for use, like bed quilts and lap quilts? PA: Yes, well, I would say all of my quilts are for display. I have made two quilts for snuggling and I vowed that I would never do it again. And the nature of the way I work, because I do raw-edge, hand appliqué and so on, the one I made for myself to sort of snuggle under for television, when I wash it, it becomes more and more and more like chenille. And the mixture of fabrics I use, they’re not all washable, so that has deterred me from doing bed coverings. TF: Have you made quilts for friends and family? PA: I have, yes. I do smaller things, but I do things. We have a huge family and we’ve got twenty-five people on our Christmas list, children mostly, and I have done things for them, yes, mostly things like appliquéd sweatshirts and appliquéd aprons and things like that. TF: How do you think quilts are significant in either reflecting or preserving women’s history in North America? PA: It is significant. It’s something I’m reluctant to accept, actually, because it’s so stereotypically women’s work, to work with fabric and sew and so on. But in the art quilt genre, anyway, I would say that we are continuing the tradition into the modern era in that now, it’s not necessarily, what’s the word, functional, but rather an expression of – any artist, an expression of how you feel or how you think or what message that you want to give to people. And it’s in a particular genre that’s particularly feminine and has been for decades and centuries. So I’m aware of that and I’m quite charmed by that. TF: Do you have any sense of where your work will fit into the bigger picture of art history? PA: My work? TF: Yes. PA: I don’t know, I think I’m more humble than that. I think my work is art, I do think it’s art. I’m sort of not too humble about that. But whether it’ll make a significant difference, perhaps to the owners of each one, it might, but I don’t think over a long–just as many painters and many printmakers and many other artists in other genres are not going to make a huge impact, they’ll make an impact on the owners of their work, perhaps, and if they teach, they’ll make an impact on their students and the up-and-coming generation. And I do hope that I can make that kind of impact on my students. I have been to enough shows now to realize that–some of the women come up to me afterwards and sort of thank me for freeing them, so I think there’s a niche there that I’m filling, yes. TF: Well, I think your work is amazing and I think it is very important in the history of quilts and will be studied and enjoyed for years to come. PA: Well, thank you very much. TF: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you would like to talk about in relation to quilting? [pause.] What about the computer, do you use the computer to aid you in design or in any other aspect of your work? PA: That’s a good point. I do indirectly use the computer and actually directly, now that I think about it, because I–this technology where you can use this Bubble Jet Set to prepare your fabrics to take on a computer image, I do use that and I think it’s brilliant, actually, and maybe could be used a little more adventurously by other quilters, as well. And I was also toying with digital collaging and things like that before I began quilting, and I refer to those frequently in designing quilts. My memory of that sort of funny juxtaposition of different shapes and different scales, oddball color and so on, is very available on the computer and that’s why I loved doing digital collage, and I think that did, indeed, affect my imagery in my quilts. And also being on the Internet and talking to other artists, other quilt artists, is a great tool for an artist because essentially, you work in an isolated place as an artist. You’re in your studio and you don’t sort of face-to-face meet people, but having those thousands of people on the Internet who are interested in what you are interested in is marvelous. It really keeps you connected. TF: Well, I would like to thank Pamela Allen for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project, and our interview concluded at 1:30 p.m. PA: Well, thank you,…

QSOS with Susan Shie

QSOS with Susan Shie

NOTE: This interview took place from October 1-5, 2006. Karen Musgrave (KM): I’m doing a Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories interview with Susan Shie by e-mail since we cannot be together to do the interview and we wanted very much to include her in the project. It is October 1, 2006. Susan, thank you so much. Tell me about the quilt you selected for this interview. Susan Shie (SS): This is my painted diary quilt “Wilma (Peace Voodoo),” which I started on October 20, 2005 and finished on Nov 7 that year. It’s 66.5″ height x 66.5″ width, drawn and colored with airbrush, written on with airpen, and crazy grid machine sewn, with one row of hand stitching around the edge and one Green Temple Buddha Boy bead in the bottom left corner. There is even more about this piece on my site at http://www.turtlemoon.com/gallery3/wilma-full.htm. The actual Hurricane Wilma started up around October 16, 2005, four days before I began this piece. It was terrible to think that she would develop into another huge hurricane, after what we’d been through already that Fall, or rather what the Gulf States had been through, with Katrina and then Rita. But there she was, and she ended up being even bigger, bigger than any Atlantic hurricane ever on record. We had more hurricanes in 2005 than ever before on record, too, with Wilma tying the 1933 record, and Beta taking us into the dubious glory of the lead. I had made my big piece “Katrina Blues” in September, and now it seemed my work was going to be about hurricanes for a while, but I couldn’t think of much else. None of us could. Well, war, too. The only good thing I can say about Wilma is that she didn’t hit the same places that the earlier hurricanes had. She did wreck Cosumel and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico though, ripping it up there for over a full day of terrible damage. She affected Haiti and Cuba, and then she roared across southern Florida, leaving those people without electric or gasoline for a long time. Jeb Bush promised Florida that they were ready for Wilma, that they didn’t have to worry about being left stranded but it happened again, for whatever reasons. Meanwhile, back in my personal life, I decided to make this piece about the four generations of women in my family: Mom, me, my daughter Gretchen, and my granddaughter Eva, and to show us like Russian stacking dolls. Only it’s hard to do that with bodies sitting in Buddha girl positions, which is how I wanted us to be. So we’re kinda stacked, looking more like a Buddha totem pole. We ended up with saucepans on our heads, and the men in our lives are with us, plus Gretchen’s cat Isis, since Eva doesn’t have a beau yet. She did get the Croup during the making of my Wilma piece though. I put a gigantic St Quilta the Comforter standing on the right side of the piece, to balance the stack of Shie women. St Q has two heads where her breasts would be, but at first I didn’t know who I wanted them to be. That’s rare, as I usually know who everyone is, when I draw a piece. I finally decided they’re my dear friend YaYa Pat and her mother Mary, who were both very sick last Fall. Pat had some mysterious thing going on that they thought might be an auto-immune disease, and her mom had a major heart attack and didn’t seek help for too long. They are both big St Q types themselves, so generous and now they were both too weak to even care for themselves, let alone taking care of each other. So I had St Q there for them, for us, and for more hurricane survivors. (Pat and Mary are both fine now, got well in time to enjoy Christmas, as I recall.) As usual, I did a little writing on Wilma each day, every time I got a chance. I write with my airpen, using black fabric paint, and then let it dry, coming back later to write some more. Current events, like the indictment of Lewis Libby in the Plamegate affair, are part of this piece. Bush’s usual antics. He went to Argentina and got really protested against. They accused him of war crimes, and they said he’s a fascist like Hitler. He smiled and said that this is good, that they’re allowed to express their opinions, because they live in a democracy. Rosa Parks died during the time I was making this piece, and I was so impressed with the things about her life that I’d never been told, before I Googled her and read her bio. Did you know that she was really, really active in the civil rights movement along with Dr. King? This was about the third time she’d refused to give up her seat, and this time finally it got the results she wanted. And she was already back in the ‘colored section’ of the bus, when that teenage boy told her to get up and give him her seat. I’d learned as a kid in school that she was just a working class woman, so tired out; she refused to get up, in the front of the bus. She was an activist all along! I am glad! KM: Does “Wilma” reflect your style? SS: Yes, “Wilma” reflects my current style, which is a combination of emphasis on narrative painted images and written spontaneous diary, along with socio-political commentary. I think my image style has been pretty consistent for many years, but this shift to machine sewing over very detailed surface is the latest change, which began in 2005, with “NEO Buddha,” my first large format quilt made this way. Before that, I’d only made a few small pieces with the unmeasured “crazy grid” machine quilting, and I was usually intensely quilting by hand, with tons of tiny textural stitches, and then beading the daylights out of the pieces. I got very tired of spending many months to sew and bead one painting into a quilt, unable to paint again, until that piece was done. I felt like I was sitting in a corner, sent there by my self, no one else! People would make comments about an experience we’d had together, saying things like ‘Oh, I bet THIS will end up as a quilt.’ But I’d say, ‘no, it won’t,’ because I had to finish the piece I had about six months to go on first, before I could start another quilt. I knew that I was the only person who’d sent me to sit and sew in that conceptual corner, and I started to realize that good art isn’t defined by how long it takes to make. It’s defined by how good it is, when you look at it. My job became to make the machine sewn quilts as interesting as the hand stitched and beaded ones are. That’s where my airpen writing really came to be critical in making it work. This writing with fabric paint is such a rich line I don’t have to hand sew over it. So I can write smaller and write a lot more. My writing has become like a stitching texture, in a way. And I’m content to let go of my hand sewing ego. Now I don’t care if people who see my work are aware that I used to put all that time and energy into the hand work. And a blessing that came out of this more immediate statement type of working is that I can respond to things going on in our world right now, and get the piece done in a short enough time that those issues are still pertinent when people view the finished piece. I am really grateful for that. I think this current style is a natural progression from a very stuck place I wandered into organically, with processes that interested me, but slowed me down, to a place where I could adjust things more to my liking. I am a painter first, then a writer, then a quilter. But I think I’d be really sad if I couldn’t quilt my paintings, had to stretch them on bars and frame them. No, I don’t want to go back to that! KM: What inspired you to make quilts? Is there quiltmaking in your family? SS: I grew up with a mother who sewed all the time: our clothes, the upholstery, drapes, etc, etc. Oh, and quilts. I grew up with 4-H and home ec, besides Mom’s wonderful teaching, and she let me cut loose when I was making doll clothes, so that’s when I could go really wild, break the sewing rules, and create weird things to my heart’s content. But I was mostly drawing, writing, and painting all the time, when I was a little kid. Knitting, too, but I got away from that eventually, probably when I went back to college in my late twenties. Too busy! I had an easel in my bedroom all through junior high and high school, and pretended my bedroom was a “garret,” because that’s where French painters painted, right? I stretched my own canvases all through high school, making some really big stuff. In college I majored in painting, but eventually got pretty sad about how I couldn’t move my paintings around easily, because they were too big to put into anyone’s car. And about then, Miriam Schapiro came to the College of Wooster for a residency, and visited my studio, and we became pen pals. She was going around, advocating that feminists should bring their handwork skills into their studio art, instead of painting like men. Well, it resonated with me, made me realize there was all this stuff I did at home that no one at school ever saw and that if I’d work on UNSTRETCHED canvas, I could roll up my paintings and carry them around. Once I wasn’t working on stretcher bars, I got to thinking about embroidering on my paintings, and then about quilting them. This was really how I started quilting in my studio, even though I wasn’t at all interested in the tedium of cutting all those templates and lining up all those corners, in traditional quilting, which is what my Mennonite and Amish background quilting was all about. I just wanted to just convert my style of painting that I’d been doing on stretched canvas, to loose fabric. I saw quilting as a way to make a painting I could fold up, carry around, add to, and hang up without a frame. Soon I found out that quilts are also a lot easier to photograph than stretched paintings, and are MUCH easier to ship! What I liked the most a in grad school was that I was the only painting major making these weird fabric things. They had a Surface Design major you could do, but I came in as a painter, and I liked being the unstretched fabric painter. If I’d been in Surface Design, I’d have had to find some other way to be myself, going against the grain. I had no idea that other women were making these experimental quilts around the country. Miriam Schapiro was nudging feminist artists to use all kinds of women’s work craft skills in their art, but I don’t think any of the rest of her students were doing quilts as art right then. I don’t know really, since we didn’t really have any way to communicate. Then it seemed like, when I found out about Quilt National, right after I did my MFA thesis at Kent State School of Art, a bunch of women artists were doing quite individual things with studio art as quilts. Wow! That was such a revelation, to learn about this whole thing happening at once, in so many unique ways, in the 80s! I think it came out of the Hippie movement as much as Feminism – the two merging. We hippy chicks had to embellish everything we touched! I have an aunt who still works hard each year for the Mennonite Relief Auction in Kidron, Ohio, in the making of traditional quilts that get auctioned off for disaster relief. They’re the same kind of quilts Mom used to help with at Ladies’ Aid at our church, East Chippewa Church of the Brethren, when I was little. I look at those traditional quilts, and I think of sitting under that quilt frame, watching all those left hands floating along, under the quilt, above me, and wondering how on earth they could make any stitches, when their left hands didn’t even move! That is my first quilt memory! So yeah, maybe they grabbed me right then – the pre-school me! So yeah, it’s in my blood! KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction? SS: Yes, I do make that distinction. I’ve always thought of myself as an artist, not as a quiltmaker, and I think that comes from my choice to move my painting surface from stretched canvas to loose fabric, which I soon decided to stitch, back around 1980. And in college I stayed with Painting as my major, without even thinking about how I could switch over to Surface Design, once I got to grad school. Luckily the profs didn’t ask me if I wanted to switch, but then, if they had, I woulda said ‘no.’ I guess it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself. It’s what you do. To me, if you create, use your own ideas to make something, to express yourself, then you’re an artist. I think if you just follow the directions to a T, then you’re a craftsperson. As soon as you decide you hate following someone else’s ideas, and you bust out and do your own thing, there you are. Behold, another artist. And I think the term “artist” is viewed by our culture as kind of egocentric, like if I say I’m an artist, I’m making some kind of statement about how good my work is. But to me, telling people you’re an artist is no different than telling them you’re a doctor, a bricklayer, a preacher. An artist makes art. What’s most important to me about my work is the image, and what it communicates. I’ve come full circle in my sewing attitudes: getting more and more into hand work over the years, and finally walking away from the Most Patient Hand Sewing Person Award, and moving to machine sewing. I don’t care now if people even remember that I hand sewed, putting so much time and care into all those intricate textures with embroidery and beads. If I had the money, I might hire someone with one of those huge long-arm machines to take over my crazy grid sewing. Although I do get a big bang out of getting lost in the middle of a quilt and not being sure if I’m sewing straight with the piece or at an angle! Could I give that up? Yeah, I could give it up, because then I could paint more and write more! KM: What artists have influenced you? SS: Oh, there have been so many over time, back when I was an official student for all those years! I had my total immersions in Matisse, Egyptian, Picasso, Native American, Chinese, Japanese Ukiyo-e period, more Matisse, more Egyptians, and always children’s art and Outsider art. I’d obsessed on Chinese art so deeply while doing my IS (Independent Study or senior project at the College of Wooster) that people wanted to talk with me about China, when they viewed that work. WHAT? I had been interested in Chinese art because I thought it was so much more nature centered than western art was. I thought it was my feminist stance they should clearly see, through my fanatic use of Chinese art images and even writing characters. Oh, that was my fault, that they thought I was so in love with China and couldn’t see that it was my Nature Centered Feminist style? OK. I like to think that was the end of my deep drownings into other artists’ styles, and that when I started grad school, I was my own artist, a ball of influences from all the art I had worked my way through by studying it and using its imagery so fully. Now I was a Master’s Candidate, not just your ordinary student anymore, so I had to be ME! But all that stuff was like ingredients in me, the particular unique tossed salad that I am. And I think all easily-identified artists are like that. Call us lint balls, salads, stews, whatever name for a collection of influences, but we come out of those student, searching years as our own selves. I also had a long period, starting in junior high, when I wanted to only do realism, and I can do that, sort of. I copied from photos for a while, which helped me in some ways, and eventually I got bored with that, too. As an adult I decided that we have cameras for realism, and that I really like children’s art the best of all, so I should probably let myself just draw in a very relaxed way, much of the time, and accept the first version of a drawn form, as my final one. So I don’t erase or use tracing paper, and I work right on the fabric or paper with permanent drawing or painting tools. That’s about the only thing in life that I do where I take big risks and am a dare devil. Ya gotta be wild somehow. Oh, and I chop merrily with scissors without measuring or planning, most of the time, a trait which made my seventh grade home ec teacher call me ‘scissors happy.’ And she was really trying to shame me. She was proper. My parents had a huge influence on my art, in that my father made a big fuss over my work, and my mother made sure I had art supplies. Dad paid for a three year correspondence course with Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis, starting when I was in ninth grade. That really showed me that he believed in me, and even when the course drove me nuts, I kept going, because he had put that huge amount of money into my education. I got my diploma from that course in what they then called Commercial Art, plus an extra certificate in Illustration, when I was 16. It really taught me that I didn’t want to ever be a graphics artist! Too tight!!!! KM: Describe your studio. SS: Hmm. My studio is all over the place, with the computer stuff and photo shoot wall both in what could be a dining room, much storage of work in spare bedrooms, and so on. But my REAL studio is in the basement, in what was a rec room when we bought this house in 1990. It’s about 16 x 20, I think, but would be about twice that, if the builder had blasted more rock and not put in a 4′ high crawl space under the living and dining rooms, but instead, had made that area more basement! How I long for that giant mole that digs out the rest! A dehumidifier runs all summer in my studio, even when we have the AC on. I am devoted to nice, dry basements. And well lit ones. I have way too much clutter down there at this point, and a lot of supplies left over from when I was beading everything, but I do hope to really clean it out this winter and have more room to breathe. Hard to believe I used to have up to five students down there for five day live-in art camps! We got a lot of mileage out of my big work table, which is just two sixties wooden closet doors, set up side by side on saw horses, so they become a gigantic table. A couple of smaller tables, a sewing machine cabinet with my 1990 Pfaff on it. A pretty fake oriental carpet hiding some of the really ugly base carpet. Music plays sometimes, but I like to listen to books on tape, during times when I don’t have to think much while working, and sometimes it’s just NPR. Sometimes the studio is peacefully quiet. Tie dyed orange and yellow fabric panels hide a terrible mess on huge shelves, so at least I have that color to enjoy! Oh, when it’s all shoveled out, how I will dance down there! I have lots of fabrics that I keep folded in sorted piles in shelves, but the finished art pieces are on the main floor of our house, in storage bins. I work mostly at the big table, whether it’s covered with plastic and then old sheets, as drop cloths, so I can paint on it, or when it’s all down to the wood again, when I move my Pfaff over to it, so I can wrestle these big quilts, sewing my unmarked grids at random, carefully stopping to remove many little safety pins that hold the layers together for basting. Oh, we also have an airbrush room that Jimmy and I share, in between our individual studios. I usually start my pieces in there, with my whole cloth white cotton pinned up on the paint wall, making my base drawing with black airbrush lines, which are thicker than my airpen lines that I write with, back in my studio later, with the big cotton panel laying down flat on the drop cloth. I usually paint in the colors with the airbrush, too, before going into the main studio to airpen and brush paint. In my studio, on the big table, is where I run my airpen, carefully folding or turning the big panel of painting, to not smear the wet fabric paint just written on with the tiny syringe needle of the airpen, by accidentally dragging the airline through that wet paint. It has happened! So have big disasters, like having the whole paint cartridge blow out of the airpen once, plopping black fabric paint all over part of the written-on painting. I fixed that. I am determined! There is often our sweet old black lab girl dog, Hattie Clementine Spooler, lounging on my studio rug, in her spot, and sometimes our girl cats, too: Marigold and Evil Tulip. My studio would be so much easier to keep clean without these joyful ladies, but there they are. I have a big clothesline that runs diagonally through my studio, so I can put up work to stare at. You cannot put brush painted paintings with fabric paint up vertically to dry, as the paint will just soak down and drip off! But airbrushed paintings, which are more on-the-surface and therefore, more dry from the start, can be pinned up. So can towels from washing my hair in the laundry room around the corner, which by the way is where the water is at for all of our studio work, including Jimmy’s leather work and our airbrush work. I see a lot of gorgeous new studios out there, and that would be really cool to have. If we got to where we couldn’t go downstairs, I guess we’d just work up here in the living room, etc, and ditch the furniture! You always find a way! But for now, the basement is nice, because it’s cooler in the summer, and you can leave a mess longer, only that’s not good! KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out? SS: I’m assuming you mean an artist starting out as a professional in our field, doing this for a living. I’d advise them to talk to plenty of people doing art quilts as a career, so to do that, I’d tell them to sign up for the Quilt Art email listserv, at http://www.quiltart.com, and to get the lists as digests, so their inbox isn’t clogged with a bunch of individual emails. Then introduce themselves on the list, and maybe ask for a couple of pen pals to network with, mentors. That list has over 3,000 people on it, from all over the world, though mostly the US. Extremely sharing people. There’s so much to be said for not having to invent all these wheels all over again. So getting into some networking would be my first advice, and then try to start a support group in your own area, so you can meet regularly with four to six other quilt artists in your area. When I moved part time to the west side of Cleveland, to take care of Eva, I was so fortunate to have a little group develop there, thanks to Tina Rossi-Petrone, from the Quilt Art list. I’d been used to my all-media art group here in my town, and now I had these fiber artists to share work and ideas with in Cleveland, too. We are the West End Textile tArts, or the tArts. Just a tiny group, but what joy and power we have in supporting each others’ efforts. You can’t imagine how much easier and more interesting it is to make your art and get it out, when you have friends in the same boat to interact with. Locally to globally, network! Experiment a while, take some classes if you like classes, make yourself find serious time to work regularly, and have some deadlines to get things done. Have a show deadline or two, but don’t try to enter too many shows at first, because you can get overwhelmed by the paperwork, and get depressed from getting rejected, if your work isn’t ready. If the little support group can find a local place for a group show, that’s really super, because then your group has a common cause, and you have a deadline, too. Oh, and photography! Learn to photograph your work in a serious way, or make sure you can afford to pay a serious photographer to document your work. Give yourself enough time before each show deadline, etc, to photograph the work well, so you never have to send out work that needs to be reshot. And keep good records, right from the start. Keep track of all your commitments, where your work is going, when it’s coming back. It’s a lot! Get enough sleep. Don’t eat in your studio, and marry a rich art patron. Did I say that? KM: You sure did and it gave me a good laugh. SS: Oh, I said that about marrying a rich patron, because people need to realize that this is not a profession you go into, expecting to be able to support yourself in the normal American lifestyle! Tomorrow I’ll happily talk about Jimmy and my relationship. He was a welder when we met, soon to be a full time artist. Since we’re both artists, and neither of us has a sugar spouse, we remind ourselves of our glorious flexitime and other bennies of being independent, since big moola has so far eluded us! KM: And did you marry a rich art patron? Actually, I’d like you to talk about your relationship with your husband and your art. SS: My relationship with Jimmy and our art – his, mine, and ours – are very entwined. I think we’ve collaborated on everything we’ve done, and I can’t imagine it any other way. But it’s a big house, and we just drift in and out of each other’s spaces all day. We’ve never worked side by side at one work table all day. We both like and need our own space, but we fill in gaps for each other when we get stuck anywhere in our processes or have dilemmas to work through. When we met, he started saying how much he wished he could make leather stuff, over and over, and I kept telling him to just do it. So he did. He went to work, made himself some crude tools, used a pair of old boots for his first projects, and before long, had a little studio set up next to mine in our old commune. 1977. I got to helping him on leather orders, making custom leather clothes for a few years, then helping him learn to make garments, when I didn’t have time to sew them anymore, being back in college. In 1989 he started helping me with my quilts by adding leather forms to them, when I was getting teaching offers that let me travel, and I could see his longing. I suggested that his leather would be a great addition to my work, and he started teaching with me. He taught himself and later me, to airbrush, and he taught that in our classes. In 1996, when he started fly fishing, he started fading away from helping me with my art and teaching, because he was now doing custom leather orders for fly fishermen, and THAT was it. He’d found his real calling! Now when I teach, it’s just me going, but I’m not teaching much right now, because I want to really focus on my studio work. Jimmy and I still help each other on our work, but not enough to call it collaboration now. I design his three-letter monograms he hand carves onto the backs of most of his cases and help him with composition and painting. He helps me right back. When one of us is away from home, the other always notices how empty the house seems. We don’t like it. That crack I made about how the new quilt artist should marry a rich art patron, well, that was just to remind people that it’s hard to make money at this art making stuff. Jimmy doesn’t support me, but his orders are pulling us through my dry spot right now, and I’ve done it for him, too. I was thinking that marrying a guy who owns a diamond mine might work, too! KM: Have you ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time? SS: Yes, I’ve often used art for therapy, and the biggest example is when my mother died. She’d had Alzheimer’s for so long, couldn’t talk for the last few years of her life, and had almost died of pneumonia twice before she really did die in October, 2001. But I wasn’t ready for it. Are you ever? I had a little solo show coming up in a month and a half, and I’d planned to make some paintings on 18 x 24″ stretched canvases, one for each sign of the zodiac, with St Quilta the Comforter, my character, as the woman in each painting. I started the painting project four days after Mom died. And in painting Aries, it really hit me hard that Mom had been the model for St Q all along. Maybe I sorta knew that before, but now I was going over Mom’s kitchen tools in my head, trying to think of how to draw the Aries kitchen. After Aries, I put cat eye glasses on Mom, remembering a pair of glasses she had for a while, and I painted St Quilta’s face to look like Mom’s. When I came to each next sign in the zodiac, I would rummage around in my mind, going through Mom’s things again for imagery. And I would use instances in Mom’s life to illustrate the paintings. I got them all done in time to make a little Xerox book about her and the zodiac, and had that printed up at Staples, so I could have the books at my show at the Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Center in Cleveland. So I really worked like a wild woman, but that intense immersion in my mother’s life really allowed me to wallow in my love for her, my grief of losing her, and my need to honor her. That little book is partly a biography of Mom and partly a lesson in how each sign of the zodiac works. Later a card company Amber Lotus, found my zodiac paintings on the internet and ended up making greeting cards and a 2005 calendar of their images. You can see all the paintings and their stories on my site at http://www.turtlemoon.com/gallery/zodiac.htm. KM: Unfortunately we need to end our interview as I am leaving for Kyrgyzstan. I want to thank you for taking these few days to share with me. It’s been wonderful. We concluded our interview on October 5, 2006. Susan, thank you so much. SS: Good luck! Bon voyage. Love and…

