Remembering Robert James

Robert James, who passed January 21, 2024, at the age of 98, was a true patron of the quilting world. His life’s passion for collecting and preserving quilts played an immense role in bringing these textile artworks out of the dusty attics of America and into the spotlight they deserve. Roberts’ wife of over 50 years, Ardis, was an integral partner in his quilt collecting obsession. With a keen eye of her own, Ardis assisted in evaluating and purchasing many of the quilts that made their way into the renowned James collection.

Their love affair with quilts began humbly in 1979, when they purchased a quilt at a quilt festival in Michigan. Ardis is quoted as saying that first quilt “was a Mariner’s Compass with a sizable hole in the middle and had… the most interesting border I had ever seen.” What started as a casual interest soon blossomed into an all-consuming quest to amass one of the world’s largest and most important quilt collections.

By the time their collection encompassed over 1,200 quilts, the Jameses had arguably become the world’s preeminent quilt collectors and experts. However, they never hoarded these treasures. Ardis was devoted to the preservation and promotion of quilting history. She helped organize many of the touring quilt exhibits that brought the James collection to towns across America.

One of Robert and Ardis James’ most significant quilting legacies is the International Quilt Museum on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Jameses were founding donors for the museum, which opened in 1997 to worldwide acclaim as the largest private repository of quilts in the world.

Their multi-million dollar contribution and gift of approximately one thousand quilts from their personal collection allowed the museum to open with an astounding array of pieces spanning four centuries of quilt-making. To this day, the International Quilt Museum remains a mecca for quilters and scholars alike thanks to the James family’s generosity and vision. That vision, of an inclusive collection embracing the best of what the entire world had to offer in quilts, past and present, and their desire to share it with that world has been realized. In recognition of their immense contributions, Robert and Ardis James were inducted into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2011, one of the highest honors in the quilting world.

The dynamic duo of Robert and Ardis James was a true quilting power couple. Their combined passion, dedication and generosity invigorated interest in this unique art form. As the quilting world mourns Robert’s passing, we celebrate the enduring legacy he and Ardis left by exposing quilts to their rightful place in the artistic canon.

Ruth Finley, 1979 Honoree

Ruth Finley secured her reputation as a recognized authority in the quilt world with the writing of her book, Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them, first published in 1929.

Ruth was born into a prominent and well-educated family. She completed three terms of college work but left college to spend a year touring the western United States, writing stories and poems as she traveled. Her journalistic career began in August 1907 and included working as a reporter for the “Akron Beacon-Journal” and the “Cleveland Press.”

The writing of Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them was a fourteen-year effort beginning in 1915. Ruth was not a quilter herself, but she collected quilts and researched patchwork patterns and their names. If quilts on a clothesline caught her eye while driving on country roads, she would stop at the farmhouse and ask for a drink of water. This simple entrée gave her the opportunity to ask about the quilts, and about their names and stories.

Ruth lists in her book the purpose of her writing as twofold:

“First, to make a record, with the hope that it might prove definitive, of one of the most picturesque of all American folk arts; Secondly to interpret that art in relation to the life of the times during which it most widely flourished.”

This was the first book on quilting to be published after Marie Webster’s Quilts: Their Story and How to Make Them. It includes information on over 300 quilt patterns and variations with sketches and photographs. The folksy narrative style of the book gives it a personal appeal. Ruth shares not only the basics about quilts and their patterns, but also the stories and backgrounds behind the quilts and their makers. As she says in her book:

“It is in the nature of a folk craft that its products reflect the personal whimsy of the individual worker.”

To learn more about Ruth, see her biography on The Quilters Hall of Fame website,

Doors and Windows Restoration

We will soon be seeing some changes at the PCC & St. Louis Train Depot! The Quilters Hall of Fame (TQHF) has received a grant from the Efroymson Family Fund with Central Indiana Community Foundation to help with the restoration of historic door openings on the depot which was built in 1895.

Previous owners boarded up or replaced the doors at the depot with modern doors and windows.

Luckily, we found one set of the original doors and windows in the basement.

Pulled out into the light, we could see these patterns could be used to create new doors and windows. So the patterns have been sent to Don Lee in Wabash so he can do his magic.

Also, Don created new dormer windows and they will also be installed soon.

When occupied by The Quilters Hall of Fame (TQHF), the approximately 2,208 square foot train depot will be utilized as a functional expansion to the nearby TQHF museum at the historic Marie Webster property. A multi-purpose room will be used as classroom, exhibit display and will be available for rental for certain events. The building will be served by a kitchenette and two restrooms. It will also house a research library and temperature-controlled storage.

The depot was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 4, 2018.

If you are interested in donating to this project please use the donate button below or mail a check made out to TQHF at PO Box 681, Marion, IN 46952. In the comments, list “Train Depot.”

Thank you for your interest in The Quilters Hall of Fame!


