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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.)
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” 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.
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.
When I first agreed to write this blog, it was with the intention of showcasing The Quilters Hall of Fame Collection: the “stuff” we have in the attic. But then COVID came along, and I wasn’t going for Collections work days every month, so I switched up to writing about the Honorees which was something I could do from home. Now, Dale, Mary Jane, Regina and I are back on track-with a little help from our friends, and I have some interesting (I hope) things to tell you about.
The big news, which you might have seen on TQHF’s Facebook page or elsewhere, is that we have received a fantastic donation of quilts made or collected by Hall of Famer, Mary Schafer. I wrote a little about Mary last November, and told you that there are many, many Schafer quilts on the Quilt Index. That’s partly because during her lifetime, Mary donated a large number of her quilts to Michigan State University. Those quilts have been designated “Collection One” and we now have “Collection Two”, the remainder of her extensive work. An exhibit of all of Collection Two is promised for next Spring or Summer.
Let me take you behind the scenes with this exciting acquisition. Mary’s granddaughter, who had a close connection with Mary, was moving to Florida and decided it was time to end her stewardship of the collection. She contacted us and offered the quilts and we were thrilled to have them. Things went very smoothly in the end, but there were some issues along the way.
We knew that we don’t have room to keep all 100+ quilts in the climate-controlled Collections room on the third floor, so we had to decide what we could take. Dale Drake did a marvelous job of triage, but hard decisions had to be made. It’s difficult to determine from a picture alone which quilts are high priority to keep; color and condition often don’t photograph well. (As it turned out, condition was rarely an issue because, even though Mary herself stored the quilts in egg cartons in her basement, her granddaughter had kept the larger ones flat on a bed, and most were in very good shape.) Here’s a shot of Mary’s first quilt, Rhododendron, which shows its age, but is going to stay with us because of its historical significance—not to mention its pleasing motif.
Then there was the question of which full-size quilts were most representative of Mary’s work. A first quilt, like Rhododendron, was an obvious choice. And then the first quilt Mary designed. And then some samples of her particular style (she’s noted for taking a simple block for the quilt center and adapting an element of the block for the border). We all drooled over a medallion quilt, The Harvesters, and then there was a second medallion that looked pretty good too. But what about the medallion that was Mary’s foray into broderie perse? The rest of the committee thought three medallions was more than enough, but I lobbied heavily to include the Welsh medallion. I’m glad I did because when we saw it on the table, we all realized it’s an excellent example of the Welsh style and has a typical, charming color scheme—a good contrast to the other medallions. Here’s Harvesters and “my” Welsh one.
We had to make selections (I almost said “cuts”, but that’s a scary word when it comes to quilts) among the crib quilts, but we decided we could keep all of the doll quilts—they don’t take up much room. We told the family that we would find good homes for the quilts we can’t keep, so watch for an announcement of a sale following the exhibit of all of Collection Two (probably not before Summer 2022, but keep your eyes peeled because there will be some wonderful items).
Next, there was a logistics problem: how to transport over 100 heirloom quilts from the Ann Arbor, Michigan area to Marion, Indiana? Should the Collections committee drive up and retrieve them, incurring travel and lodging costs? Did we know someone in Marion with a camper who could fetch them back and keep them close the whole way to their new home?? Should we hire a fine arts mover who would drive straight through and not risk having the quilts sit in a motel parking lot along the way, but who would charge three times the fee of a regular mover??? In the end, Mary’s granddaughter and her husband delivered the quilts.
But that still left us unloading the U-haul and getting everything inventoried. Lots of steps were taken bringing the quilts into the Honoree Parlor on the first floor of the House. After a quick pizza break (all hands washed carefully before returning to the quilts), we had everything cross-checked awaiting photo-taking the following day. Photography was set up on the second floor, so that meant shifting everything up one flight. It took four of us a good nine hours (we did stop for lunch and dinner) to get a shot of each quilt, front and back and usually a detail of the quilting or interesting fabrics. And once the pictures were taken, everything had to go up one more flight of stairs to be laid out for cataloging and storage.