QSOS with Darlene Christopherson

QSOS with Darlene Christopherson

Jo Francis Greenlaw (JG): This is Jo Francis Greenlaw interviewing Darlene Chistopherson at the Quilters’ Save Our Stories Project on Saturday, November 4th, 2000 at the annual Houston Quilt Festival. Well welcome to you today, Darlene. You have brought a quilt for us to see. Why don’t we put that out first, so we know what our touchstone object is? Darlene Christopherson (DC): All right. This is something I made while living in northern Virginia. This is the second appliqué quilt that I did. [10 seconds pause. looking at quilt.] JG: Well what can you tell me about this? DC: Well while my husband and I were living in northern Virginia, I realized right away that it was just the perfect place to take classes. I lived fifteen minutes down the road from Jinny Beyer. Ellie Sienkiewicz was up the road. Susan McKelvey–and those are just the names that we recognized. The teachers in that area–their names might not be recognized but their teaching skills and their quilt making capabilities were so good. I knew I’d really gotten lucky there so my friends and I took marathon classes–for like two years we were professional class-takers. And this one was really a combination of taking Amish and Baltimore Album and a medallion class. A friend of mine, Lenore Parham, taught me that I could draw my own patterns and until I called it a pattern, it was nothing but a piece of paper that you could throw away. And that I pencil had an eraser on the other end and it was no big pressure on try to create your own pattern and how easy it really is. This is just a few shapes repeated. I can draw better to the left side than I can to the right, so I did mirror-imaging so that I could draw one side and fold it in half. Friends were sharing shapes with me so it just sort of developed out of a lot of years–I mean two years–of really taking several, several classes in the northern Virginia area. I was afraid we were going to get transferred and so I didn’t want to miss a class. You know you never put it off if you think you’re not going to be there for very long. JG: This is all hand quilted? DC: Yes. JG: Absolutely beautiful. Do you ever do machine quilting? DC: No. And I probably never will. Not because I don’t like it, but because I’m not very good at it. I’m real comfortable with my hand quilting. I will machine piece. I plan on doing a lot of tops but I don’t plan on machine quilting them because I know I’d mess them up. And I don’t want to stop and retool and relearn something. I’d rather look at someone else’s machine quilting and see what kind of work they do and have some tops done by other people. But until now, in twenty years–in more than twenty years–I haven’t until just this year had someone else machine quilt. I hand quilt everything. JG: How long did it take you to make this quilt because it’s a fairly large size? Do you know the size? DC: It’s about eighty inches square but I think we have to measure it. I know it took a while on the appliqué, but not because I was stitching so much. You can see that it has a lot of white space that I deliberately left for the quilting. The reason it took a while on the appliqué is I would do one part of it and then think about the next part, and then think about the next part, because it’s a medallion. I would think about what should happen in the next border out–and then the next border out. And as soon as I’d made up my mind, it would just be days, to finish the work so it took a period of a year to do, but not because it was the stitching time. I know exactly how long it took to quilt. Because when we moved from northern Virginia to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I knew that I’d be packed up. You know, your whole sewing room is packed up in boxes. I mean, you’re going to be in temporary housing and then unpacking, and so on. So I had this basted. I put it in a basket with my quilting tools, and that’s all I allowed myself. Because I knew I also had a deadline on it. I wanted to have it finished by a year from then. When I left northern Virginia, I worked with Jinny Beyer on the Hilton Head Seminar staff. Actually, I got off the plane from doing that, and walked in the door, and the next morning the movers were there. [laughs.] And packed up everything and went off the South Dakota in the middle of February. So this helped me through all of that. I mean, that was not a happy day for me, because I did not want to leave northern Virginia and my quilting friends even though I was moving back to family. So anyway, I had this in the basket, and it took me eleven and a half months to quilt it. I didn’t allow myself to start anything new, and that’s a rare thing. [laughs.] So that’s the only reason I know how long this one took. JG: Do you often only work on one piece? DC: Never. [laughs.] JG: You have more than one going, in general. Have you exhibited this quilt? DC: Yes, I have. I showed it at the Bellgrove Show. It was called “Century of Quiltmaking”–was the official name of the show. Bellgrove was the name of the–I guess it’s a museum–it’s a plantation–that is on the historical registry. They used to put on a symposium every year. It was in that show. It took–it was in large appliqué, I believe–and it took Best of Show, Viewer’s Choice, and best in my group at Large Appliqué and one other–there was four ribbons on it that year. DC: Well what about your quilts–do you live with them? Do you sleep with them? JG: Yes, yes. The thing is I feel a little guilty about it. I keep them all. I don’t give them, very many of them. I can name on one hand how many I’ve given away because I’m an instructor. If I’m going to spend two years on something and then have something to show for what I do, I have to keep it. And I don’t have a book yet. And even if I did, I would still want to show people my quilt and not just a picture of it so I keep them. They’re all over the house. They’re on the backs of wooden benches and across the backs of chairs and on hanging wall racks with little things on the shelf above, and in bathrooms and bedrooms, [laughs.] and over the ends of beds. I went out and got comforters – not comforters, coverlets, that were fairly neutral so that I could put any color quilt anyway I want, draped off the end or catty-wonkus on a bed, and just throw them on there. And pile them in baskets. JG: Are they all sizes? DC: All sizes; small wall quilts, large wall quilts, bed size. I have a couple that are queen-size– to the floor. And a couple that are queen-size not to the floor, and that was in my Virginia days. [laughs.] I promised myself I wouldn’t start another quilt that size until I finished quilting several of those. I have a couple that are very large that I want to quilt by hand. I won’t have someone else finish them so that I’m not starting anything large; trying not to start anything large. JG: What is the fabric content that you’re using here on this quilt? DC: The fabrics are all cotton. The batting in this quilt is a low-loft polyester, much to my dismay. If Hobb’s one hundred percent wool had been out in the middle of the 1980’s that would be in here but this has a very low-loft polyester. The reason I chose it was because I wanted to get the finest hand quilting I could and I was trying to save mileage on my hand and not use cotton. All my friends were saying, ‘Oh you must use the cotton,’ but it’s hard to put a needle through. I just chose the poly. It’s not a terrible, terrible disaster. I just wish the wool had been around then because that’s what I use now. JG: Do you concentrate on natural fibers? DC: Yes. See, back then I was kind of, you know–also, what was available then? There was one hundred percent cotton which was hard to work with by hand or poly and that was it. And I knew what I was doing when I did it but now I will not use it any longer. I’ll use one hundred percent wool or cotton. JG: What is your influence in quilting? DC: I teach hand appliqué primarily. I like to teach beginners and give them confidence. I like to teach hand quilting. I would love to teach hand piecing but there’s what, two of us? [laughs.] So I don’t do very much of it but I still hand piece. The combination of patchwork and appliqué is what I really, really have enjoyed over the last several years. In the last two years I’ve been–since living in Texas, I have been driving up and down the middle of Texas, teaching a series–a long series of classes on the combination of patchwork and appliqué using patterns that I came up with to do a block quilt with a border and sashing because that way I–in eight classes I could share with them all of the things that I’ve learned along the way. It’s traditional. It’s hand. I teach them a lot about design, fabric choices in every class, and good technical skills in every class. At the end they actually have a quilt. But another reason for doing it that way is because we can come back together and come back together and they can ask me questions and each other, and I get to know them a little bit better. It keeps–that’s the way it was given to me when I received it in Virginia. So I finally developed something so that I can give back the way I received. It’s really cheating because I get back so much. I get to have a group that gathers and regathers and I can see their work grow and become something like this. And they say, ‘Oh thank you, I really love it,’ and they’re off to lunch, whoosh. You know. But in that series I get to see them grow and become more confident. I get to see their questions and help them make turns while they still can so I have really enjoyed that in the last couple of years. JG: You sound like a wonderful teacher. Where were you taught, how did you learn? DC: My first class was in little old Leesburg, Virginia, from a lady that was a real stickler for hand work, historical quilts and authentic everything. She became a good friend of mine and still is a good friend of mine. She taught on a sampler in a series. I learned how to be a better teacher from her and how to make it a more pleasurable experience and how to reward people and encourage people. She was my first instructor. Then I moved on to the quilt shop in northern Virginia–was growing while me and my peers were growing, moving into a bigger facility, and attracting more and more teachers. The teachers who were there were the teachers on the staff of Jinny Beyers’ Hilton Head seminar. So I could, as a young mother, just on a weekday, go over to the quilt shop and take a class from any of them. So I would go down the list and take classes from one after another, even if it was doll making which I had no interest in. I just wanted to see how she taught. I knew that I would learn something from every class no matter what it was. We did that as our form of entertainment. JG: Did you have quilters in your family? DC: Yes, my mother’s mother made quilts and they were primarily the thirties’ look. The pastel yellow embroidered blocks and hand quilted one-inch grid. I have one that I was given for a wedding gift and not everyone got one. I think–every time I’m asked that I remember that when–my first year of marriage my husband was in Vietnam. After work I would have to go by my grandmother’s house because she needed some help. She would say, ‘Come in. Come in,’ and I was always in such a hurry to get home and read my letters. I would just blow her off half the time. My younger sister came out one time and said, ‘She wants you to come in and see her quilt. Come in.’ I said, ‘No, I’ve got to get home and read my letters.’ And I didn’t go in and I never saw the quilts–and never saw the quilts. I got the one as my wedding gift, I had it at home but that guilt just [laughs.]–the guilt of just not going in there and spending a few minutes with her and looking at her quilts. Especially now–in my early years of quilting I just thought about that all the time. JG: What happened to all those quilts? DC: They got dispersed. I suppose aunts and uncles have them and their kids, you know. I’m the only one in my family that has one. JG: How do you live with quilting? How does it affect your family? DC: Well my family is part of the reason why I technically started and kept doing my quilts the way I did. Because as soon as you just become absolutely overwhelmed by the desire to stitch every minute you also have to remember that you have a family. [laughs.] And so-hand everything is portable except when it’s a big quilt that you have to haul around. So that’s why you have to start a new project. So if you’re thinking about how it’ll work with your daily life–my child–we have one child, one girl. She was about a year and a half when I first started. As she was growing up, I would design my work hours around going to her dentist appointments and her play dates and sitting outside the school waiting for her. It was always so easy to take handwork to everything. As she grew, I actually sat on a bleacher and tried to trace appliqué patterns in the wind while she was at a softball practice. [laughs.] That’s why I never–you don’t leave the family room to go the sewing machine. When he comes home at five, she’s home doing her homework I stayed in the room and stitched. I built in my little workstation–it was a chair and an ottoman. She could sit right beside it and do things and he was across the room but that’s why I started by hand and stayed by hand. Even now, she’s twenty-four, gone, and my husband and I are free as a bird; I still do primarily most everything by hand because it’s what I’m comfortable with. JG: Do you ever use a frame? DC: A floor-sized frame? JG: Any kind. DC: Not the floor model. I use a wooden hoop on my lap. I heavily baste so that it can be moved around. I use either a plastic square or a wooden hoop I’ve used since the beginning the quilting because I learned that way. I stitch one way and have to turn my work. If I had learned on a floor model, I could’ve learned to stitch forward and backward and left and right but I’m stuck. JG: Do you consider yourself a traditional quilter? DC: Yes. JG: Very much so. DC: Yes. JG: Well, with that in mind and all the technology that’s coming out now with computerized embroidery machines do you see a different kind of quilter developing? DC: Oh, yes. You know, my group of friends in northern Virginia had quite an attitude when this started to happen. I’d say, and I really believe this then and now, if it weren’t for this happening to the quilt market–what I used to say to my friends and to my students is, ‘What if we were all doing red, white and blue schoolhouses?’ Quilting would’ve died a long time ago. Now the growth of quilting is because of new technology, computer designing. That doesn’t mean I–just because I can’t do it all, don’t want to do it all, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be welcomed in. I welcome it with open arms because it means more quilt shops, more online shopping, more tools, more fabric for the rest of us. And more quilts to see at the show so the more the merrier. JG: How do feel about the influence of men in quilting? DC: I love it. I’ve known men in quilting since I’ve been quilting. There were–I think they need to come out. [laughs.] A lot of men keep–we don’t even know about all of them. In Sioux Falls, I was in a mall demonstrating and a man came sneaking up to the table and he kind of said, ‘You know I make quilts but I don’t tell anybody.’ This was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, not Houston or Washington. ‘But I don’t tell anyone.’ And I said, ‘You should tell everyone.’ ‘Well you know, I don’t tell my men friends that I make quilts.’ But while I was there I met several men who made quilts. Now some of them might have been denim but still. I think it’s great. They have a different view on design than, well some, I can’t say they all, but very often they have a different view on design than I do anyway. JG: A special vision. DC: More graphic. JG: What about wearable art? DC: I love to be a viewer of it. My first stitching of clothing was in junior high. My instructor taught me on a wool suit with lining. And covered loops and covered buttons and–it was great–it was tailoring in junior high. Some people learned earlier but for some reason I’m good at this but I’m not good at that. I think it’s because it’s done on the machine. [laughs.] Well I had a machine that really didn’t work well for a lot of years. That’s the only reason why I really rejected it. Now I have a better machine and that’s why I’m anxious to start using it again. That was why–I know that’s why, because I had a bad machine. Maybe I would’ve done more wearable art if I could’ve finished things nicer with my machine. But now, there’s just so much time in the day. I love it. I wish I had the time to do it but I–I like admiring what other people can do. JG: Are you a member of quilting guilds or of sewing bees? DC: Yes. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve joined the local guild. I belong to NQA [National Quilting Association, Inc.] and AQS. [American Quilters Society.] I’m going to join IQA. [International Quilt Association.] I thought I was a member but, you know, they don’t send a renewal. And Appliqué Society Online and there’s a National Appliqué Society now. I’m a member of that. I was a member of Baltimore Appliqué Society but it’s just so far removed that there’s just really no real membership feeling. It’s just a newsletter so I stopped being a member of that. JG: As a woman, as all four of us in this room are women, what do you think quilting has done for us, as women, historically and presently? DC: Well, historically it gave us a voice, and presently it gives us a voice. For myself personally, I can tell you that when I was twenty-five years old and working, a working woman, I couldn’t have sat across the table from you and talked without being so nervous. Quilting gave me a confidence that–I knew it when it happened. I just felt it come in and it was there. I brought home an eight-pointed star and said, ‘Look what I did,’ and from that day on I knew I was good at something. It just gave me this confidence. And now I speak publicly to hundreds of people, and teach. I travel. I didn’t drive alone at night before. [laughs.] I don’t know how to describe–this is what turned that corner for me. Having that confidence gave me the next one and the next one and the next one. My daughter watched me grow up. I watched my daughter grow up, my daughter watched me grow up. [laughs.] But she didn’t choose quilting, she chose – she was born extremely shy. I could see it the day she was born. I could see it the week, the month after. She was extremely shy. [clears throat.] She chose ice hockey. She didn’t choose something creative, because I was already in that arena. She chose women’s ice hockey, as her way of–she cured herself of being shy. She went out and did it deliberately by being a goalie. [laughs.] Ice hockey. And she still is–like I am that’s her occupation. This is my occupation. I just think–I know that’s what she did because I know, this is how this happened to me. And she watched it happen. JG: Are you an artist? DC: Well I don’t like to say that–yes I am. I can draw my own designs. I can draft my own patterns. And I can come up with–everything that I make I design myself but it comes from somewhere else; from another quilter or looking at an image of something. Big word, ‘artist’ is. JG: Are you trained as an artist? DC: No. JG: No educational– DC: No. The art lessons that I have had have been through studying quilts first and then going out and finding books on design and art. All the words, all the words that I was hearing the first few years while I was trying to study quilts are in the pages of the design books. I mean, there they are in “Fundamentals of Design,” there they are. You would think–if you didn’t look at the cover, you would think it was an art book. I mean a quilt book but it’s an art book so I kind of learned it backwards. First I learned it from quilts, like relief and balance and contrast and texture and tone and line and all of that. All of that came from quilts first then I went after hearing those words so often, taking notes and thinking, ‘Now that’s well-balanced,’ and so on– then I went and learned that those were terms that you learn in art class. JG: Did you have a career before, when you said you worked? DC: I did not go to college but I worked in offices. JG: Did that influence what you do today, your background and your working experience? DC: I don’t believe so, I really don’t. I stopped working when my daughter was born. I missed working a lot. I mean, my motor was running a mile a minute, and then I was home. So I went out and found a creative outlet, and then my motor started running again. So I suppose in that way, but what I was doing before was just jobs. It wasn’t a career, it was just a job. I had no–nothing to work toward, no future in it. Ford Motor Credit and jobs like that. [laughs.] JG: I hate those. DC: [laughs.] Yeah, well I often say if I had been born a little later, if computers the way they are now were available then I might never have taken my first quilting class because I love them. And I would really love to work in that field but not now. JG: Do you have–if you were judging–what makes you think a quilt is particularly great or worthy of best in show? DC: Gosh. I have judged but not a show of this size. You know I love traditional—so the years where–I think we’ve passed through those years where we separate a quilt from being best of show only if it’s hand done or if it’s traditional or colorful as opposed to monotone. I just think when you– when it grabs you visually first and then you get up then it draws you in to study it and when it does draw you in and you see how technically and wonderfully it was done. First it has to pass those three and then you get down into really–how much of this is visual and how much of this is technical. That’s a hard one because sometimes it’s all about visual, and you get up close and oh, it wasn’t that great technically. [laughs.] I guess it would just really have to draw my attention first visually, whether it’s modern or traditional. JG: Do you have anything hanging in museums? DC: No. Well not that I did by myself alone but that I’ve worked on with others. JG: What do you think makes a quilt particularly acceptable to a museum, in a collection? DC: That’s a good question. That depends on the museum. My mind goes right to Baltimore because for a few years there I was a little bit involved in helping with the Baltimore Appliqué Society. We made quilts for them. We made quilts for museums in the area to raise funds. One museum would consider this a craft, and the next one down the street would consider it an honor that we were helping them and gladly receive what we were doing. Museum quality quilts, it depends on the museum. If it’s an art museum, then anything goes, really–anything that’s acceptable visually but if it’s the Baltimore Museum of Art then it should be something suitable to that area and probably more to the Baltimore type of quilt. JG: When you go to a quilt show or a collection, what do you look for first? Which area are you looking– which exhibit do you go to first? DC: Oh, which do I go to first? I look for appliqué. Large quilts. Thing with–I don’t go to the modern section first but I do go there. Where I didn’t used to–[laughs.]–I do go there now and I love to look at them. My first–I would go to–I like to see appliqué and I like to see the combination of the two. Traditional–well done traditional. Traditional covers a large area. There is traditional and then there’s traditional. [laughs.] JG: Well what should we do with all these beautiful quilts that we are turning out by the hundreds of thousands now? Should they be used, used up, hung? DC: Well some of them are made to be hung. Some of them are made to be savored and saved. Some of them are made for use. I think–I really don’t know this for sure but I think probably a large percentage of what’s being done right now is being made for using. It’s young mothers who are giving them to their kids, to their family members. They’re for on the bed. They’re for washing. Those are great so they should use them. Everything can’t be saved from the sunlight. This would die. This industry would die if that’s all we did was put it under UV-protective glass. I just don’t think there’s one answer to that. I think the best kept ones need to be handled well and kept. My daughter knows which ones are those and which ones are not. JG: Do you label your quilts? DC: Yes. JG: Let’s see what your label looks like. Is it in a corner? DC: This one was hand made by a friend while I still lived in Virginia. She did this with a Pigma pen. And I did that on my computer just for–I mean it’s tacked on just because nowadays they’re saying this isn’t good enough–you have to have an address and phone number on there. Now some of mine have been around far too long and they’re not labeled yet so I have been designing them on my computer and they look just like this but they don’t print out as crisply as this. They’re a little bit faded–but at least they’re labeled. JG: Very important. DC: Yeah, so I make one that’s like this and one that’s just attached that has my address on there. JG: Do you see quilting or quilts reflecting a certain region? DC: Let me tell you something about labels. A long, long, long time ago, when we started putting fabric on photos I said, ‘Everyone should put a photo of themselves holding their quilt the year they finish it,’ and I haven’t done it once yet. And I was prettier then. [laughs.] JG: [laughs.] You’re pretty now. Are you Scandinavian? DC: Yes. JG: Do you have the Scandinavian textile influence in your thinking? DC: I think so. Yeah. I know on my father’s side I believe there was a great-grandmother or a sister of a grandmother that did crazy quilt block pillows or something like that, that she brought from Norway to the United States when she came but that’s it. There was no one in my immediate family the entire time except my grandmother that was doing any stitching. I believe that my Scandinavian attitude towards not parting with the buck and buying an old quilt is what got me into this. [laughs.] JG: So your grandmother would have been doing Scandinavian-style quilting. DC: No, no. No, she was doing the thirties’ type of, gosh, little girls on embroidery. I sought out Scandinavian designs and really looked through the books for them but– JG: Do you have a first memory of a quilt? DC: You know, the first one is the one my grandmother gave me for my wedding, and that was the first one I ever saw. Just that embroidered one that was yellow but I have memories before that of looking–I started buying for my hope chest. I would buy towels and they had a center and then borders and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that make a beautiful quilt.’ And I had never seen a quilt like it in my whole life. I bought them and put them away and saved them for when I was going to get married then I kept thinking about that towel and wouldn’t that be the most beautiful quilt. [laughs.] JG: Do you think you might make one now or yet? DC: Yes, probably, yeah. JG: Please explain that type of towel. What is it? DC: It was two colors of blue, and it had a bouquet of flowers and then a border. You know, a medallion, like this. JG: Cotton? Linen? DC: A terry cloth towel. JG: Oh, terry cloth. DC: A bath towel. [laughs.] JG: Now that’s interesting, a terry cloth quilt. Are we not using enough different types of textiles to make quilts? DC: [laughing.] It was the design in it. All I know is that I can be watching–when I was young and till now if someone is talking my eye will be going to color. When I’m walking down the street I will see the design in a tree and someone else will see the car behind it. I see color and design. Would you like some of this? [offers a drink to JG, who has been coughing.] I have an Altoid. [laughs.] JG: No, I’m fine. [a few seconds pause.] JG: You said that you travel up and down the center of Texas giving quilt classes. Where all are you going? DC: Well, just for that class I go– JG: What is that class? DC: Well just that series of classes that’s local teaching that’s north of Dallas– I’m in Waco, so that’s an hour and a half north and an hour and a half to two hours south. That’s so that I can drive to this repeat class, this series of classes but I get on the plane and travel all over to teach. I go everywhere. JG: How do you get your teaching dates? DC: Oh passing out my cards when I go. I’m on the Internet, references, sending out letters to shows and guilds. This is what I want to do as a career and I figure I have about ten more years of stamina left to do this. I mean, this takes a lot to travel and teach. I stayed at home–my daughter is twenty-four–I stayed at home pretty much most of the time. I did part-time jobs and teaching quilting which doesn’t pay well. Now I really need the next ten years to be more productive than the last twenty have been. We sent her to college; I want that back in the bank. [laughs.] When I’m home, I do my own thing but when I’m working try to, really–I’m working on a book. I’m working on more patterns and things like that so that I can turn it into something that’ll help put money back in the bank. JG: So looking at it as a business, do you sell your quilts? DC: No. JG: What do you sell? DC: My knowledge. I want to teach. I printed up patterns and that’s not the way to go. Not for everybody. I have a lot of requests for patterns on some of my quilts that I don’t want to do patterns on. It turns into kind of an uncomfortable thing to do because you start designing for what you think they want instead of what you want to do. You start designing for having it fit on a piece of paper, printing, things like that. And that’s not fun. That’s not my idea of designing a quilt. I try to separate pattern thinking and enjoy a little quilting thinking. I’m still working on that, that’s why I haven’t been making a whole lot of money at this in a while. [laughs.] JG: Is your husband involved in your quilting? DC: No. JG: At all? DC: No. JG: His feeling about quilting and you is what? DC: He admires what I do. He really doesn’t come to quilt shows or know a quilt pattern from a book. He has respect for what I do and he sort of leaves me alone when he needs to, and comes around when he needs to, that sort of thing. He encourages me to come and go to events that I want to or need to go to. All of that. There’s no complaining; lots of respect but he’s not a fellow quilter or even–he’s a quiet person anyway so he’s not like some of these husbands who are your best cheerleaders. He’ll come home and say, ‘So-and-so said they know you,’ then I’ll go, ‘Well, guess what.” [laughs.] JG: So he’s not dragging your luggage through the lobby for you? DC: No. JG: Well we’re getting near the end of our interview and in case there is something we haven’t thought about, would you like to add anything to our discussion? DC: I can’t think of what it would be. I just –I’m glad that you’re doing what you’re doing and saving stories. That’s a neat idea. If it weren’t for this diversity that’s coming in–this show’s the number one example of what’s coming in the quilting world–if it weren’t for machine and hand, traditional, and embellished, and modern and all of this then it wouldn’t be there for me and so I’m just thrilled. I don’t teach just because I need to have–I could go and design on my computer and get probably a better job. I know I could but I love to share back. I love to give back, yeah. What I received was so great when I received it. The first time I was welcomed into a guild, the first time someone really shared information with me, or fabric. I was just so impressed by that that I want to do that for others but not just for what it gives them–it gives me a lot just to do it. I love doing it. I hope to keep it going, that’s why I–also why I like doing it. JG: Well you’ve been a wonderful interviewee and if you have one last thing you want to say for posterity. This will be transcribed and available online in the future for our children’s children. Do you have one statement about quilting that you think is for eternity? DC: Oh, gosh. [laughs.] No pressure, though. Just like what women have been doing forever is tell what you feel inside. Put it on with your fingers into something that you can see and that’s what we’ve been doing–stating our feelings and taking it out and putting it out there for everyone to see even if it’s just a beautiful tree or if it’s the Temperance ‘T’, or whatever it was, just keep on sewing it even if I don’t agree with you. [laughs.] JG: That is a very marvelous insight for the ending of our interview. We have been talking with Darlene Christopherson on Saturday, November the fourth, year 2000 in Houston, Texas at the Quilts International Festival and this has been Jo Francis Greenlaw. The scribe was Karen Plummer. [tape stops and is turned back on.] The closing time is…