Ruby Short McKim, 2002 Honoree

Ruby Short McKim developed her views of art at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. The driving principle was that art is for the average person and art should fill the homes of all. Ruby’s training in the arts opened the doors for her to flood the US and other countries with her own art in the form of quilts, embroideries, and dolls.

Ruby received her diploma from the school in 1912. In 1916, the Kansas City Star held a quilt design contest as a promotion to sell the new book of Bedtime Stories by Thornton Burgess. The stories were about his woodland animals who lived in Green Meadows. Ruby submitted her “Quaddy Quiltie Bedtime Quilt.” Ruby’s quilt was made up of twenty embroidered squares. Her needlework designs were published in the Kansas City Star. The stylized drawings of small animals were angular “so as to not scare the small child who would wake up to see a wild animal sitting on his bed.” The angular characters drawn on a grid became a signature trademark for her early work.

In 1928 Ruby published a series called “Story Book People in Paint.” With this project a child would trace the picture onto a piece of cloth and then color it with crayon, which was then set with a warm iron to create a painted effect.

Ruby was soon offering designs for adults too. Bird Life Quilt (1928), Flower Garden Quilt (1929) and Farm Life Quilt (1930) were published in newspapers, usually one block per week. Many times the newspaper held a contest to choose the best completed quilt after the series was finished.

McKim Studios offered their quilt designs as a pattern, the pattern plus the material, or the pattern with pre-cut material. Also, a finished top could be sent to the Studio to be quilted. If one wanted to buy a finished quilt, that could be arranged too.

The State Flower quilt was published in 1931. There were 48 blocks each with a state’s flower and the state stitched in the corner. By this time, Ruby’s work was internationally syndicated beyond the United States in both Canada and Australia.

To learn more about Ruby Short McKim, see her biography on The Quilters Hall of Fame website,

2005 Honoree Bets Ramsey

2005 Honoree Bets Ramsey has had a life-long love of the arts and needle crafts. The summer after her graduation from high school, she and a friend set up a dressmaking business in her parents’ dining room. After earning her B.A. with honors in Art, Bets focused on her marriage and raising her four children.
In 1970, Bets Ramsey decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in crafts from the University of Tennessee. She selected quilt making from a list of research topics, never imagining where it would lead her. She studied all the quilt books in the library. As
she interviewed relatives about he grandmother’s quilts, the past and the grandmother she had never known became very real. This was the beginning of a new career path, and she has followed it ever since: making quilts and wall hangings; writing, teaching, and lecturing
about quilts; and curating quilt exhibits.
In 1994, Bets decided to make her own artwork her priority. “Finally, I could see myself as an artist,” she says. “I began to understand that in the past I had refused to claim the title and take the responsibility for living it. Now I know that I am an artist and this is my work.
I will continue to curate exhibitions, to write articles, and give lectures because that is what I do, but my studio work comes first.”
Bets’ work is characterized by low key yet animated colors and patterns and careful attention to technique, reflecting both her formal training in design and her love of art. Many of her pieces are pieced of historic textiles, adding to the uniqueness and stories of the pieces.
We will have some of Bets’ pieces on display at The Quilters Hall of Fame February 22 – May 7, 2022. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. To 4 p.m. We’d love to have you stop in to see them.

Deb Geyer

Ireland Postcard Quilt

By Helen Kelley, 1999

Honoree Helen Kelley made a series of “postcard quilts” showing places that she had visited. Helen’s label card that came with this quilt says, “Ireland- The streets of Dublin are lined with Georgian homes, each with its bright colored door and brass knocker. The basement kitchen area at the front of each home is fenced with ornamental iron. You can seethe park across the street, that private outdoor green space that gives relief in an area where buildings come down to the edge of the sidewalk. At the top, quilted smoke curls from the chimney pots.”

This quilt uses a variety of fabrics to allude to the textures without actually representing them. Exceptions are a brick patterned fabric used as surrounds for the doors and foliage patterned fabrics used for the trees. The arches over the doors are pieced of a dozen different pieces of fabric to achieve the arch. Windows use a blue and white shaded fabric that gives an impression of reflection. Steps are made of several different shades and patterns of grey fabric. Fences are created by enhancing checks or striped prints with black stitching and French knots. Panels of the doors are defined in outline stitch in colors matching the color of the door. Black hand rails, door knockers, door knobs and letter slots are embroidered and the sidewalk in front of the park has brown linear embroidery. A narrow pale green inner border defines the scene. The date “1999” is quilted near the proper left lower corner. The quilt is machine pieced and hand appliqued and embroidered. The hand quilting in a variety of patterns outlined for architectural elements, curve-linear for foliage, lines and rectangles for sidewalk, cross-hatch diamonds for the roof and clam shell for the sidewalk and roads. The quilting is in white thread at about eight stitches per inch.