Along with the donation of quilts came the remaining contents of Mary’s sewing room: two sewing machines, slides—hopefully of quilt-related scenes, but maybe just vacation shots– with three different kinds of projectors, bags of notions, an entire box of clothing patterns (Mary made garments before she started quilting), fabric including bark cloth curtains, and a fair amount of correspondence (Mary participated in Round Robin pattern exchanges and wrote often to other Hall of Fame Honorees). Of course, all of this was mixed in with church bulletins and auto oil change brochures, so another volunteer spent all day sorting out the obvious “chaff”. Who knows how much of the remaining “wheat” we’ll keep? It will all have to be photographed, measured and described, and that data entered online.
If you are in the Museum business, all of this probably sounds familiar to you. I’m still new to the “game” and enjoying the learning process, and appreciating the opportunity to see such wonderful objects up close and personal. I hope you’ve gotten a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes when a donation is made. It’s lots of work, but willingly done at TQHF by a group of dedicated volunteers: the Collections work group and members of the local Marie Webster Quilt Guild.
If you’re still reading, I’ll tell a tale on myself with regard to another donation. In 2019, we received a large plastic bin of items from the shop of our first Heritage Honoree, Mary McElwain. With COVID looming, I offered to take everything home with me to catalog. As I said, I’m new to this, so it’s been a learn-as-you-go process, and not always successful.
When we accept a donation, we assign it an acquisition number, and every object in that group gets its own object number. These are the numbers that organize our online Collections catalog. (You can access Past Perfect from TQHF’s webpage by hovering over the tab labelled “About The Quilters Hall of Fame” and then clicking on “Collections”.) Then each object is described, photographed, and measured; condition and provenance are recorded; and location within the Museum is entered (because there is no way we can remember where we put each item).
So, here’s one of the objects I was working on.
I knew it came from the McElwain shop in Walworth, WI (by a circuitous route involving two successor business owners), and I thought it was a grouping of cardboard templates. Remember, McElwain was in business before rotary cutters, so women often used heavy paper to trace shapes for cutting. So, I dutifully and laboriously separated the pieces into like shapes and proceeded to catalog them.
There were over 50 of them, and I was up to “bbb” in the sub-numbering. This work can be tedious, but it’s important to be accurate—or so I’ve been told.
Well, the joke was on me because when I came to this next object, I saw my error.
This shows pre-cut pillow kits in “The Laurel” pattern. You can see that the fabric came in a stack between two pieces of cardboard secured by a rubber band. Those cardboard shapes that I thought were templates were merely packaging used to protect the fabric pieces in the kit. We decided to keep the packing where it was part of a kit and to discard the extra unused pieces. All that work for nothing! Well, not for nothing; I learned a few lessons: not every object is worth saving for posterity and figure out what you’ve actually got before you start trying to catalog it.
The good news is that after working my way through nearly 40 items, I’m almost finished. Everything will soon be up on the internet and you’ll be able to browse through McElwain’s inventory almost like it was on Amazon—or Amazon with a historical filter.
I’ll be finishing up on my writing about the Honorees in short order; just a few left because I’m not going to do the most recent inductees (too soon for an update) and I’m also going to skip the ones I know personally (too much like gossip). After that, I’ll take up my original purpose again and tell you about the Collection. I hope you’ve enjoyed this first Collections installment.
Your quilting friend,
Karey Bresenhan: Great Expectations
I’ve been taking a break from writing because for the first time since last Spring, I’ve been able to travel for quilting events. In early July, I got together with my local study group, the Northern Illinois Quilt Study Group, to look at a member’s collection of doll quilts. Then a week later I was at the Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration where Marti Michell and Mary Gasperik were inducted as honorees. And I’ve just returned from the American Quilt Study Group’s annual Seminar in Harrisonburg (Shenandoah Valley), VA. Next up for me is a four-day session on Red and Green antique and vintage quilts at the end of September. Phew! I feel like I’ve waited so long for this, and I’m going to make the most of every opportunity.