QSOS with Ellen Kochansky

QSOS with Ellen Kochansky

Bernie Herman (BH): This is Bernie Herman for the Quilters’ S.O.S. – [Save Our Stories.] project at the American Craft Council, Baltimore Craft Show with Ellen Kochansky. The day is the twenty third of February 2003. And Ellen we always begin in the same point which is to tell us a bit about the object that you brought with you today. Ellen Kochansky (EK): My issue has been the things we throw away. Quilters are the savers, the conservers. And this string of beads is a very physical representation of the issue of loss and recovery. It is made from the shreds of my mother’s letters to my father during World War II. I want to honor the things of value that we might not recognize, what we have discarded and what we need to think twice about. To use my quilts in a much more symbolic way than I have for the good twenty years that I made quilts to sleep under. BH: Could you talk a bit about the process of the object and before we move on to talk about its broader connections to your work? EK: I’m often using three dimensions, packing things into bundles, and I’m often using paper in my quilts. I’ve embroidered them onto screens, and layered boxes. These strips of paper are made into beads, and it feels very meditative to do them, just to wrap them around a quill. And lately I’ve quilted them between layers of silk organza, too. That paper is a way of telling stories is intriguing to me. And now the way I’m expressing myself is through a single fabric – with contents. I came to quilts that are more about the content than the surface. So a material that you can see through allows me to express what’s in the stuffing. And I’m able to use the content visually and symbolically to create the message. It’s just such a pleasure to me to watch my work changing in a way that adds something to what I can say. BH: I’d like to come back to the content part of this, but before we go there could you talk a bit about that. You said about ‘started’ into the world of quilt making and if we could get a sense of how you got started. EK: Oh, that’s a long story. But basically I trained in art. I have been a textile fan all my life. I worked in fashion. I made doll clothes. I have done theatre. Probably the theatre part of it was the most growth producing. They didn’t tell us that we couldn’t do it, so we started a youth theatre group, and produced musicals every summer for about ten years or so. I loved fabric. It was my best medium. I knew how to do that. So I got good at clothing, but the fashion business did not appeal to me though I danced around with it for a while. My real voice started coming to me in the seventies when Jean Ray Laury wrote a book that gave us all permission to do things wrong. We didn’t have to make quilts in the old-fashioned way. We could really blow away the assumptions. And that lesson became my art form at a moment in my life when I really could engage in whatever art form I wanted. The lesson also contained the corollary.You can break whatever rules you want, but you have to make it work! For the last fifteen or twenty years, I’ve done a business called EKO which was–revolutionary concept–quilts for people to sleep under. These were limited edition pieces with very much my own stamp on them. Probably two or three hundred a year – we made as many as two thousand quilts through my studio. At the same time all these years I’ve done huge corporate commission projects, a kind of collage work – an example is in the White House collection. These had more to do with layers and painting, stretched like canvas – quilts for the walls. So there are a lot of kinds of imagery and metaphor that I’ve explored, color, no color, texture, less texture; with layers of things that always involve my own history. I still have fabrics I acquired thirty and forty years ago, and the work became more stacked, more three-dimensional when I realized I’d have to hurry if I were going to use all the fabric I had left. Each stage of my work somehow grew from the leftovers of the previous stages! The journey, Darwin-like, leads you to an unoccupied niche every time you put your foot in front of the previous foot. Recently I’ve felt the opportunity to say something more social, and my work has had more to do with honoring other people’s debris as well as my own. Recycling issues, sustainable design issues, what we are doing to the planet. And interestingly my bed quilts that I had always just made with a little tag that said, ‘Dry Clean Only,’ got into trouble when it turned out that OSHA changed the rules on dry cleaning. So, I had been making things out of all sorts of different fabrics and they had been doing fine in the previous dry cleaning fluids–which were toxic. Quilters are the world’s packrats, but also the world’s caretakers–it was irresponsible for me to make something whose future was not safe for its practitioners. I started guiding all my customers toward a dry cleaning process which was CO2 based and non-toxic, but I also chose to simplify my life by making only things that would not need to be washed or which were washable. BH: Did you make quilts before you read Jean Ray Laury and if so how did you get started? EK: My first job was as an editor at the “Vogue Sewing Book,” published in 1971 in New York. It’s still a text that people use. It’s a wonderful book, which contains my first visual quilts. Because I hung out with my nose pressed against the glass at the Vogue Fabric Library–Herman Phynes was this wonderful man who ran it. And we ran around New York together exploring the stores where the couture houses left their leftovers. We built a stockpile of swatches that I just loved. My college degree included a textile minor. So, one of my jobs was to write the fabric dictionary that went into the book and then make collages of the things that Herman and I had collected that became visual quilts. They were cut and paste version of simple block quilts that were used to introduce and illustrate the dictionary. There is every sort of fabric. I wrote about wool. I wrote the description from my microscope of how wool behaves, what does silk look like, how is each fiber different from other fibers, what makes it felt. So, this scientific and linguistic fascination with all of the magic that is textiles was distilled into my first quilts. BH: So the quilts are published in there. EK: Yes. I also did a very interesting color wheel. So the relation of color to value was part of my earliest professional memory. Those were quilts in a technical way. They were layered and assembled and glued together, because Photoshop didn’t exist at the time. We also physically made quilts of our editorial pages–pre-computer, we cut them apart with scissors and glued them together with scotch tape and gave them to Doreen, who gave us back our copy in typed form. The physical cutting and pasting and the contribution of that to the editorial process later on inspired one of my first community quilts -a lesson for the students in a high school. We took a class full of honors English students, and asked them to hand in both the first and final draft of an article on the act of writing. There were two sessions, I think 45 students. I had been inspired by Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Using a folded origami bird–the folds became the quilt lines. We processed their papers through a copy machine so that the coded number of each of the parts was on the back. And then we cut up the drafts and mixed up the pieces. The kids reassembled these in patch squares, and then put the squares together. The lesson was that the first draft is not sacred. You must break what you expected in order to achieve progress. BH: And does that work in your own work in terms of being a quiltmaker? EK: Absolutely. Quilters and artists and I think that I’m moving from the one to the other constantly, must always question assumptions. It’s our job to question assumptions. It’s a daily mantra for me to look at what I thought I knew especially if it didn’t work [waits for announcement to end.] and question my own assumptions about it. Did I start with a small wrong thought, is this color better over here, who says you have to do it that way–But then the squinting process is also the quilters’ specialty. When we back away from things we find that our best decisions are about value rather than color. So the relationship of values to each other is a very great lesson. I ended up doing a lot of pieces for religious groups, for churches, they would all give me their meaningful fabrics and I would make something of them. The sermon that comes out of that process turned out to be, ‘Look for the basic value–filter out the distraction in your basic choices. Look for what you get by squinting. Literally your eyes relieve you of color, and distinguish value only. That’s what makes a good quilt. It’s what makes a good decision.’ BH: Let me shift here. I have several questions but one that you began with was the idea of narrative and the relationship of words to objects, in particular words and quilts. The narrative capacity of those things if I understood this correctly. EK: Yes. BH: And I’d like you to sort of expand on that please. EK: The piece that I’ve just finished is a sculptural quilt. It is for a group called the Hub City Writer’s Project, to honor the people in the textile industry, and to coincide with the publication of their book “Textile Town.” My proudest moment was the editor’s awareness that this work could express things in a form that was not words. The mills have been declining, collapsing, moving off shore. They were for many years the economic engine for my part of the world, the southeast. They are bulldozing these fabulous buildings which were the home of enormous machines and life stories. And the people whose stories they were are vanishing. But these people were not always verbal. So they commissioned a quilt-like sculpture, twenty-four panels literally framed in the floorboards of the demolished mills. It was made of their contributions. I got blueprints from the mill houses. I got precious gifts like the check that was written for the mill house that someone’s father bought. Tools that were handmade in the 1800s that had been handed down to generations. Those tools were so symbolic because that’s what they honored, that’s what they used that was their effort. The reed hooks for the looms. We got scrip that was used instead of money for the mill stores. People’s toys. People’s baseball uniforms. The descriptions that came with these things we put in a book. So one of my quilt forms now is making the books that chronicle who gave us what. But they are more about pictures than words. Betsy Teter, who is honored by the state of South Carolina for her vision, has published some twenty books, and she commissioned this piece as an extension of the story telling process, because she thought that it tells some of the story better than words. BH: How has the response been? EK: Inspiring! I love these community pieces–watching the people find their stuff is the best part of it. We invited people to participate through the local newspapers, and then to come to the unveiling at the local museum. During a snowstorm we had the best turnout ever for an opening at the Spartanburg Arts Center–they don’t do snowstorms well in South Carolina. The magic of it always is watching people light up when they see what they contributed and how it is part of the big picture. BH: One of the themes in your quilt work and the one that certainly engaged my attention was that of transparency. Could you explore that a little bit? EK: We come to everything the hard way. It takes us so long to see the obvious. What I tell students is you just keep trucking until the stuff tells you what you need to know. And what it told me finally after hitting my head against the dry cleaning wall and all those issues was that I need a single fabric. I started out quilting with every fabric in the known world, and I’ve come to a single fabric- silk organza. Diane Itter a million years ago was a magical textile artist. She made knotted work with just one type of linen thread, on the theme that a single material helped you focus. So I listened, and chose to ignore her for twenty-five years. I have finally come around. It took me all those years of doing it another way, very deliberately. Now I am simplifying my life as an artist, and finding that the forms that tell the most use the least material. So this is my own exercise, my own kind of academic challenge to myself. What every good teacher does for his students – you do it to yourself and then come up with an answer that’s been in there all along. Like the sculpture in the stone. Silk organza. It’s a magical fabric, It has always spoken to me. It has some tooth. It has what they call [announcement over loudspeaker.]. In the fabric dictionary there is a word called ‘scroop.’ What it means is the sound cloth makes when it rubs against itself. Victorian petticoats. There is “scroop” and it has a kind of a life of its own. So, I started playing with it. If I know I’m changing I need to guide the change by my own intuition. I was using this material just because I loved it and what I discovered was that you can see right through it. So all the things I started making were about what you could see through the surface instead of what the surface is. And just playing with that single issue allowed this new collection of information to come through. But it turns out they go on windows instead of beds! I’d put weeds in between the layers of this silk. Washed stockings. Feathers. Slices of dryer lint. I’m very focused on the issue of recycling. Unloved materials embedded in two layers of this silk organza became so powerful, so much more compelling when quilted than they had been floating around. It kept me in the quilt vocabulary because I am making a sandwich, but the sandwich has the stuffing as the point, the object of the game. And this got to be so much fun I could hardly wait to get out of bed in the morning. Just what you hope to find in your art life. BH: Let me put a concrete example to this and I believe it’s “Ghost Quilt.” Could you talk a bit about that as how this brings together narrative, word, recycling, transparency, memory, all these themes that are there? EK: I hope the guy who owns this piece really knows what a “ghost” he has. He seemed to respond in a way that I love when people see what you’re saying and get it. It’s so cool. The piece is made of the batting of a quilt that was sent to me by a wonderful woman who has since become a very dear friend, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her, but she is great. She owns a quilt of mine she got many years ago. She found me again and she said, ‘My father died recently. There’s this quilt that he had in his history that all of us remember in our childhood that was said to have been made by slaves. I would like you to just look at it. I know you don’t like to repair other people’s quilts but this one’s really interesting. Tell me what we need to do with it.’ Normally I would have said to take it to a quilt conservator. It’s not in my field. But I liked this lady, and in this transition I’m trying to be open to the surprise moment when you get what you need, so I had her send it to me. It was a magical quilt. I could see the hand stitching in it. It was very ineptly repaired and it was quite old – a hundred years certainly. The batting was coming out, and it was obviously in bad shape. I honor what happens when quilts disintegrate–that’s more interesting to me than when they’re intact and brand new, because textiles age and so do we all. I was fascinated with the deterioration of this piece–some of that is what my recycling issues are about. The wear and tear, the wrinkles, the history is shown in textiles in such graceful ways. So the history of this quilt was already in the surface but the stitches–big funky hand stitches… might easily have been made for practical reasons. The backing was as interesting as the front. What we did in consultation with this woman was to take this whole quilt apart, sacrificing the hand stitches because it was going to fall apart anyway. We reconstructed the surface in a way that actually could be slept under. We rebuilt some of the parts and assembled the borders out of the backing to enlarge it to full size. But the most fascinating part of the quilt was the stuffing. It was raw cotton. It had adopted threads from all of these upholstery materials that were part of the original surface. It had migrated and welded itself together in a way that was very like felt. I was floored with it and she said, ‘Play with it. Do whatever you want.’ So I started playing with that in between the layers of organza. And in honor of the original quilt we photographed and printed on organza the surface of the quilt that it had come from, and created squares in that form. We hand stitched the squares onto the layers with the stuffing in them. In looking through this you are seeing both the history of quilt and a very contemporary version of the quilt as it has been rebuilt and then the homage to the quilt we had to sacrifice. So there are all the layers of this history and you can see through one layer to the next. BH: And it has one other quality that you comment on there, which is that of ‘scroop.’ It has the capacity for noise. And how does that add to that quilt? EK: Ah, actually, I hadn’t thought of that. Language is ‘scroop!’ The storytelling process in getting to what this object was meant to be. And it’s been informing me since. I think the scroop is not so much that the piece will abrade itself and make a sound, but the sound I’m making talking to the microphone. The sound that people create by observing and recognizing the layers of each other’s history. The transactions that took place between Audrey and me in resolving the process. It’s a kind of storytelling. And that’s the sound that quilts make in their growth. In their development. BH: I love this metaphor of ‘scroop’ is the sound of storytelling. I think that this is a really powerful image. EK: I thought that would get to you. [laughs.] BH: I want come back to the beads and the fact that you see these as connected to these issues of memories and transparency and narration and ask you to talk about these in the context of a quilt EK: The most recent screens I’ve done have been very emotional. These are emotional times. A war is hugely wasteful of human health, life, resources. These shreds of the letters my mother wrote to my father in World War II…she didn’t discuss it with me that she was doing away with them. Of course, she didn’t need to they were hers. Her handwriting has been compelling to me all my life. She’s a calligrapher and her writing was tiny and magical. There are stamps. Three-cent stamps from the war years. He got a letter every day, many of [loudspeaker interruption.] the letters were in photographic form. Their scale was reduced in order to send them overseas. My father was in France for a lot of the war, and he missed my brother’s childhood. My brother was born in 1944. My father left in 1941 and came back in 1946. So a lot of the letters were apparently about my brother’s childhood. She thought we wouldn’t need them. So she let go of her grief over my father’s death and did this emotional housekeeping, and I let go of the stories that I would miss. I re-learned that we don’t get to know all the stories. We get to imagine what they might have been. But, the best thing about a story is what’s between the lines. So I was given a basket full of shreds, with permission to make my own stories out of them. I find myself doing things that are in effect my own grief processing for my father. He was a publisher, who worked for Scholastic Magazines. He handed me printer’s ink in the blood. The grace of words on a page, the love of letter forms, how verbal communication is not everything but it’s some of the best stuff we’ve got. Words on a page have become a legacy for me. BH: Can you expand on this idea of the aesthetics of communication in relation to your work and in particular to quilts? EK: A quilt is a wonderful rectangle, amazingly similar to the shape of a page. I’ve made dozens of quilts with that theme in mind. I’ve reduced them to 8 x 10 [inches.] and they are exactly queen sized. And so in a way the design organization that was required of me in reproducing limited edition quilts for 20 years was the shape of a page. Yards of files show all the quilt designs to scale on graph paper, with coded swatches so we could make them again. And now in working on my father’s letters and his handwriting and the issue of text, I’m finding myself floored by handwriting. I’m making things for other people who are blindsided by a letter that was written by a lost relative and finding the handwriting to be [interruption of loudspeaker] the most intimate footprint. So that is both a personal and a collective issue. I’m enlarging text. I’m exploding individual letter forms. There is a graininess to an enlarged letter that has great character. Typefaces. I’m finding magical newspaper clippings that didn’t get shredded, that are about the typeface – Garamond, Goudy. There’s one that I’ve used ever since the beginning of my quilt business called Raleigh Light. It’s a magical typeface. The ‘Q’ which of course as a quilter I use a lot is the most glorious form. So just finding the thing that you delight in and making it your own personal message is something that we all do. And each of us has a thumbprint that has a different collection of things about it. BH: Would you and how would you draw connections between quiltmaking and the book arts? EK: Different ways of telling stories! I’m doing it in very physical ways just lately. Because in the collective work, the pieces I’m doing for groups, the book turns into the chronicle of the quilt, and the quilt is a kind of book. It may be a physical quilt with twenty-four panels, like pages, with huge potential to move around. The book itself as the footnote, becomes it’s own object. I’m literally making books – that’s how we describe who gave us what, and what they wanted to say about it. And I’m back to creating books that I want to be beautiful to hold. The pages relate to the quilt in ways that really are the story telling process. We ask the contributors to put a tag on what they are giving us in order for us to recognize them in the book. So, it’s interesting that instead of the object of the game the quilts become the footnote for the collective activity, a bit like Cristo, who describes the activity of engaging people and governments in the making of his works as more important to him than the works themselves. BH: You talked a bit about the qualities of visual paradox that arise in your quilts. For example, I’m thinking of the transparent quilt that was done as a folding screen, which is meant to conceal in it’s most literal sense, but once you render it transparent it becomes a paradox about what a dressing room or a dressing screen is all about. EK: Yes, that’s really interesting. The thing I love about the transparent pieces is that light comes through them. I care about being honest. So, concealing allows things to be hidden–transparency which is not always exposure but hinting gets to be a way of reaching out to people and luring them through the screen. If what I’m doing with this screen which is made of the fragments of words is hiding, I am missing my own best point. If what I am doing is allowing light to come through– [loudspeaker interruption.] BH: It’s a shame all these lost people– EK: I’m revealing the message behind–not exposing but encouraging exploration. Someone has to look more carefully to see something that is suggested. And in organza there’s a sort of mistiness. It’s not all really apparent, it’s not clear like plastic, it’s kind of drifty. Like scrim in theater, I’m using the screen to conceal and reveal at the same time. And with light coming through behind it which is the way this works–it’s also great as curtains–you get a kind of change from day to night which is very organic and honest. And you get the possibility of looking at something from both sides. There is also–for all of us of increasing age–a mistiness to memory which is very expressive. BH: You use the word hinting which is a very powerful word in the idea that the material that is not truly transparent but almost translucent in a sense. It doesn’t reveal but hints. I wonder if you could talk more about hinting? EK: I think we can only really express, ‘through a glass darkly,’ to another person from our own frame of reference. We can’t be clear except to the extent that they are willing to accept our message, whether we are talking personally or internationally. We can only be clear if there is receiving and expressing going on. And both of those are always intermittent and flawed. Assuming that, we can only guide the person or country or character that we’re hoping to communicate to–we can’t understand or express from someone else’s point of view. And so the process of communicating is always that of ‘here’s what I have to say, I am filtering for those who may hear it carefully and I am understanding that they will hear it with their own background and language and willingness to open up to my voice.’ BH: Given the fact that quiltmaking in the U.S. alone is so enormous in scale in terms of numbers of people that are involved in some aspect of this and so diverse. Where would you situate your own work within this broad and very diverse world of quiltmaking? EK: Certainly the philosophical end. I love that recently it’s about our culture. It’s not about what I want to say, it’s about what can I do to bring a group together to say what they want to say. I believe that community and collective process is an important change. It is not a new concept–friendship quilts have been made in honor of the bride, the transformation or transition, for centuries. I feel like that’s the piece that I’m linking to and hoping to expand the field in a way that is both two and three dimensional and in a way that is very contemporary and formed by my own art, history and background. I hope to guide groups to get together, to understand each other better than they might otherwise have done. And, to feel that they are part of a continuing process. I am a catalyst, a conduit for these groups, who I hope to find in increasing numbers that is a commitment I have just recently made. I want to help people to recognize themselves in each other. BH: I have one other question. It actually fuses two things that you’ve brought up. One of the ideas of the quilt work–narratives on one hand, but ’emotional housekeeping’ on the other. And I was interested in your thoughts on how closely aligned is this idea of emotional housekeeping. EK: Emotional housekeeping is dealing with the grief of something worn, letting go. It’s the pants with the hole in the knee. I love it. I call it cultural compost. I’ve written some articles about what we’re doing with the quilt– that is, a historical image of the quilt– taking worn fabric and old clothes or something that’s had a life and revitalizing it into another life. There is no new atom. It’s all been here. We are recycling and reassembling existing parts all the time, all our lives. We give birth. We turn into compost. We don’t assume our lives are anything but a continuum. If we do we’re wrong. Part of that in our quilt process is to take apart and to reassemble and to reconfigure. That in a way is a grief/ hope process. It’s a grieving for the thing that was and a faith and hope in the thing that we’re making out of it. That’s why we have children. That’s why we make baby clothes for the grandchildren. It’s part of how we keep the faith. So our letting go of things is a vital and essential part of that process. And I think quilters do it better than most because we’re archivists and we make things out of meaningful stuff. That’s grandma’s housedress. That’s George’s blue jeans. That’s the message. My friend Brooks told me the best thing about textiles is that they are pre-verbal. It was a psychologist speaking. He says we are aware of textiles before we are aware of language. Our association with textiles is clear before we’ve cluttered our brains with the consciousness of words. So we develop an understanding with the first textile that we remember, and it will never leave us. It is lower brain stem stuff. When our consciousness evolves we still have that resource–the power of the closeness to the cloth, and because of that our relationship to textiles is one of the most powerful connections that we make throughout our lives. It allows quilters to speak to the planet in a voice that is very deeply resonant. [loudspeaker interruption.] BH: We were looking at other works that you brought with you. I wondered if you could speak a bit about the degree to which Orientalism or exoticism informs your work. EK: I’d love to. I just got back from a trip to Japan with my son. He was on his way back from Australia, studying art. It was the trip of a lifetime both for my mother-ness and my artist-ness. I felt at home. I studied Japanese art in college, and always felt a very strong tie. Several aspects of my work bear directly on that aesthetic. The serenity and minimalism of Japanese art is profoundly influential. Two dimensionally I’m all about big rest spaces, and compositions that are off-center, and grayed, austere colors. What I’ve found myself doing in three dimensions is wrapping. The tying together, the assembling of threads in a way that is compression. It is a tidiness. It’s a rhythm. The little knot becomes a message. There is a relationship to the knots in quilting, the ties that hold the layers together. So the three dimensionality of it, a reflection of a very strong Japanese fascination with wrapping, has become kind of my own expression. Another theme has been the idea that you should not see it all at once. No good art work is worth looking at if you see it at once – you must be drawn into it and each time you see it something else new should reveal itself. And so the fascination with layers and subtlety. BH: Having discussed scroop and transparency, I wonder to what degree you see your work as having an erotic quality. This is an unusual question for the site, but your transparent quilts invite it. EK: Interesting. I haven’t thought about this lately, though you’ve picked up on a few suggestive aspects–stockings and all the see-thru stuff. Back in the 70s many of my first quilts were huge graphic nudes. One was for a patron who worked with sexuality as a therapist. She got a silhouette of a pregnant woman with the earth in her belly! Andy and Ginny Lewis have a series of reclining women as mountains. Others have garter-belts and elbow-length opera gloves in them. I hope I’m less blatant, if that’s what I’m still working on. There’s a very intimate thing about quilts in general…all those years I made bed-quilts, I worked with couples making that design decision, and found out lots more about their relationships than I sometimes wanted to know! You can argue that all art is about sex, one way or another, and textiles, especially ones that have been worn or used, are tremendously personal. But I’d like to think my issues are more humanitarian and ecological recently. BH: Finally, looking at these works and the piece that you did for the Gateway Center for Bank of America, is that I’m struck with the question as to what extent would you characterize these works as quilts or as quilt-like? EK: They’re repetitive, and modular, and usually involve textiles somehow, and made of layers like a sandwich–What is the rule they use in Quilt National? I’ve been using the quilt image all my life, trying as we all do both to embrace and escape it. I haven’t spent much time on the quilt scene, because in my first few experiences with it, it was full of people who had lots more rules than I was comfortable with. And also because I’ve managed to feed my family through the craft movement. And there aren’t really a bunch of us out here in the American craft field. So, I could sell my stuff and make my living as a unique voice in this corner of the field. But at the same time I’m avoiding being a quilter. I am loving being a quilter because the form is so close to the concerns I have for things of conservation; things of warmth; the things of comfort; the sense of a woman’s work being respected. [loudspeaker announcement.] I am woman artist and I think the voice that we must listen to is what we’re best at. We know how to do this. We multi-task. It’s something that we can put a new twist on. I don’t have to defy my history in order to enhance it. So, I’m a quilter, and want to be more in touch with other quilters. I’m so grateful for this chance. BH: Well, I really feel we’ve covered a lot of ground here, but, is there an area we didn’t get into or a question that should have been asked that didn’t get asked, or someplace you would like to go in this conversation? EK: You’ve done a lot. I hope my wandering mind has given you enough insight. As an editor I think, ‘Oh, I just tossed out the first stuff. It needs to be about a third of this and we’ll have a real good story.’ [laughs.] BH: Well, you’ll have a chance to review the interview. Right now I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time here to do an interview for the Quilters’ S.O.S.- [Save Our Stories.]. EK: My pleasure, it’s a wonderful exercise and a very wonderful purpose, so I’m really excited to be part of it. BH: Well, thank you very much, it’s been great. [tape…