The white muslin back is designed like a postcard. Hand embroidered in dark blue chain stitch in the address position is one line: “Sure, it’s a little bit of heaven!”. The stamp cancellation is the name, date and number of the quilt in a circle: “Dublin Nov 1984 XIII”. This is done in dark gray stem stitch. The stamp is an appliqued green shamrock with a green border inside a diagonally striped added border and dark gray cancellation lines in stem stitch across the stamp.

Helen Kelley was inducted into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2008. See her biography at:

The Quilters Hall of Fame is currently working on a virtual tour of the Marie Webster House featuring quilts from the collection. This quilt will be included in the virtual tour, soon to be posted!

Fan Medallion Quilt

By Marguerite Ickis, c. 1930-1940.

Honoree Marguerite Ickis made this quilt from pieces of costume fabric leftover from theatrical plays made possible by the WPA Federal Theatre Project, for whom she was a consultant. The Federal Theatre Project organized and produced theater events. It was an effort of the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide work for unemployed professionals in the theater during the Great Depression.

The quilt has a black satin background with fan blades made of various shades of red, yellow, blue, magenta, purple and pink, in satin, velvet and crepes. All fabrics are solids, no prints. The batting is a very thin sheet cotton. The quilt is pieced, appliqued and quilted by hand and has a straight grain binding of black satin attached by machine and sewn down by hand. The features, color scheme, and arrangement give the quilt an “Art Deco” flair.

For the quilting, there are feathered wreaths in large plain areas. Each fan blade has one line of quilting running through the center lengthwise. One row of stitching follows the shape of applique. On the triangular ground opposite the fans there are eight petal floral motifs. Heavily feathered vines fill the sashing.

Marguerite Ickis was inducted into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 1979. She loved to tell people, “I’ve led nine lives, and I’ve loved every one of them.” She was a botanist, worked for the Girl Scouts, was an editor, a dean, writer, quilter, researcher, an innkeeper, and upon retirement a painter.

The Quilters Hall of Fame is currently working on a virtual tour of the Marie Webster House featuring quilts from the collection. This quilt will be included in the virtual tour, soon to be posted!

Twins and a Few Poppies

We’ve recently honored our veterans, and there were lots of poppy memes and photos going around the internet.  Deb Geyer shared these from The Embroiderers’ Guild of Victoria:

And I found this beaded example by Crystal Behn, A Dine and Carrier artist:

The first Embroiderers’ Guild shot looks like a quilt, so I’m somewhat on topic, but since this is the Hall of Fame blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t show Marie Webster’s Poppy quilt (The above version was made using Quiltsmart printed interfacing). You’ve all seen it in red, and maybe pink; this is a rather rare colorway from the collection of Suzanne Hardebeck:

Photo: TQHF

Marie’s design has inspired many interpretations.  Here are two that have been exhibited at the Quilters’ Hall of Fame. The one on the left is “Love Returns” by Susie Goodman, and the one on the right is from Bonnie Browning’s lecture at Celebration 2013.

I could tell you that the takeaway here is “Poppies are popular”, but my real intention was to provide a segue to an idea that struck me when I was at the Milwaukee Museum of Art a little while ago: twinning art and quilts. I thought it would be fun to see how many paintings would put me in mind of a TQHF Honoree.

You may be familiar with the story of how TQHF Honoree Jonathan Holstein noted the connection between the work of artists like Josef Albers and Amish quilts, and went on to mount the seminal exhibit of quilts as art at the Whitney Museum fifty years ago. Here are two Albers compositions from Milwaukee, and you can readily see the similarity between them and a log cabin quilt.

The paintings also made me think of the progressive color bands in the American Tapestry (Trip Around the World) kits sold by Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain.

Ranville, Caro. The American Tapestry. 1995. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, Accessed: 11/15/21

These were just the first connections I made.  When I turned the corner, I came across another potential pairing, Georgia O’Keefe and Ruby McKim. What different interpretations!  Where O’Keefe is organic in form, piecers have to be more angular. I personally find the painting to be almost sensual, but I also love the orderly arrangement of the quilt.

Next up was a fun artist who was totally unfamiliar to me: Cleveland Brown. I thought at the time that he and Honoree Yvonne Porcella would probably be kindred spirits.  Their work shows a real sense of whimsy and action. Contrast these two treatments with Ruby McKim’s “take” on a circus. (I’ve put them one after another because I couldn’t figure out how to create a three-ring circus and still show detail.)

Cleveland Brown. “George Melly at the Circus.”
Porcella, Yvonne. “Keep Both Feet on the Floor.” Photo: The Alliance for American Quilts.
Ruby Short McKim. “Roly Poly Circus.” Photo from McKim Studios website.