Well, not every opportunity. The one that will have to stay on my bucket list for another year is the International Quilt Festival in Houston Texas, an annual event begun and produced for over 40 years by Hall of Fame Honoree, Karey Bresenhan. You can read all about Miss Karoline at the link below. (I don’t think anyone calls her that, but it seems so politely Southern, and this lady deserves all the respect I can give her.) I can’t go to Houston this year, but that shouldn’t stop you; and if you can’t go either, let me give you an armchair tour.
The International Quilt Festival, Houston is back in 2021. The festival runs from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31 2021. Preview event is on the evening of the 27th and classes and other events start from the 25th. One day admission fee is USD 15 per person.
What will you see if you go? Quilt Show Categories for IQF 2021 are:
Hands All Around
In Full Bloom
In The American Tradition
For $10.00 you can attend a lecture on current-interest topics ranging from Featherweights to creativity and everything (hexies, quilt restoration, judging, tension, pictorial quilts and more) in between. And for a higher fee, let me “point” out some of the classes:
Mandala Madness- Muriel Mandala design using Appliquik Rods for turning the appliqué pieces, taught by Kyra Reps.
Barn Quilt Block Painting- Taught by Margaret Atkins with Rhoda Gersch.
Sunstars- A Kaleidoscope Class, two days taught by Paula Nadelstern.
Or if you’re looking for something curvy instead of spikey, try one of these:
Teeny Tiny Flamingo Collage- Laura Heine
Quilted Texture from A to Zen- Bethanne Nemesh
Turned-Edge, Layered Hand Appliqué- David Taylor
These are just a few of the classes listed on the first page of the website; there are 15 more pages with something for all interests. You can view them all at the link below.
Is October too soon for you? Don’t worry; you’ll have another chance August 4-6, 2022 when Quilt Festival moves to Long Beach CA for a summer session. Here’s a photo of the venue, the Long Beach Convention Center. And check out the background: there’s a cruise ship on the left and what looks like an ocean-going steam vessel on the right! You could arrive by sea.
If running the world’s biggest quilt show wasn’t enough to merit Quilters Hall of Fame recognition, Karey Bresenhan could still be an honoree, and I’d still have interesting things to tell you about her. Did you know she read “Gone with the Wind” before she was ten years old? Or that Bresenhan shares a common profession with Ruth Finley (see my February 3, 2021 post)? Karey holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University and a master’s degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin, and Ruth went undercover to write exposé. Karey’s writings are a bit more tame than Ruth’s; she wrote for corporations, and later put her word-craft to use in writing quilt books. But, still a connection.
My first introduction to Karey’s written work was what turned into her magnum opus, “Lone Stars: A Legacy of Texas Quilts” which she wrote with her cousin, (and life-long quilting collaborator) Nancy O’Bryant Puentes. Growing out of the Texas Quilt Search -which followed Kentucky as just the second quilt documentation project in America—”Lone Stars” eventually covered three volumes. There’s a link below to an article which showcases a selection of ten quilts, and a second link to all 144 of the books’ quilts on the Quilt Index.
Let me show you one which is my favorite because it embodies Karey’s love for her home state and its quilting legacy.
This quilt, made by Karey’s mother with the help of her aunt, cousin, and Karey herself, is quintessentially Texas. It’s a Lone Star of Texas executed as a feathered star, set in medallion format and framed by a sawtooth border; the next border features four-pointed stars known as Texas Tears; the outer border is a row of Battle of the Alamo blocks, (per Karey) “named in honor of that Shrine of Texas Liberty”. Quilting motifs include Texas wildflowers such as the bluebonnet (the state flower), feather quilting and a row of five-pointed Texas stars.
“Hands All Around: Quilts from Many Nations”, with Robert Bishop and Nancy Lehman, and these titles:
I started off telling you that I have deep respect for Karey Bresenhan, and here’s why: I don’t think I could write this blog without some of the resources Karey has had a hand in. She co-founded the Alliance for American Quilts (now the Quilt Alliance—see link below) which has promoted the safeguarding of American quilt history through projects such as Quilters S.O.S. (Save our Stories), Boxes Under the Bed, and Quilt Treasures. I often poke around on these sites to find information, photos and videos to share with you. She was also one of the forces behind the 1999 Ultimate Quilt Search which resulted in the selection of quilts for “The Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts”, and she had most of those exhibited that year in Houston. I often find information about honorees in that book. Thanks, Miss Karoline.