QSOS with Jean Ray Laury

QSOS with Jean Ray Laury

Bernard Herman (BH): We’re with Jean Ray Laury we’re at the Quilters’ Save Our Stories Project. We’re in Houston, Texas and today is November the third 2000 and it’s about 12:30 in the afternoon. Jean Ray Laury (JRL): Okay, I haven’t remembered what I should start with, what I should do. BH: All right, well I have lots of questions after yesterday’s discussion which I thought was just wonderful. And I wanted to start with your writing, is there one of your works that you particularly like above the others? JRL: Yes, probably “The Creative Woman’s Getting it All Together” book because of the way it seems to have given a lot of women the permission to do things and encourage them to value their own time and their own needs. I guess, basically because of the feedback that came from it. BH: What kind of feedback did you get? JRL: Oh, people say it changed their lives and I know that’s an exaggeration but nevertheless they feel that way and obviously they were looking for something and that came along at the right time. BH: Is there anybody in there, who responded that way, whose work has gone on to be well known in the world of quilts? JRL: Well actually, yes, there were many well known quiltmakers in there but when I started I was trying to identify women who already valued their time enough so I knew them as crafts women and quilters and so in a sense many of them had already made that choice. So yes, most of them just stayed in it. BH: Well, I’ve read the book and really liked it. JRL: I have to tell you one man wrote me and said that it was time for me to write “The Son of the Creative Woman,” that would get it all together; that he had found it helpful. I was surprised too. A quiltmaker, who’s an MD, told me one time how it was helpful to him and I said, ‘Really, I had thought men found it easier to set these priorities or to consider their own work valid and important.’ And he said, ‘Oh no, I come home on the weekend and I feel like I have to mow the lawn and clean the garage. And I read that and went home and worked on my quilts starting Saturday morning.’ So that was a surprise. BH: One thing that we do here is ask folks to bring a quilt which you didn’t bring but that’s fine because you brought photographs which are just as good. We talked about some of those yesterday but the one you didn’t talk about, and I hope you don’t mind if I bring this out, is “Nineteen.” JRL: Not at all. That was the quilt for the Oklahoma bombing Memorial show and I was one of the nineteen quilters invited to make a quilt that then traveled commemorating the date of that event. It was interesting working on it. I wanted to do something that picked up those little things that were going to be left at home when the parents, when things went back to normal. You know, there would still be kid’s pajamas around, roller skates– and so those were the objects that I picked out. Those kinds of things that were going to be emotionally wrenching for adults in remembering the kids and I wanted it to be high spirited and I wanted it to capture the spirit of kids. When I started the first one, I got halfway done and it was way too dark, way too heavy so I went back and started changing the blocks, getting them brighter. And this was the third aspect, when it finally got bright enough that I thought it had some of the spirit of childhood in it. BH: It’s still somber I think. JRL: When I look at it here, I think–well yeah, but it was so heavy when I started. BH: Did the patterns for the blocks remain the same in design or did they evolve? JRL: No, they’ve pretty much remained. You know, I wanted to use the pajamas, the bottle and then–I kept picturing those adults finding stuff, you know, in the home. And so I was going to use those and then I did quilt the names of all nineteen children into the border. It hardly shows, but they’re all there. They’re spelled out in long hand. BH: This raises a question in format this seems similar to your use of panels, in other narrative quilts. I’d like you to talk a little about that on a couple of levels. First of all, how has the use of the quilt as a medium for that kind of messages that often bear words? How has that been received? JRL: Oh, well my work is never particularly well received. I think many people see humor as something trivial. You know for me that’s where the real stuff lies. Somebody starts teasing you, that’s when you want to listen. When somebody comes to you with something really serious to talk about you can solve other things while they’re talking. So I see humor as a really essential part of living. But–you know, even with the Sunbonnet Sue books which I think of as really getting to the heart of the controversy of the “traditional” and the “contemporary,” I think most women probably bought the books for their children. And I think illustrations and humor things, often for many people, tend to trivialize the work so I think it is often not taken seriously and that’s okay. Some people ‘get it’ and it’s worth doing it for them. BH: You talk about, sort of a tension between “traditional” and “contemporary.” Would you talk a little bit about that? JRL: I think in my own work, I actually do incorporate it. This Oklahoma Quilt is pretty traditional in the way it’s set together. And maybe the only thing that is contemporary is the use of color pattern or the involving of printed things and words but I think in the quilt world in general there is a lot of suspicion between the two. The Art quilters, who have come to quiltmaking understand the process, and have a respect for it but I think many of the people who have come from a fiber background, and who are doing wonderful work, tend to dismiss much of the quilting world as being a kind of “paint-by-number” sort of thing. And some of it is. I think quiltmaking like anything else meets peoples’ needs at many different levels. And sometimes it’s a social need. They go to their groups or guilds because they want to see people and they want to have lunch together and visit and have coffee. And for others it’s a very serious pursuit. And I think it works the other way too. I think traditional quilters are very suspicious of the art world in general. Most of them– many of them never go to a gallery. I think they’re a little fearful of art and therefore, if somebody comes in from an art background and doesn’t have a quilt background, there’s an uneasiness or a suspicion that’s probably based on fear. BH: What do you think the origins of that fear are? JRL: Well, I think that art has in many ways become separated from a lot of real life. And yet, when some artists bring it back to real life it’s not very acceptable. You know that controversial stuff going on in England with people hauling unmade beds into galleries which I see as really an attempt to make art a part of everyday life again. Maybe it’s gone too far but that doesn’t seem to be working either. I don’t know why there is some much fear there but I think a lot of art criticism and a lot of art exhibits are very esoteric and they are not–I’m sure there are things within them that anybody could understand but many people also make no effort. They don’t go to a museum and listen to the curators talk. They go in and tend to be critical from the viewpoint of their own experience. Because everybody, has that same carload of stuff that we haul along with us and maybe quilt makers are even more so because the work they’re involved in is so traditional. BH: I’m very struck by the ways in which the Art world, with a capital “A,”“ seems to resist quilting as well and you’re suggesting that quilters also at some level resist the Art world. What do you see as the basis for trying to bring those two worlds together? JRL: Well I’d have to say that some of that suspicion is founded on both sides. There are good reasons why not all galleries will accept quilts because partly they may be unaware of what is going on in quilting and if they’ve grown up with quilting and they’ve seen quilts for years, it’s not seen as artistic in the sense of it being personally creative in the way that many other areas like sculpture and painting are. I think part of it is identification with women. I think it’s seen as women’s work and I think that’s really entrenched. I know when I used to do a lot of magazine design work if they wanted a quilt and they wanted something done in wood that went together I always said yes to the wood immediately and then thought about the quilt. Because I knew that the wood would pay three times as much as the quilt and that was because the woodworking was regarded as a male area. And I think that attitude has permeated many things and it’s not necessarily that men feel this way and have foisted it off on women. Many women feel that way or have accepted that attitude towards them. Just in terms of how they value their work. I think another part of it is that men are brought up or raised in such a way that they’re thinking of careers or most of them are thinking of a life’s work. Many women never do. And therefore, the big things that they do in their lives, like homemaking and child rearing are not associated with an income so they don’t tend to equate the time and energy they spend, they don’t equate that with money. And therefore, when they go off in another direction and they produce work and want to sell it, that part is difficult. And it means you’re saying, ‘I’m worth something,’ and that’s difficult for many women because they’ve not been told that. And in fact, many of them have been told the opposite for many years which is one of the reasons I really like working with groups of women. BH: Tell me a little bit more about that? JRL: About working with women? I will say that it’s fun to have men in classes because they’re open and energetic and the come into class when they’re outnumbered by the women ten to one. They’re secure. They’re fine so they’re always great to work with but I’ve noticed if I do a lecture and there are two hundred people in the audience and ten of them are men, fifty percent of the questions will come from the ten men. Now that’s not a criticism of the men for asking the questions. It tells me that the women defer to the men or perhaps they’re not comfortable exposing some ignorance in front of the men but the men are much more comfortable about actively pursuing whatever it is they want to know. I just see so many women who are capable and intelligent and lack the confidence to do their own work. And I think that’s the part that interests me–trying to help them. BH: As a teacher, you’ve had an enormous impact. What I was interested in, in yesterday’s conversation, was that you expressed a desire that were you reincarnated you would come back as quilt historian? JRL: Oh, splendid. BH: That’s sort of interesting. I’d be interested in having you talk about that desire and also what you see as the objectives for quilt history? What should be happening in your mind? JRL: Well, it’s mixed. I’m sort of ambiguous of it. When we did our state quilt search and I was lucky enough to get to write the text for it that meant I got to interview the people who had the quilts. I loved doing it, and hearing their stories, and what they had to say, and digging out the little historical things that related to this period or the date or an event. And it seems to me that research is–it can just take over your life, you know research in one area. And I became aware at that point that that was a direction that I could have found equally exciting and at the same time I know a friend who is a conservationist was scolding me one time about something I had done in a quilt that wasn’t going to last. And I said, ‘I can’t worry about that. I’m not interested in that.’ ‘Well,’ she said, “that’s going to disintegrate in a hundred years.’ And I said, ‘That will give you conservationists your work.” But it–and I know that’s part of preserving quilt history, so I say I’m interested in it and in another sense I don’t show that practical kind of interest in it. And I think that what that comes down to is that I’m not a great quiltmaker, and I’m not so interested in the quilts. It’s the process of quiltmaking. You know I would not want to have a quilt stolen but it wouldn’t–I wouldn’t suffer terribly if a quilt disappeared. The finished physical thing is not the main part of it for me and I know that people feel very differently about that. Most people do very highly value their quilts and maybe that’s a contradiction to what I said earlier about women valuing their work but I like what happens internally. I have probably never done a quilt that I was really satisfied with so when I’m done with one I’m sure I can do better on the next one and that didn’t please me so much that I could stop there. BH: I like the idea of sort of the two phases of work. Work is process and work is product. People refer to some thing as this is the ‘the work’ and some people demonstrate it. One of the things that appears in the world of quilts is how deeply attached the object is attached to the narrative, the story, and if you think about becoming a quilt historian in your second life, unless you’re already in your second life, and that’s going to be your third one. JRL: That could be, yes. BH: How would you see recovering narrative from historic quilts, where we no longer know the maker? JRL: I think what’s intriguing about the quilts where we don’t know the maker or the information is what we can figure out, I think that’s still what we’re looking for. When a quilt comes in that is totally anonymous, somebody bought at a garage sale and you don’t know where it came from–it’s the narrative part we still look for. We look for clues, for the date, names and outlines of buildings or anything so I think that’s really sad if that’s lost but I don’t think that the interest in it diminishes. I’m not sure if I understood your question right or if that’s it. BH: I’m just puzzled by the problem that I see in these interviews with the quilters across the board, how deeply attached the personal stories are to these objects. And I wonder what happens in terms of the future, when that voice which goes unrecorded is gone but the object continues. How do we affect some sort of? JRL: I suppose in a way, if we’re going to think of quiltmaking as an art form then you have to be able to separate them and still have the work on its own be valid. But certainly with painting, a painting is made more interesting when we know the painter and what was going on at the time. However, other paintings survive and we know nothing about them and it doesn’t seem to diminish our enjoyment of them visually. So I don’t know, I don’t know how to answer that. I guess they have to be both and if they’re not both there we’ll draw out what we can from the visual. I don’t think we feel compelled to do that with other things. BH: I think you’re right and I wonder if that’s part of the package of quilts as women’s art and with attention to the art world if somehow all these things aren’t somehow linked. JRL: I’m sure they are, yes. I hadn’t thought about it like that but, I’m thinking you’re absolutely right. BH: Well, I want to shift gears again and talk about your magazine work in the ’50’s and I think continued in the ’60’s? JRL: Yes. BH: I can think of one other–well there are several other American artists that have had a major impact that also published in that venue–Frank Lloyd Wright did designs for Ladies’ Home Journal. [magazine.] I wondered if you would talk about that medium. JRL: Well, one of the reasons that I got into it was because people were going to look at my work. I mean that’s pretty rewarding. And also they were very willing to pay me for it and that was important at that time. And the payment really validated me in the sense that it confirmed that it was okay to do that instead something else. In fact one of the very first jobs I ever had when my kids were little was doing the little drawings for the Pitney-Bowes machines that you put on your envelope. And they paid me like $25 or $30 per drawing; and might take like fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. And I always did those when they came by because that was the money with which I could hire household help–somebody could come in and do all of the chores, the mundane things, so that I could have more time for sewing. And there was something about not walking–you know if you walk into a kitchen and you’ve just cleaned it up and somebody has left their dirty dishes there and some food on the counter, there’s sort of a clue there that they didn’t value your work real highly because they didn’t take care of it. So if you look at it and say ‘so and so will be here tomorrow and it’s not my job,’ then you don’t hold it against that other person either. So I think in a lot of ways it made it easier to be–you know time was always a problem–but when the kids were little I think it made me much more accepting of children’s behavior because I could separate myself from that housework. And so doing those drawings really released me to pursue my own work and the magazines did pay well at that time. I don’t think they do now but it was a good job for me and I loved having them appear. You know your mother runs next door and shows the neighbor and she wasn’t running over with the quilts I did to have at home. And I think in that sense it took it out of what was ordinarily thought of as woman’s work and it was seen as more important because it was in a magazine. BH: Although what you describe is I think classified as illustration and illustration like quiltmaking seems to often operate on the edges of the Art world in the fact that it’s creative, highly conceptual, and involves a level of abstraction which is really incredible, and yet you don’t see the same kind of discussions occasioned by the works of illustration and advertising art. JRL: No, that’s true. I don’t know what to say about that. I agree with you. And there’s I think in the magazine work too–just another point–there were often limitations. Muted colors like violet and rust don’t photograph very well. They didn’t have photo processes that could show those colors so I would be pretty much limited in terms of what would photograph well. Besides which, when a magazine came out the magazine would get all these letters wanting to know where to go get those exact fabrics so if I used solid colors, it was pretty obvious, I used red or green, anyone could go out and find red and green. But if you used complex fabrics or printed fabrics they’re stuck because the work starts the year before the magazine comes out and a year later they won’t find the same fabrics. So those limitations, I guess, affected what you could do. And I think I personally didn’t regard those as my more serious quilts. And I think I probably did view them as illustrative material. And it was done often to fit into a room, although they usually fit the room to the quilt. BH: Did you get feedback on your articles? JRL: Yes, yes I was good friends of the women who were editors. One of them was Roxa Wright, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her, she was the one who started the main interest in the “Deerfield Embroideries”, she had been at House Beautiful, and then freelanced for Better Homes [and Gardens magazine.], and Woman’s Day and so on. She was a wonderful woman; she was just great and had a very interesting history. And she was the one who commissioned the first article. And then, later when she retired, I got to know Deborah Harding who was then a Woman’s Day editor, and that was fun. I was always the ‘country girl’ when I came to New York, and she loved nothing better than introducing me to things I had never heard of so we had a great relationship there. And she was good to work with in the sense that she was open and she would listen and we could talk about an idea and then she would go off in there to do whatever else was needed. Occasionally, it would start–I think I mentioned yesterday–they were going to photograph barns in October so what can we do with barns. There were a lot of possibilities and they loved the hex sign idea, so that led to a quilt with hex signs so it was always a two way thing but the ideas never came strictly from me so for me that was something I did as a job where as most of the quilts I make are not. The commissioned things might be, like for a bank wall, and I love doing that. I love doing commissions partly because they’re usually large scale and they have nice settings. And I often work with just one person – the architect or the designer. I don’t like making things for people’s homes. I’d much rather–I’m too aware of their personal tastes and what they like and I want them to just come and look at things and choose artwork. I don’t want to deal with all that. You know the expression ‘Good art don’t match the sofa.’ That’s– you get into things like that in people’s homes. BH: When you first started out and started moving into the world of the Art quilt and the statement quilt that was really new territory and other people weren’t doing that. They were looking at quilts where they were inclined to do so as art and not the other way around. How did you come to the medium as an art form? JRL: I think when I did my very first quilt, I felt so at home with the material and it was so comforting to find something where I could really control the shape and I never felt that control with other media. And I guess, I just didn’t think–I just didn’t know a lot about traditional quiltmaking and there weren’t quilt makers in my family so I didn’t have either the benefit or the burden of traditional ways of looking at them. So I guess it just didn’t occur to me that you couldn’t do with fabric whatever you were doing. and I always liked graphics because I liked graphic design so it just seemed like an extension of that. BH: There’s no quilting in your family, you were largely unfamiliar what is classified as traditional quilts so how did you pick this medium? JRL: I saw a quilt one time that had been made by a soldier during the Civil War and I can’t even tell you where it is, and I’ve tried to find it. It was in this little museum in Kansas somewhere, a little country museum on the edge of a small town and this quilt had–it was so personal. It was so wonderful and I was so moved by it. The soldier had used scraps of shirt and uniforms and whatever materials he could get and he showed the farm–his farm in Vermont and behind the farm was the pine forest and in front of the farm was the apple orchard and the lane that went by and the family. You know the stair step children and the grandparents. And it looked to me as if everything he ever cared about was in that quilt. And it just seemed like that was what a quilt ought to be. And so when I made my first quilt that is what I had in mind and that is what propelled me, I guess. What drove me to do a quilt. Remembering how simply he had accomplished this colorful, wonderful quilt. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen another quilt that was as moving as that one was. I didn’t even take a picture of it. It didn’t even occur to me that this was going to ever influence my life. BH: One of the things Le Rowell asked me to do with you is to talk to you a bit more about where you came from, I guess growing up in the Midwest? JRL: I grew up in a family of four girls and a somewhat autocratic father. And my mother was a teacher and was very supportive of whatever we wanted to do and helping us. And I could see a relationship between my mother and father in which he made the decisions though my mother often had the wisdom to make the decisions but the call was in his hands. And I think I saw that early on and I saw a conformity in the small town that I didn’t like. You know I don’t know how you grow up in a Republican family and get Democrat or how you know how any of these things come about. When I’m with one of my sisters we can’t talk about politics, or religion, or education, nothing that has significance in the world because we’re so far apart and we’re just a year different in age. Our bringing up was very similar and heredity is obviously the same so I don’t know how people come about looking at the world in different ways but it’s interesting. I’m very conscious of needing to be approved of and liked but there are parts of me that I can’t give up for that. And I think sometimes when I think about my sister I think she needed that approval, community or family or whatever it was. And I know I need that too, but not enough to have it interfere. You know even racial attitudes in a small town–I can remember being in third grade when a minstrel program came to town and being so offended by it and nobody understood what I was talking about and what was the matter with me that I couldn’t enjoy this good entertainment? So I suppose, maybe it was stubbornness but there was always a streak. I didn’t rebel. I was much too docile to ever rebel outwardly or physically but I think I mentioned that yesterday about not liking confrontation. BH: Your quilts provide your medium to make the statement. JRL: Yes, yes. BH: It was great. If you could tell us again about one of your best known quilts of all time, which is “Barefoot and Pregnant.” JRL: Oh, yes. That came from an obituary in our newspaper, when Senator Van Dalsom died they had a little article and they made a reference to him being called ‘the barefoot and pregnant Senator’ because of his comment in the legislature. He always claimed he had been quoted out of context. When you went back and read the whole two sentences, it was even worse. And I just thought nobody should forget who that man was and so that is what prompted it and you know having it in that cartoon format people do read it. BH: Oh, yes. JRL: People who would never have otherwise acknowledged the statement will read it. I mean it seems pretty prosaic now but when I did it, there were women who didn’t like it. I don’t know why. Oh, I think I do know why. I think some of them read that and thought that it was something I had said. I don’t know. BH: That quilt was picked up and reproduced by Planned Parenthood, is that correct? JRL: They made a poster of it as a fundraiser, yes. BH: What did that do to your career? JRL: Well I don’t know that it really affected it except that I really liked seeing the work being–seeing a piece of my work being incorporated in something I felt really strongly about. And some of the letters I got were wonderful. One was from a doctor in Florida, a woman. She and her husband were both MD’s and she had said that she had been fighting this battle for so long and when that poster was sent to her, suddenly she said that here was a way of dealing with it with humor. And it gave her a fresh start. And I think responses like that–you know if there is one like that it makes up for other ones. So they did have kind of a party when they had the quilt installed in their office and so I to go up for that and be heckled and poked at and that was an experience. I’m not one to go out and march in a protest, that’s not my way to protest so it put me in a situation I had never been in before and that was interesting. That didn’t really affect my career, maybe, but I enjoyed that and getting to know that group of people. BH: Well, we’re nearing the end of our time and one of the questions on that sheet– because your work is so well known and you have had such tremendous impact on so many people is what do you think your legacy will be in terms of the quilts that you have made? JRL: I don’t think that my legacy is going to be in the quilts. I think it’s going to be in the encouragement I give others. And I have a real good time making quilts but I don’t have illusions about the value of the pieces I’ve done. I couldn’t not do them. I have a great time doing them, and at the same time I’m always too pressed for time. They’re never as detailed as I’d like, there’s never as much quilting as I want to do. So there is always a kind of dissatisfaction when I’m through. So when you finish a piece there ought to be a sense of accomplishment and finality and real pleasure. And sometimes it’s nice. I can enjoy seeing it done but there’s never real satisfaction, because there’s–I never did quite what I had envisioned. Is that what you meant, is that what you– BH: Absolutely. Is there anything that I forgot or misdirected? JRL: I can’t remember what it was I thought of yesterday. There was something that was asked yesterday that I answered and then I thought later I needed to elaborate on that so if I could put that on the tape I would. BH: Well, thank you for participating in the Quilters’ S.O.S. and I look forward to continuing these conversations in the future. JRL: You’re very welcome and I’ll look forward to that…