And finally, another Porcella/ painter visual connection can be made with Yvonne’s first quilt, “Takoage”, and an intriguing 3-dimensional piece by Israeli artist Yaakov Agam, “Union II”.   The painting is done in such a way that it changes colorway as you move in front of it. First the quilt, and then a left-center-right view of the painting.

Yvonne Porcella. “Tacoage.” Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The painting also makes me think of Honoree Michael James’ early work.  Here’s one of his quilts in the same colorway as the right view of Agam’s work.

Michael James. “Aletsch.” 1990. National Quilt Museum.

If I count an O’Keefe/ Webster poppy match, I’ve linked six Honorees with paintings (some with multiple connections): Marie Webster, Jonathan Holstein, Mary McElwain, Ruby McKim, Yvonne Porcella and Michael James.  I’ll bet you can think of more.  I invite you to try to try this fun exercise the next time you visit an art gallery or museum, and let me know what you find.

Your quilting friend,


Marti Michell: 2021 Honoree

Marti’s quilts were featured at The Quilters Hall of Fame July 27 – October 2, 2021. See them all in this virtual tour!

Pauline Parker

I’m not ready to get back to work writing about the Honorees.  I’ve been lucky enough (finally, after COVID lockdown) to have gone on some quilting vacations, and that has disrupted my focus. But since my trips were quilt-related, it should “count” if I share some of my takeaways.

My husband, Jack, and I stopped on our way elsewhere at the Milwaukee Museum of Art to see the current exhibit of quilts by Wisconsin native Pauline Parker. The Museum building itself is noteworthy—a marvel of modern “sculpture” designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Maybe it’s the siting on the shore of Lake Michigan, but the structure reminds me of a cruise ship, and the unique Burke Brise Soleil (a moveable sunscreen) makes me think of a giant sail.  The Windover Hall entry space would be cavernous but for all the glass.

Exterior of Quadracci Pavilion. Photo:
Entry hall at Milwaukee Museum of Art. Photo:

But this is about quilts, so let me show you some. There’s a link below (for later) to a wonderful virtual tour with commentary, but I’ll give you my thoughts now.  First, you should know that Pauline Parker trained as a painter at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her quilting story is remarkable for her “journey”.  Some quilters, myself included, find a style they like/ are competent at/ feel comfortable with, and stick to it with only minor forays off the track followed by a quick retreat to “normal”.  Parker didn’t let herself get stuck; I think that “normal” for her was always something that wasn’t ordinary. She started quilting in traditional piecing style, but even in the early days, she had a whimsical eye. This simple quilt is a take-off on feedsacks: it’s composed of appliqued bacon bags. I never knew that bacon came in bags!

Parker progressed from traditionally pieced and appliquéd quilts into pictorial work, starting with a scene from a favorite vacation spot in Maine.

Coastline Quilt

Then, she went back and took inspiration from her Art Institute days, interpreting her watercolors of foreign cities as quilts. The painting and the quilt pairs were displayed together, making for a thought-provoking comparison. (Why are some figures more accurately presented than others? Why didn’t she use more color in the sky in the quilt? Why did she alter the scale of the trees?)

Parker also tried her hand at political commentary quilts with this one depicting Anita Hill’s testimony at the Clarence Thomas confirmation (US Supreme Court) hearings. The artist’s statement says that the Committee wears blue suits because that showed up well on the TV cameras, and that the side pieces represent the women of the world who would be affected by the Committee’s decision. But what do the shoes and boots at the bottom mean? (Answer is in the virtual tour.)

Anita Hill at the Senate Judiciary Committee

I think the quilts I liked best were from her nature-scenes period.  They were very calming and accessible to my unimaginative mind. You will see all of these relaxing quilts in the virtual tour, but here’s just one for now.

Birches in Moonlight

“Birches” is a good quilt to show the shift to Parker’s final phase of quilting.  In it, she purposely left the edges of the tree trunks frayed to mimic peeling birch bark, and she used reverse appliqué to create rabbit tracks in the snow. This was the beginning (if not temporally, at least in my mind) of her work with what I would call fabric manipulation.

Parker experimented with folding fabric to create the impression of an eyelid; she ruched to make “embroidery” on a dress. She wasn’t content with cotton prints or solids and regularly sought out poorly registered prints to use in simulating folds, and she worked with brocades, lace and hard-to-sew taffetas.  Here’s a quilt that must have required several trips to the thrift shop for material. I’m surprised by all the dark colors, but maybe that’s just Parker’s selection; green seems very popular.

Crazy Quilt with Prom Dresses

I can’t think of many other quilters whose work show so much diversity as Pauline Parker. I’m so glad that Jack and I took this little side trip.  If you are able to go in person, the exhibit runs through December 5th; if you can’t make it to Milwaukee, take the virtual tour below.

And here’s a teaser for next time: I got an inspiration as we left the Museum, and it relates to the Honorees.  Stay tuned.

Your quilting friend,


 Virtual Tour.