And I’m not the only one who thinks highly of Karey. When HERstory.online put out a call for quilts honoring strong women, this one featuring Karey Bresenhan was submitted. It, along with dozens of others, hung at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2017. It looks like Karey and captures her love of all things Texas.
Can I end this by paraphrasing Winston Churchill? Never have so many quilters owed so much to one person, and that person is Karey Bresenhan.
What 12-year-old sends his classic piano teacher of five years packing after he hears Fats Waller’s boogie style? And later goes on to collaborate on the Broadway musical tribute to Waller, “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “?
That would be Quilters Hall of Fame Honoree and Renaissance Man, Jeffrey Gutcheon.
Jeff was one of the pioneers of then-modern quilting in the early 1970s. He helped move us away from the orderly block style (which still appeals to me) and into dimension, shading and texture on cloth.
You can read more about Jeff and quilting at the bio link below.
Jeff’s musical prowess rivals his quilting career, and he embraced a variety of genres including jazz, country, blues and pop. His non-quilting book about improvisational piano appears to be well-valued; it’s available on Amazon for $902.81 (or $34.79 in paperback).
Jeff also played piano for Steve Goodman who was a favorite funky-folk personality in Chicago (my home town) in the mid-1970s, I probably heard him perform with Steve, and I remember so much energy, humor and variety in those shows. What an exciting time it was! There’s a link below to an obituary that reads as Jeff’s musical resumé.
But you don’t get to be called a Renaissance Man with just two areas of interest. So, I’ll add the entrepreneur aspect: the fabric line he produced with his wife Beth. Let’s go shopping.
The center would provide some texture, and the one on the left, available on Esty, might pair well. I’d add a white and maybe try to match the pale green. Or maybe I’d be better off with the center and the colorway on the right. Or not; I don’t need another UFO!
And now for something completely different from eBay; this one seems to combine the concept of Escher’s tessellations with the now-popular Australian Aboriginal sensibility. It’s happy and lively—like Gutcheon’s music. It has a modern feel even though he designed this fabric around forty years ago. (And let me detour to put in a plug for Phyllis Hatcher’s lecture about Aboriginal fabrics to be presented during the upcoming Hall of Fame Celebration. There’s a link below.)
Back to Jeff and the final area of interest to make him a Renaissance Man: architecture. Theres’ a connection for sure between quilting and architecture. The woman who taught me to quilt said that her sons spent hours finger-tracing shapes from the quilts on their beds; now one is an architect and the other is a professor of design engineering and architecture. Gutcheon had formal training in this field, earning a degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966. He then taught architectural design at MIT and worked a bit in private practice.
He designed the music studios for The Hit Factory located at 353 West 48th Street in New York City which some say John Lennon visited on the day of his murder. Lennon and Yoko Ono definitely collaborated to record “Double Fantasy” there, and were regular clients. The space is now occupied by Sear Sound, and the last photos show the original layout and the current Studio A.
He also designed homes for himself and for friends on Deer Isle, Maine. Here’s an exterior shot of the one that was his until his death; a spectacular north woods getaway. The property is now available for rental, and you can see more photos and get pricing info at the link below.
With so many talents to talk about, I almost forgot to talk about his quilting. Here’s just one example of how he put his own innovative views into cloth.
Wow! This guy was certainly creative in so many outlets. A true Renaissance Man.
I’m going to close with an invitation to join me (and some other more important people) at The Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration next month. Details are in the link below; you’ll see that I am giving a lecture and I’m really excited about sharing new information about my favorite Chicago quilter, Mary Gasperik. Please come for the fun and fund-raising which supports all that The Quilters Hall of Fame does.
