Yes, I did all that in the 20th century and it was grand. I was an amateur, then a professional, then a hobbyist, then a disengaged bystander. The 21st century brought me back to the field in ways that I can’t get words for.
Some things don’t make for very interesting reading, lists of accomplishments for example. Those lists are in Portfolio menu, but here I’d rather tell you about some of the things that stand out to me.
My first exhibit inclusion was in a show called “Colorado Women in the Arts.” ARTS, gracious me I must have thought I was really something to even enter a show with a title like that. In succeeding years I got to watch and be part of the movement to transform the idea of “quilts” from blankets for the bed into expressive statements worthy of public consideration. I would be a very wealthy woman if only I had a nickel for every time someone said, “but you don’t look like a quilter. You’re too young.” There’s a stereotype that we’re well rid of!
Traveling and teaching for guilds and at conferences creates obvious personal encounters with students. A published book of designs and patterns published in magazines open another door. At the other end of that printed page is someone who is dreaming and speculating how they can use that design to say something they want to say. There is a woman who has saved her precious trunkful of old craft magazines from Hurricane Katrina. She calls to tell me she is getting ready to dive into one of my patterns to make a quilt for her son. Once something is in print it can surpass the limitations of time. Photo essays like the one in MS. MAGAZINE are there for the politics, not the patterns.
Patchwork was my only love until I discovered applique’. My first applique’ quilt was selected as the Colorado representative and received a Judge’s Choice Award in The Great American Quilt Festival. Freedom Wreath went to New York and so did I, where we all celebrated liberty and quilts coming into their own. The cover of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (6/86) was just as much of a thrill as the cover of The Rolling Stone. The quilt and the other 49 in the exhibit went to Japan and so did I, for a teaching tour that coincided with the exhibit opening in Tokyo. The following year a number of those same students from Japan were in my classroom at Houston. The whole world is quilting.
The Indian Ocean is turquoise. I know this because I was invited to do a teaching tour and to be the keynote speaker at the 1st South African International Quilt Symposium (1991). A roomful of Zulu woman sang to me at the end of our day. They sounded like they belonged on a Paul Simon album and I was moved to tears. It was to be my last teaching engagement. During those South African classes I had to admit I was no longer able to be of service to my students.
I had developed an autoimmune condition that caused my eyesight to deteriorate at an alarming rate. The prognosis wasn’t encouraging—50/50. I came home from that trip, cancelled all my future teaching engagements, packed all my fabric and tried to put it behind me. A new degree and a new career awaited.
Now it’s the 21st century and the worst case scenario hasn’t been fulfilled. Over two decades of persistent hope and proper treatment has given me enough usable eyesight that I can quilt again. I’ve done a little exhibiting but I still don’t see well enough to teach and I probably won’t ever achieve the same level of technical excellence I had in the 20th century. Those aren’t the only reasons to make a quilt.
In 2005 Daddy came to live with us. The elder care lifestyle wasn’t something either of us had much experience with. We found our way through the shared activity of making quilts. We planned and pieced dozens of tops. It gave Daddy a sense of purpose and me a bit of peace and quiet with a thimble on in the middle of the night. Daddy has passed but our quilts remain, forming an enormous collection of memories and finished works aptly called Daddy’s Favorites. Currently I’ve quilted the first 21 and the stack of tops on the shelf leaves me to estimate there are about three dozen more waiting.
That’s not all that’s happening in the 21st century. I always keep the next Daddy’s Favorite in one frame and another current piece (or 2 or 3) in another frame. As I start any new piece I still ask what has always been the initial question for me: what does the quilt need to say? There’s plenty to talk about, plenty of ideas and issues to give form to, plenty that needs to be said. There’s Jessica and Malala, AIDS orphans, thoughts on living an ethical life, dreams and visions that can be said with fabric, things that can’t be put into words. . .