QSOS with Linda Claussen

QSOS with Linda Claussen

[note: this interview was conducted as a demonstration to the  participants at the training. throughout the tape there are voices in the background from other classes.] Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. Today is October 4, 2002. It is 11:10 a.m. and I’m conducting an interview with Linda Claussen for Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project at American Quilt Study Group in Rockford, Illinois. Welcome Linda. Linda Claussen (LC): Thank you. KM: Thank you for coming. Tell me about the quilt that you brought today. LC: This quilt is known as “Bloom.” It’s made with fabrics that came from a variety of workshops and personal expressions and Walmart. [laughter in the background.] And the design block came from a Nancy Halpern class at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg [Tennessee.]. The quilt is dated 1997. The fabrics probably go back five, maybe eight years [sounds of someone taking a picture.] so there was a collection of fabrics that I had [coughing in the background.] plus the Nancy Halpern workshop. They came together to a degree there and gradually worked themselves into the piece. The piece is a little bit skewed and off-center which may be appropriate. I love traditional quilts but I have a sense of feeling like you need to make something new to add to the general quilt vocabulary. KM: So why did you choose to bring this particular quilt? LC: To be honest with you I hadn’t thought about bringing a quilt [laughing.] until I caught the email from Amy [Henderson.] and I was packing in that room and it was on the wall. [LC laughs as does the participants.] They you go and it’s not real big. It wasn’t hard to juggle. KM: How do you use this quilt? LC: It hangs on the wall in one of the bedrooms. [5 second pause.] KM: Okay, what are your plans for the quilt? LC: It will probably stay with us. I have two rooms that I circulate small wall quilts through. Some of them are quilts that I’ve made. Some of them are quilts, and I treasure these, my friends have made that I have been able to either have given to me which I love or buy, whatever. But I enjoy those. Some of them are some ethnic textiles that I think really are reflective of the things that women do and I enjoy that too. KM: So you collect ethnic textiles? LC: No but when I find something. No a lot. I’m not an active collector. I guess you would say as a quilter I’m relatively unfocused. I do quilt and I’m interested in quilt history. I have participated in Quilt Tennessee Project in–was it? 1986-87. I’m part of a guild and a quilting bee. My activities range back and forth. I’m not very intense in any–well periodically I’m very intense but quilting is kind of my personal part of my life and sometimes it sits off by itself and sometimes I’m very involved in it. [four second pause.] I have in the past enjoyed workshops in places like Arrowmont. I tend to prefer long term workshop a week or something like that as opposed to a short experience. And, again, this quilt was from that kind of experience. [laughs.] KM: Have you used quilting to get through a difficult time? LC: Oh yes, oh yes. I’m sure everybody has a feeling that quilting kind of trans–almost like a Zen feeling when have–when you can focus yourself on a design process, you can step away from issues that you can’t resolve right at the moment. Maybe you can resolve the design process and maybe you can’t. And other times just the physical act of quilting; the rhythmic quality of it and so on is a kin to taking a walk and it’s a pleasure. There have been times when I’ve had a big quilt on a frame and set aside maybe an hour or a physical block to design. That serves a period of stopping you and giving you a sense of stepping out of the pressures that you are dealing with and then get back in there and slug it out or make dinner. Whatever, answer the phone. KM: It’s hand quilted? LC: This one is hand quilted. I have some friends in my quilting bee who do fabulous, fabulous machine work and I admire some much what they do but the machine–piecing is great because you can get a quick fix and you can get the design done but the quilting on the machine to me creates a lot of tension and that’s the opposite of hand quilting for me so I do prefer the hand quilting. I’m not a particularly good quilter. I’m not a competitor. I know that there are always people out there. I don’t play bridge. I don’t golf. [audience laughs.] I will enter my quilts in competition because that is a nice thing to do but I don’t make them for competition and yet I understand that with some of my friends that is what drives and they get wonderful results for them. It’s just not what I need. [coughing in the background.] KM: Let’s describe the quilt a little bit. Tell me a little bit about the quilt that we have here. LC: Well, [sigh.] it’s a random block that we developed in Nancy’s class. I had several fabrics; [coughing in the background.] a category of fabrics that I felt went together well color wise and so on. This [pointing to an area on the quilt.] came from an indigo dye class that I took at Arrowmont and we did other things too which I have completely forgotten. This indigo dye here is from Jim Lyle’s who was a long time member of our quilting bee for a while. He had an indigo dye workshop. Jim–some of you may know that he’s since died. His dye techniques and dye recipes were very well recognized. This friend of mine dyed for me–what do you call it? It’s a silk screen? [KM hums yes.] A silk screen done by a woman Martha Craig who is in Jonesboro, Tennessee and it was on white muslin which didn’t have much personality. I felt if you’re going to bloom where you’re planted, you need some color. Joan McGuiness did that for me. These funny little guys are a rainbow packet that came from a couple that were outside of Denver. What is their name? [someone from the audience says, ‘Micheal Bulance.’] Michael Bulance. They were boxers of all things. They’re obviously polka-dots but cut up they have some funny continuity. Just a funny relationship with fabrics. I almost think of it as kind of a conversation. I’m not quite sure what it says but the room where it is, it’s warm and sun shining through it and that pleases me. [KM and LC talking at the same time.] KM: I noticed you have a lot of– LC: I wish I–Yeah. I don’t know if I have anything. I probably don’t. I’m not very good– once I get near the end. I have a little trouble following through. [laughs.] I know you should always label your quilts and so on and that’s probably a good discipline. I–when I get toward the end, I’m ready to race to the end and go on to something else. But anyway, it was a fun quilt to do. And to be honest with you to be looking back at it, I feel like I need to establish another relationship like this; another conversation. Who knows I’ll go back and find it out? I remember I got that fish fabric in a Walmart in Huntsville, Texas while I was staying with my sister-in-law [coughing in the background.] and I’ve haunted Walmarts ever since to find that same material and never have; a little piece like this. [points to piece of fabric in the quilt and shows the group.] KM: [whispers.] Very nice. So what do you think makes a great quilt? LC: I think there has to be a kind of energy behind it. I’m very turned on by color and how colors interact with each other. Manipulating the design so that the color makes sense has to happen. [loud voices in the background.] You can take every color there is put it on unless you make them kind of converse with each other they may be overwhelming. There is a fine line between–well there is a fine line between chaos and being bored that I like to find. I suppose that’s why I tend to back away from repeating a quilt that has already been made because in a sense, ‘hey that’s been done.’ And yet on the other hand you have a very favorite quilt that cannot have it so you start out and try to make it and well I always get a little off the subject there anyway. You notice that my cat is here too. [pointing out cat hair.] [laughter from the audience.] But we love him. KM: So your cat sleeps on the quilt? LC: No. No. Those people who have cats just know that their presence is made known as you travel and so on. They take care of your mind. KM: How to do think quilts have special meaning in women’s history in America? LC: I remember when I first met Merikay Waldvogel, she and Bets Ramsey had a quilt day of some sort in Knoxville. At the time Merikay was at the Knoxville Women’s Center. They scheduled a day where they asked people to bring in quilts; either quilts they had made or quilt that were in the family. And I had two quilts that had been in my family and interestingly enough they were exactly alike. [KM whispers, ‘How did they do that?’] My mother did that. They were part of the Little Women quilts that were in Ladies Home Journal. Mother made two twin size quilts for my bed. I brought one of them in and Merikay thought that was just fabulous and I thought, ‘Whoa, [laughs.] this is a surprise.’ I never met anyone that was that excited about it. And I also in the side of my head had the feeling that, maybe a prejudgment or something, quilts were a feminine expression. Somewhere along the line–and I was thinking about my older son, you tend to deal with your kids and I knew I couldn’t make him a Dutch doll or a Little Women quilt but I did find a tractor quilt pattern so it began to develop that I realized that quilting was a whole wide vocabulary of designs and expressions. And I think to me it is really intriguing that women all over the world have an infinity for fiber work one way or the other and I think that common thread so to speak that goes through it is really fascinating. I’m sort of skipping around a whole bunch things aren’t I. KM: That’s quite all right. LC: But at any rate, I became interested in Bets and Merikay and those of you that know them realize what kind of wonderful presentation they make and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ And at the time the Quilts of Tennessee Project was coming on and AQSG was in Gatlinburg and it was just a whole new doorway opening to me. I didn’t feel quite so silly as some of my family and friends thought I was when I was making these quilts. So that was a beginning. I was fortunate to find a guild that I enjoy, even more fortunate to find a group of women that meet every week–Thursday Bee. And we’ve had experiences over a period of 20 years. I have been truly, truly rich. There are four of us at this point that are now I guess you would call charter members which sounds scary but we have wonderful women who come and are a part of our experience doing all kinds of fiber work. And as I said I was interested in quilt history project. Some of us got stirred up about, I don’t know if I want to even bring this up, the Smithsonian licensing reproduction quilts made in China. And our Thursday Bee group was instrumental in explaining to the National Museum of American History that we really didn’t think this was cool and we came to an agreement that I think settled that issue regarding that specific Chinese reproduction quilt situation. And we were able to raise money for a quilt showcase that still stands on the–I think it is on the third floor of the Smithsonian and has a rotating quilt going through there. So we became a little pillar of political activism because Merikay was almost arrested for protesting [laughing.] the issue. After that we had a couple of good years dealing with Jim Lyle’s fabrics. Now Jim is a professor–was a professor at University of Tennessee and his hobby was finding and working through preindustrial dye techniques. And he came to a guild meeting with a rainbow pallet of fabrics that just made our fingers itch and we thought, ‘Wow.’ Fortunately Jim’s wife said to him, ‘If you think I’m going to make a quilt for you out of these fabrics, you’re nuts. I have other things to do.’ And Dale does other kind of textiles. To make a long story short, Jim ended up coming to bee for a period of about two years and those of us that were in the bee at that time made what we called a Tennessee heritage quilt. Thursday Bee prides itself in not having too many rules. We called ourselves a loose group. The quilt itself had two rules. We had to use Jim’s fabric and the blocks in the design came from the quilts of Tennessee Research Project. Those were pre1930 quilts. [applause in the background.] That’s kind of a bizarre thing together but we had quilt turned up in the project that kind of a crazy quilt and we used that as our justification for putting all these blocks in the same quilt and we had a blast. It was wonderful and we’re proud of it. At the moment we’re looking to place it in the East Tennessee Historical Society. And other projects that came out of that group–let me kind of think. We’ve done some other things. Right now we’re looking at becoming an advocacy group for the textile collection in the East Tennessee Historical Society. So it’s kind of a spotted career in textiles and fabrics and so on. I do it for my pleasure. I do it because I enjoy it. I do a lot of quick and dirty baby quilts. My feeling with a baby quilt is that I would much rather see a quilt that after the child turns five is a little ragged, chewed on the corners than one that has been up on the wall. And that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the truly fine–and actually like I said my baby quilts are quick and dirty. I don’t spend a lot of time on them but I do transfer a lot of love and affection and it’s great because you can use all these funky fabrics and colors and let loose with them. Where do you want me to go now? [laughs.] KM: Wherever you want to go. LC: Wherever I want to go. Okay. KM: What is your first memory of a quilt? LC: I’m not really sure. It’s probably those Little Women quilts that Mother made. We–I remember going downtown Newark, New Jersey. Those were the days of department stores. Life is different now but I remember going downtown to Haynes into the fabric department and looking for the little figured fabrics for the dresses and I remember Mother making that. I never was able to get across to her that I didn’t like the kind of sage green background on those quilts. I still don’t like it but it’s okay. There were those and to be honest I kind of forgotten as I came away from home. I kind of forgotten about those quilts per se and the fact that Mother made them. Mother was a good needlewoman. She and my grandmother taught me to knit, crochet, you know the whole nine yards. My grandmother was Danish and she was primarily responsible for making sure I had these skills that seem to be necessary for anyone. I’m good at some of them and some I find tedious. I grew up making my own clothes. I wouldn’t think of doing that now and I honestly take pants to the cleaners if the zipper has to be repaired but I can remember one time seeing one special fabric on the back of a pattern magazine and wanting that fabric and trying to get it. Well it never did work. I think it was a pale blue background and had ice skaters on it. I don’t know what I would have done with it but I wanted that fabric and to be honest with you, I have not gotten over wanting that fabric. [laughing.] It’s just an affinity I have. I suspect I may be more of a fabric collector than a quilter but at any rate that always requires more. When Mother died–she died in 1975, and I guess I had been given the Little Women quilts before that. We don’t remember that but in her things a year afterwards I found a Dresden Plate that she had started. It was just the blocks and then–what was the name of that pattern? It’s not Trip Around the World, something like that. Another she had cut out kettle cloth. I don’t know if all of you remember kettle cloth. It was like iron. [laughing.] I had a couple maternity dresses out of that and I was able to wear through all three kids. But Mother had made these blocks kettle cloth and I thought, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’ Now at that point I did not know how to make a quilt and it never even occurred to me to try to find how to make it. So I found some more kettle cloth and put alternate blocks and was able to make again two quilts alike. I wouldn’t show those to you. I really would not show those to you. They were done on the machine. I didn’t even look for a batt. I had an old white blanket I put in between each of them. I quilted them on the machine and boy I had little kids and I was in a hurry. They are like iron. They are awful. They are my youngest daughter’s favorite quilts. She has one at the beach house and she has one in the back of her car. And they are absolutely indestructible. [coughing in the background.][laughs and so does the audience.] Afterwards I found out there are ways–I remember going to Bell Buckle and showing Mildred Locks some piecing I had done. She very kindly told me that I needed to keep my seam allowance consistent [laughs.] but very nicely guided me along and made me understand that if you refine some of the techniques that you develop yourself you will be doing fine. To that extent I am self taught. I do appreciate the fine craft of quilting. And fortunately I have some friends that kind of say, ‘Come on. Do it right.’ My friend [inaudible.] who use to be at AQSG was one of those people that would say, ‘Okay you’ve got great ideas just slow down and do it right and you’ll be more satisfied.’ I’ve done a lot of quilting with kids at one point for I guess about five years. I participated with the fourth grade–no actually I used all the grades at a local elementary school, a school where there is one classroom of each grade and through the spring months every kid had the opportunity to make a block. The blocks varied with the kids and they were made into quilts and distributed through a variety of things- Ronald McDonald, the Linus Project, the–what are some of those others? Well at any rate that resulted in maybe 120 quilts that were done out. Kids had a quilt show in the hall and so on and that was fun. I enjoyed it. I can’t get down on the floor anymore. [laughs.] I had to make them on the floor. I felt like I had to anyway. Okay, what else can you stir up? [laughs.] I’m a blank. KM: You’re doing very well. LC: I am? Okay. KM: You are. LC: Well, I have to say I might as well give a commercial for AQSG since I am here. As I said, when I met Bets and Merikay, I realized that quilting was not just something weird that some women did. There is a justification there. There is a discipline behind it, that there was a recognition of the accomplishment that some of our forbearers had done and we really can’t shut guys out. You know there are guys that make some fabulous quilts and I think that and the experiences here at AQSG really made me feel like I was part of something important and I have to say in terms of my maturity and I’ve decided that I’m at that certain point over a certain age that I can do what I want. As a woman growing up, with small children and basically a woman who didn’t work. I think that there was a lot of personal growth that happened through this association with the type of women I met at American Quilt Study Group and my friends at home too. Though it has been an area personally where I felt that I was able to resolve some of my own issues that way. Now what? KM: I think we will conclude. LC: Oh, that’s good. [laughs.] KM: I’d like to thank Linda Claussen for allowing me to interview her today as part of the Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 11:33 on October 4, 2002. [tape…