I’ve just come back from a work day in the Collections “Department” at the Hall of Fame. On a break from our cataloging, we talked about how the Quilters Hall of Fame has evolved since that first induction of six Honorees at the 1979 Continental Quilting Congress. (Shout out to our Founder, Hazel Carter!). So, this week I’m going to give you a recap of our thoughts on how we’ve grown.
For decades, Quilters Hall of Fame was a status; people were named and recognized for their contributions to the world of quilting. Then, beginning in the early 1990s, it took on a physical presence as the Marie Webster home (now a National Landmark in case you didn’t know) was restored and opened in 2004. And since then, it has been growing into a full-fledged museum with exhibits, archives and a collection of significant objects related to the Honorees.
Exhibits; we usually do four a year, and they are really professional—you could say “museum-quality”! Remember when I when I wrote about Jonathan Holstein/ Gail van der Hoof’s Whitney Museum exhibit and talked about how museum space is designed? I quoted Karin Peterson’s research:
Museums can be understood as places where quasi-sacred rituals take place. Rituals that define legitimate objects, legitimate artists and legitimate viewers…. Museum space facilitates an art-for-art’s sake experience by employing a series of architectural and display cues: isolated rooms, small labels, white walls, spotlighted pedestals, space to stand back from works and grasp their effect…. The museum, which is structured to appear neutral, objective and disinterested….
“Discourse and Display: The Modern Eye, Entrepreneurship, and the Cultural Transformation of the Patchwork Quilt,” Sociological Perspectives. Vol 46, Number 4, 2003
Well, the Webster House obviously wasn’t built as a museum, but it functions well under Peterson’s standards. The upstairs rooms (accessible via elevator) with the doors removed create intimate spaces where you can really get to know the quilts. Take a look at this display from a 2019 exhibit. Whitney has nothing on us!
Downstairs has high ceilings which make the quilts seem grand. Of course, seeing a contemporary quilt hung above a carved and tiled fireplace isn’t exactly neutral, but I find the unexpected juxtaposition is welcome. Here are some shots of the 2020 Edson exhibit so you can see what I mean.
Doesn’t this make you want to plan a visit? If you come soon, you’ll find the exhibit of Hollis Chatelain’s quilts. You’re going to want to see this one. Rather than being a themed exhibit, it’s a special showing of selected quilts over her years of work, so you can get a real visual picture of how the artist’s work has developed; these quilts will not come together again. You may have seen some of her “Stories of West Africa” quilts at Houston or Paducah or one of several quilt museums around the country. If you aren’t familiar with Chatelain, I’d say she’s a spell-caster working in thread. There’s a link to her website below, and here she is with one of her most famous quilts.
This is a great image by itself, but what you don’t see unless you are standing in front of it are the hundreds of shadow images of other children. You’ve got to go the Hall of Fame and see it (and the other quilts) in person. Hurry; it’s only up until July 24th.But, coming up next will be an exhibit of quilts from this year’s Inductee, Marti Michell, from July 27 – October 2. That will be followed by” Deeds Not Words: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage” which will be shown October 5-December 11.
Along with the exhibits, the Hall of Fame offers lectures and other activities. Here’s a group that appears to be learning about applique quilts.
And it’s not just us old-lady quilters who learn. This group of school kids had some specific things on their list; I wonder if it was a scavenger hunt. Here’s where the quilt historian in me comes in: what should these youngsters be told about the two quilts that are shown? What do you think they would tell us about them? And isn’t it wonderful that the Hall of Fame is reaching this generation?
Well, I had planned to tell you about other ways in which Quilters Hall of Fame has grown, but it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I want to get out to my garden. So, I’ll stop here and save Collections (near and dear to my heart) and other aspects for another post.
If You Love to Look at Old Quilts, Thank Sally Garoutte
Before I get to Sally Garoutte, I have a follow-up to do. I promised to keep you posted on the International Quilt Museum’s retrospective of the 1971 Whitney Museum “Abstract Design in American Quilts” show. You’ll remember that the original show was mounted by Hall of Fame Honorees Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof, and at the time it rocked the art world by showing quilts as modern art. We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s always good to go back to the beginning. Here’s an iconic example from the original exhibit.