QSOS with Juanita Yeager

QSOS with Juanita Yeager

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. It is August 29, 2001. It’s 5:09 in the afternoon. I’m conducting an interview with Juanita Yeager for Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project in Louisville, Kentucky. Juanita, tell me about the quilt you brought in today. Juanita Yeager (JY): This is called “Red and Yellow Number Two.” Although I have someone who thought it should be called “Rooty Tooty.” But it’s the second in a series of quilts where I have used this particular floral design, the big flowers. It’s what I call flowers on a grand scale. I’m currently into a series of doing those kinds of flowers sort of ala Georgia O’Keefe but not necessarily totally as she painted them. But this one is two big flowers. I love flowers. I love color. And the reason I do my quilts mostly is for the color too. I use flowers as a transport or a vehicle to convey color. And so these flowers–while I love flowers. I love organic shapes. I’m not a gardener. I don’t do dirt. I’m just as happy to go to a nursery and buy my flowers and bring them home or bring cut flowers home to the house where I usually always have them in the house. And so my flowers have the shape and suggestion of a particular plant, a blossom but they are not botanically correct. I don’t–I’m not trying to illustrate or be an illustrator of a particular flower in cloth. And so when I go about doing a quilt I usually have a focal blossom and then maybe have some side views and some bud shapes and some leaves. And it’s not even necessarily the leaf that really goes with that particular flower. So once I find an interesting shape for a flower I may search for an interesting leaf shape from some other flower and generally the source of my inspiration or the source of my flowers is usually nursery and seed catalogs which a friend of mine graciously passes along to me. So that’s where I usually and get the first inspiration or I may get it from a magazine that shows a picture of a flower. You know a gardening magazine or something like that. This quilt is appliquéd–all the flowers are appliquéd and it’s on what I call a multi fabric background that is fractured. KM: Is that typical? Do you typically fracture your backgrounds? JY: I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’m trying to find ways of making really interesting backgrounds for my quilts that don’t interfere with whatever the subject is because I really don’t like the idea of just putting something there for the foreground without something visually interesting in the background as well. So this quilt was probably the third or fourth a long in the series and I’m just trying different ways of fracturing, some very regular patterns and some very random. KM: What special meaning does this quilt have for you? JY: It’s really hard for me to say that I am emotionally attached or really have meaning to a quilt. I brought this one as an example of my work. One because it depicts the color pallet that I really like to work in but sentimentally this is really the last quilt that my husband saw that I completed before he died in January so this one has some emotional attachment for me. And he [Phillip.] was always very supportive of my work. He was actually my number one fan and promoter and he would just take me anywhere. If I needed to get to a quilt show or get my work exhibited or something like that, he was just out there always pushing me forward. He was very supportive so this one is dear to me for that particular reason and he really liked it. He would just– Let someone come to our door he’d jester them in saying, ‘You’ve got to come into Juanita’s studio and see what she has on the wall.’ He was just like that. KM: How has your quilting impacted your family? JY: When I first started quilting it was to save my sanity so to speak and but I think the beginning in–I started in ’83, ’84. But beginning in about ’88, I knew I was serious about quilts. My husband knew I was serious about quilts. And my children knew I was serious about quilts. My grandchildren knew I was serious about quilts. [laughs.] All of them are proud of what I do. They all love what I do. They all have their name on a list waiting in line to inherit the pieces. And to save them from killing each other when I die I have this list in my computer that as I finish each quilt it’s assigned to a child but if one of the pieces gets sold then their name gets–you know moved to the next piece–that quilt gets whited out and another one gets put in its place or something like that. But they all value what I do. All of them are proud to display them in their homes and that sort of thing. They are very supportive of me. KM: What type of quilts do you make? JY: I make what I call art quilts. They’re always for the wall. I have done, very early on a bed quilt. I started lots of bed quilts. I only finished one bed quilt and I think I started it probably in ’86 and finished it about ’88. It took two years back then I was working as a registered nurse full time. And I sent it off to the Kentucky State Fair for a competition for first bed quilts and it won a blue ribbon. And then I sent it to another competition where it also won a blue ribbon. Well I got a big head. [laughs.] Whoa. I know what I’m doing and I didn’t know [laughs again.] what I was doing. That particular quilt is a 1930 pattern with curved seams. It was on the cover. I think it was issue 102 or 107 of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine. And where as before when I started in ’83 I think I started with what everybody else did in that era making quilt block quilts. Log Cabin blocks. Star blocks. I must have tried to do every star pattern I could find. I was always at the library getting books out, looking at patterns and trying them. Just samplers. Teaching myself how to put them together. But the colors of the fabrics in the early ’80’s were those dusty rose and powder blues and gray blues and beige and you know everybody’s colors–they were ugly colors. It wasn’t where I was. [KM points her finger down her throat.] Yeah. Yes. [ laughs.] And so even though I liked the feel of fabric and the tactile feel of fabric working with the fabric and liked the challenge of figuring out how to do each block. Draw them. Do my own templates because I’m math minded. Once I knew I could do it there was no longer a challenge to complete it and there certainly wasn’t a challenge to complete 30 or 40 of the same thing repetitively on and on and on and on and on. The reason I think I finished my real first quilt as I call it is because it had curved pieces. It was a lily or tulip. A 1930 stylized flower. It was pink, soft pinks, dusty rose because you couldn’t get anything else but there was a lively green and very nice yellow which makes the quilt pretty. And so consequently I was saying, ‘Well, you know for me it really is all about the color.’ And so when you think about quilts you’re really looking at color and as women I think when we think color we probably have thoughts of flowers and flower gardens and that side of things. And we think of yellow daisies and red roses. So I think flowers or doing flowers was probably that next step in doing in doing quilting and finding patterns and I do like appliqué but I found I didn’t like doing that little bitty tight teeny appliqué stuff. I definitely don’t like Baltimore Albums. [clears her throat.] It’s too fussy. So I would probably say from ’88 through maybe ’94 or ’95 when I really started thinking about flowers, a single flower, a single bloom and working on a large scale. It was really an era of trail and error and search and seek. I went through doing a series I call “Flowers in the Round” which are circle flowers divided and sectioned in original settings. The Round Flowers I could say was truly my own style at that time. One of the quilts that I did make in that series–the first one I made started that series, I really woke from a dream with the design in my head. Got up, went to the drafting table and drew it out in full size and made it and sent it off to the Hoffman Challenge. This was probably in ’91. And I was delighted they took it. [laughs.] And it traveled. And from that one which was the first flower in the round design I went on to make a second one that I called “Lilies of Autumn.” And that particular quilt–that quilt I made featuring round flowers is now in the permanent collection of the American Quilt Society in Paducah [Kentucky.] So if I have one claim to fame that’s probably it. [laughs.] That’s probably it but also before the museum purchased it I entered the quilt in a Better Homes and Gardens competition. First it was judged on the state level. It won the entry for the state of Kentucky then it went on to be judged nationally and it wound up winning the grand prize for the national competition which was truly a big head time. [laughs.] But a–so from there I’ve made probably several other quilts from that series that have been juried into and exhibited in different places and that sort of thing. KM: So you’ve been published? JY: I’ve been published. Not only with the quilts as a result of being in AQS [American Quilt Society.] magazine. My quilts have appeared in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine. I’m part of the Communion of the Spirits [A Communion of the Spirits, Roland Freeman, Rutledge Hill Press, TN Nov. 1996.] quilts that Roland Freeman did when he was looking for African American quilters across the United States. I have a quilt in an AIDS Publicity Calendars, how that happened was really kind of funny. I made a quilt early, very early on which was a pineapple block that I called “Decidedly Red.” The block was constructed wrong but I put the quilt together anyway. It just made a very interesting geometric kind of abstract pattern across the surface of the quilt and I sold it in probably 1990, the first quilt I actually sold. It was to a lady who was looking for something to take home to Senegal as a memento for having been in Kentucky and she had looked at several other quilts, traditional Kentucky made quilts and didn’t find anything she really liked. I showed her this piece. It was probably 45 by 45, not a very large size but she fell in love with it; the colors I think more so than anything just a variety of reds and black and a real vivid blue that kind of wound its way across in a kind of woven pattern intergradations so she purchased it and of course I was very delighted to have sold a piece and I thought I would go buy myself something. Last year–year before I came home from teaching in Virginia to a guild over there I got this phone message when I went through my messages on my answering machine and there was a lady in New York and she said, ‘I’ve seen your quilt.’ And she said, ‘It’s called “Decidedly Red.” My next door neighbor has it.’ And she says, ‘I want to include it in a calendar.’ And she says, ‘Can I have your permission to publish it? Give me a call back.’ And so she left a number and I called her back and she told me. When I thought this quilt was in Africa. The quilt is back in the United States and was in New York. And I said, ‘Well, sure I have no problem with you using an image of the quilt.’ Because this was for the International AIDS calendar and their fundraising project. And I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So she says, ‘I’m going to send you a release because we have to have your permission to publish it in writing.’ And she says, ‘And when we get the release back signed we’ll send you a check.’ And when she told me how much she was sending a check for I almost had apoplexy, you know. [laughs.] I was thinking, ‘My God, they are paying me six times more for the photograph of the quilt than I got for having sold the quilt in the first place.’ It was–and so I thought, ‘This is really neat.’ And of course as a result of that I think about last month or so they had a little blurb of the quilt on their web site and so they sent me more money. So it’s–so in that way outside the quilt community people who looked at your work as art know that there is value in the visualness of it and realize that the person who made it needs to be treated as an artist as well as anyone else who has made a photograph or sculpture or some artwork or something like that. KM: Are their quilters in your family? JY: No. Not a one. I didn’t know there was such an animal as quilts until I caught a blurb on Georgia Bonesteel on the television and this was somewhere in the ’80’s. And at the time she was doing this little blurb that I was probably walking from the bathroom through my bedroom and it just happened to be on the educational channel and I stopped and looked and I thought, ‘Oh God, that is ugly fabric. What is she doing?’ And went out of the room. And it probably was on enough that it just caught my attention but no, I was raised in the city in a house with central heat. My family was well off enough that we could buy our goods and so consequencely there was no need for the utilitiness of covers for warmth and that sort of thing and my mother was not a needle woman. Now my father’s mother was the only woman in my family who was and this goes back to even my maternal great grandmother who lived until I was 13 so I knew very well that she did nothing with her hands as far as needle art. My paternal grandmother tatted, embroidered and crocheted and all of that kind of handwork but she too had no need for bedcovers which was what quilts were generally used for so it just wasn’t a part of my raising to know about them. And so–but I think probably when I got into quiltmaking it was with the understanding that quilts were quilts and quilts were to be used as bedcovers but once I got through that first one which took me two years to do I began to rethink quilts. Nobody has slept underneath my first quilt. I made it initially thinking that I would make it for my oldest daughter and then I would make my other three children quilts and they don’t have bed quilts to this day and neither does she have that one. [laughs.] It’s–I still have it at home. It’s folded up and it’s in a basket as decorative thing. It’s not being used at all. [laughs.] KM: So what age did you start quilting? JY: Oh, you’re asking age. KM: That’s all right. JY: I’ll tell you. Let’s see. I started in about ’83. [KM: quietly ‘Okay.’] So I was into my forties, yes. I can’t believe it. [laughs.] KM: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time? JY: Yes. I do. Quilts–if you look at–there was a period—I had a really bad period probably ’94 through ’95 but I never lost the desire to quilt but what I did notice was that my color pallet changed drastically. I was doing everything in black and gray and awful depressing colors because that was my mood. I mean I was in this funk of a funk of a funk but anyway I kept quilting because it kept me sane. Disbelievingly everything I did during that period people liked they wanted. I would start a piece and someone else would be willing to finish it. Then I would start another dark depressing piece and couldn’t keep on with that particular piece and somebody would take it off my hands and finish it. You know, because they did like the color. The colors didn’t represent their mood just mine. And finally probably January of ’96, I climbed out of the dumps as I was finishing a piece that I call “East of Morning,” which is an original design. It got me back into using curves again and it has a big sun face on it. It’s very bright. It represented hope and I could see light at the end of the dark tunnel that I was in. The background was basically dark purples but it was no longer black. And the–I used Mariner’s Compasses in the composition of the piece Mariner’s Compass in place of stars. The compass stars were done in bright colors so I knew that I was coming out of my dark place at that time. This year even though my husband–last year–no this year last year even though my husband was diagnosed with a terminal cancer through all of that I still kept quilting and I kept working in my color pallet and that I think I have to attribute to him [Phillip.] because of the way he accepted what he had and he would not let me get into a funk. You know, he said, ‘It’s nothing I did to myself and you have to go on. You have to do what you do.’ So that’s why my “Red and Yellow Number Two” is a bright, cheery quilting and so everything after that has been as well. KM: What are your plans for quilting in the future? JY: I’m going to keep on keeping on. [laughs.] I am now exploring I think more seriously because I think I have kind of solved the problem, which for a while I was trying to do with several quilts, was trying to solve the problem of working with flowers that looked real enough without overly augmenting them with other mediums like paint. That one does have some fabric paint to give some depth to the flowers and it does have some thread work on it. But I didn’t want to stretch as far as actually painting, you know, using acrylic paint but I will use fabric markers and maybe some diluted dyes because I think dyes, inks don’t change the hand of the fabric. I didn’t really want to change the hand of the fabric because I still think quilts even though they’re for the wall still have this tactical snugness, the feeling of comfort that I want to preserve. I don’t really want my work to feel like I’ve got a stiff canvas even though it is three layers. So I think I have pretty much solved what I want to do with the flower part of it. I think now I’m looking more at what I can do to enhance the background. So my current piece is also a flower but I’ve now fractured it with curved lines in a grid and that sort of thing so I guess it is a step beyond this piece. KM: Is this hand appliquéd? JY: This is hand appliquéd. Most of what I do is hand. I loved handwork. I do have a near top of the line sewing machine but I absolutely hate [laughs.] machine work and so I’ve said and not in talking about people and what they do. I will say I will do everything except straight lines by hand, you know the kind of idiot work you know, sew a straight seam then I will sew it on a sewing machine but for more intricate things I find I have no problem I am really a fast hand piecer. And love hand quilting. Most of my pieces are hand quilted. My bigger pieces I quilt in a floor frame. This particular piece I was on deadline a little bit too tight one. I sent it as an unfinished in progress piece for consideration for an exhibit at The Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green, at Western Kentucky University along with a couple other pieces for consideration that were completed. Of course naturally that’s how it usually goes, they want the piece that is still in progress and the deadline was looming so I had to quickly do something with it so the flowers are machine quilted and the leaves too but when I got that part done and I knew I was not going to be happy with it unless I did the background with hand quilting so it’s a combination of both. KM: How do you feel about long arm quilting? JY: No. I’m saying no because I really have not found the love for any sewing machine. And I think you have to love your tools and I think you have to be at one with your tools. And I’m not at one with my sewing machine and I don’t think I can make myself that-into that. I think it would be totally–it’s totally foreign to me to do that. I have found people who master it. It’s like anything else. You know, it’s what you master. It’s what you love. And if you can–if the end product is ecstatically pleasing, visually pleasing and well done no matter what tool another artist chooses to use then I’m fine with the end result. How they achieved it but for me to do my quilting that particular way, no I wouldn’t. KM: From whom did you learn to quilt? JY: Essentially I taught myself. I started off with a pattern once I did decide to try it, ‘Oh well this looks a little interesting,’ and went off to buy fabric and came back from–with a little Workbasket Magazine with a pattern in it. I didn’t know you needed template plastic. I was doing the pattern similar to what you would do as a dressmaker. You know, thin pieces of paper pinned onto the fabric and cut around with a 5/8-seam allowances was how some of the first things that I put together that’s how they were constructed then I went off to library and started reading books and they said, ‘No quarter inch seam allowance is what you use and you use plastic.’ And then I discovered quilt shops as oppose to the fabric stores and then probably by the time I finished the second–the quilt that I consider my first quilt then I thought well maybe I need to go take some lessons from somebody. I mean I had won these blue ribbons but I didn’t think I was truly deserving of them. And so I went off to take a class from the Jefferson County Adult Education Program and the teacher there didn’t teach me anymore than I already knew. What she did was provide some vital information to me at the time. Although I was grateful to her for she did tell me about quilting guild and the local Nimble Thimbles Guild which I did not know existed. She told me when and where they met and she also told me about AQS [American Quilter’s Society.] So I am one of the original charter members of AQS, which I think was probably in ’88 because their first show was in ’88. And I did go to their first–I think I went to their first show in ’88. I know I was there in ’89 and saw what quilts were and course, then it was just a whole other world besides what I saw in books because most of the books were older books. They were from around the time when the quilts came back into being in ’76. And I read magazines and I saw there were– you know, what people were saying were quilts in ’76 but they were all bicentennial red, white and blue kind of things which were kind of–it wasn’t in my color pallet and I wasn’t going to decorate a room in that way so The Ladies Home Journal look just sort of passed me by, you know. It held no interest to me so–but when I went off to see the quilt show I thought, ‘Wow.’ You know it’s like one quilt was much more breathtaking than the next one although they were bed quilts then I went downstairs to the wall quilts and it was just another world. It was just phenomenal but I didn’t know that I could do that in ’89. And I knew that I could probably take some traditional patterns and modify them somewhat and work in a smaller size not just for the bed but for the wall. And I did a lot of contest competitions and stuff like that early on. You know entering NQA [National Quilt Association.] contests and those kind of things and challenges and fabric challenges. I think I probably had a more traditional route to where I am then most people who went toward art from early in the ’80s and currently. KM: Do you teach quilting? JY: I teach quilting. I teach beginning quilting if I have to. I really much prefer to teach people how to find their own style, how to make what’s in their head, what they see, what they can visualize and of course I tell them that if they can draw, if there is someway for them to get it out of their head as a line drawing on paper then I can teach them the techniques they need to get it from that line drawing into fabric. And so I really try to stay abreast of what is new technique wise- foundation piecing, freezer paper, the use of this and that, raw edge, etc. And actually I do teach machine quilting which astounds some people I know because, ‘You teach machine quilting and you can’t stand it.’ I say, ‘Well it’s easy to teach a technique. You don’t have to love it to be able to teach it.’ I don’t think as long as you understand the principals of it. KM: Where do you teach? JY: I teach locally. I teach at the Artopia which is what the facility used as studio and gallery space by the Louisville Visual Art Association calls it. I’ve taught through the University of Louisville in adult continuing education program. I taught for a time through the Jefferson County Adult Education Program. I have classes–I have ladies who come to my home to take classes. Right now I have two groups–two days of ladies that come. There’s a group that comes on Monday nights and ladies that come on Tuesday nights. A lot of people know me across the country so they will call me and say, ‘Can you come over and teach?’ KM: What do you like about teaching? JY: I like sharing what I know with people and I love the enthusiasm a new quilter who has just found it has. [laughs.] Sunday I had a group of five ladies at the house who were dyeing fabric and I thought it was going to be an hour introduction on hand dyeing and it turned into this miracle of , ‘Can we buy more fabric and can we dye more fabric?’ I thought, ‘You’re killing me. Let’s go home.’ [laughs.] I just love the enthusiasm of a new quilter who has found and loves it. I don’t know–some of them from the time that they walk through the door you know that they are just going to love it and go on with it. I don’t know if I really had that love initially because I had tried doing other things before. I tried everything imaginable knitting, crochet, upholstering, quilling and painting china. Just anything that you can do with your hands short of having a wood working shop, I tried. When I went into quilting I really did not know that it was going to be the thing that I was going to be doing the rest of my life. And then consequently too if I had been home all the time I could have gotten much more intensively into it earlier on as well. I didn’t. I was working full time as a registered nurse at that time so it really was what I could do in the time I had when I got home in the afternoon with the kids around–actually I had two in college at that time but I had Michael who is a handful. A thirteen year old at the time. It took a little bit longer for me to get into it and say, ‘Yes.’ And it took a little longer for me to realize that this was going to–I hate to say legacy but it has turned out to be for me what is me. What I can point to and say, ‘This is Juanita.’ It has given me more rewards and feeling of satisfaction than being a wife, being a mother and being a nurse because even all of that in the end if it was all I was and I don’t know if anybody but my children will remember me 15 years from now but I’m hoping 50 years from now that someone could pick up one of my quilts, find my name on the back of it and say, ‘Juanita Yeager from Kentucky. Oh, she made this in the year 2000 or 1999,’ and will know that I as a person lived. I as a person, not as a nurse nobody would know or had anything to leave as a legacy. I didn’t start the Red Cross or anything major like that. KM: So in what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women’s history in America? JY: I really think if you follow–if you took quilts from where they started they truly parallel American life period. They parallel the migration. They parallel the economic times. They parallel the political climate. They parallel your graphic area. Where you live. The quilts that were made in the South are very much different from the quilts that were made in New England. The quilts of the Victorian era with the money and the excesses were different–from maybe the quilts that were made in the plains for comfort and warmth. The colors of the 1930’s were certainly happy to kind of dispel the fact that the country was going toward the Depression. It really is a good documentation of us and I don’t know if there is anything else that could do as well as quilts if you truly follow quilts they follow the Industrial Revolution as far as the fabrics. The quilts, the fabrics, the textiles being made at home and or locally quilts parallel where and when the making of commercial fabric and the availability on the larger scale as a commercial product. Quilting certainly has meant for a lot of women economic freedom because it has been a source of income where they can take their talents to teach, to open a shop, to start a quilt show, to being very independent as far as their economic well being is. I just think–in studying quilts you can see 500 years or more ago and 500 years from now [laughing.] there will be a history with documentation for someone studying us as we are now they would have a really good view of what we were as a people. KM: So how do you think your quilts reflect your community? JY: I have to say my quilts reflect who I am and where I am. And it reflects my beliefs. Reflects the fact that I was not raised to be an ethnic person. I was raised to be [Marti Plager who was also present says something but it is inaudible.] an American person with a love of beauty and even though my mother isn’t frou frou into doilies and lace. You know that sort of thing but she loved flowers. She loved orderliness and she always taught us to do the best we could do, be the best person we could be and she always championed whatever causes you went about. She was very encouraging in that regard. So I would just say that if you were not just looking at me and looking at my work I think you would probably say I’m a person of the black community. I don’t have any stories to tell. I don’t have any causes to champion. I don’t have–there are a lot of quilts that are made for those reasons because someone wants to put forth an idea even to quilter back into the old days did with the “Fifty-four, Forty or Fight.” Those black and other women probably had some statement they wanted to make that could only be said through a quilt because they certainly couldn’t get out into the county square nor politic for a certain person. They probably could in their bedroom with their husbands at night but they probably couldn’t make the community hear them. I find that I don’t need my quilts as a platform to make my voice heard. What I use my quilts for is simply my way of expressing my creativity, my love of color. The fact that I quilt with passion, do something productive with my life, use the talents that God gave me, gifts that if squander I would not feel I have lived life fully as a person for what He wants me to do. And I really think He wants me to do this. He has made it so easy for me in providing the people around me that give me the support and providing me with the facilities, the supplies. Made it easy for me to go on and find the knowledge that I needed to further what I am doing. KM: How many hours a week to do quilt or a day? JY: Eight in a day. [laughs.] It depends. If I wake up with an idea of a quilt in my head [clears throat.] I’m subject to come out of my bedroom without brushing my teeth and go to my studio and start to work. I could well be in there a good long time. My husband use to come to the door 9 o’clock at night and just say, ‘Are we eating today?’ [laughs.] Very nicely. So I would say that some days I can’t get there just because of circumstances won’t let me get there. Then there are some days that I’m there all day from the time I get up and have breakfast until late at night, some times until wee hours of the morning and that sort of thing. I do know that if I don’t get to work, if I have not touched fabric for several days, I get to be a very nasty person. [laughing.] You don’t want to be around me if I can’t get to my quilting. So it varies. It depends on just how involved I am with a piece. I’m really much more engrossed with it as I’m trying to work out all the technical details like the colors I want to work with to make sure that–once I know the fabrics are going to work. Once I get to that stage I’m not as obsessed and then it’s just a matter of at that point of saying, ‘Yes I want to complete it.’ Therefore I will just go at it. It also depends on if I got it promised some place and how much time I have to put into it to complete it. KM: Like a deadline. JY: [laughing.] Yeah, right. [laughing.] Nothing like a deadline. KM: Is there anything else you would like to share? JY: Oh, no. I think that pretty much covers it. I think I’ve talked quite a bit. [laughs.] KM: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your doing this. JY: You’re welcome. KM: We’re going to conclude our interview now at…