Over the next several months, IQM will have four exhibits, each exploring a different aspect of the show: Abstract Design in American Quilts at 50, Raising the Profile, New York Nexus, and Journey to Japan. There’s a link below to the current exhibits on the IQM site; scroll down and select any of the four exhibits, and that will take you to a page where you can link to descriptions of each quilt in the exhibit, photos of the quilts on display, and even a 3-D tour of the exhibit in the IQM. There’s so much to see from the comfort of your couch, and so much to think about. Or, if you’re lucky, maybe you can catch one of the exhibits in person. Either way, be sure to mentally thank Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof for their foresight; Happy 50th Anniversary, “Abstract Design”!
And the Whitney exhibit also provides the tie-in to this week’s Honoree, Sally Garoutte. You can read her full bio at the link below, but I’ll focus on her quilt story (and a bonus). While the “Abstract Design” exhibit was up on the East Coast, Sally was in California turning her studies in silk screening, color and textiles into a special interest in quilts. With fellow-Honoree Joyce Gross, Sally founded the Mill Valley Quilt Authority, (one of the early groups to promote quilting and the preservation of quilts). Sally and Joyce collaborated over many years, publishing Quilters’ Journal and founding the American Quilt Study Group. On the left is a photo from 1986 AQSG Seminar, with Sally front and center; she’s flanked by other notables who look a little different today. You may not recognize Barbara Brackman and Julie Silber, but Bets Ramsey is ageless. The photo on the right shows quilt documentation at the first AQSG Seminar in 1980; I won’t attempt to identify people from behind, but do you know what the quilt block is? But note the woman wearing a vest with a similar quilt block vest—fashions change, but quilt study carries on.
Sally was the editor of Uncoverings, AQSG’s annual publication of members’ research papers, from its founding through 1986, and co-editor in 1987. She herself contributed articles about Hawaiian textiles, Marseilles quilts, and an 1846 California quilting party. The list of other writers during her editorship includes many Hall of Fame Honorees: Barbara Brackman, Merikay Waldvogel, Virginia Gunn, Joyce Gross, Cuesta Benberry, Bets Ramsey, and even Florence Peto. You might also recognize Judy Mathieson of Mariner’s Compass fame and Joe Cunningham who, pre-pandemic, was teaching his improvisational style to guilds around the country.
But Sally didn’t take all comers. Even articles by famous persons had to be historically accurate and measure up to Sally’s standards for research. Here’s her thoughts on quilt history:
In an effort to illuminate the history of quilts in America, some early writers unfortunately did just the opposite. Using the writing style of 50 years ago, most historians did not document their sources, and simply stated their theories and surmises as though they were fact…. Folklore, however, is not history. Although we need the lore to understand what people thought and how they felt about things, we need history too. We need to know what happened and what people did, and we need to document it dependably.
“Early Colonial Quilts in a Bedding Context,”.Uncoverings; 1980.
In one of her early articles, Sally explains scholarly research:
Simply put, a scholarly paper is the account of research that has been done by its author. Its distinguishing feature is that it is verifiable.It states where and how its information was found, so that any other person can go and look at the same information. An article or paper that does not state clearly where its facts came from is not scholarly. It is a story asking to be taken on faith. It is not verifiable. The reader can only hope that the author has searched factual material before writing her conclusions, as there is no way to check it.
Quilter’s Journal; Spring 1981; Vol. 4, No. 1
Sally, for all her interest in quilt history, wasn’t a quilter, but there’s still a little to show. This quilt, which appeared on the cover of the 1978 issue of the journal Textile Chemist and Colorist, is the only quilt Sally made.
She also contributed a block to the Cuesta Benberry Friendship Quilt, but I don’t know if she made it or collected it; it looks pieced, but it also could be a print. Here’s the whole quilt with Sally’s block in the lower right corner and a larger version of that block—it’s called “Star on a String”.
The reason I suggest that Sally’s block could be a print is because silk screening was her medium. So now, here’s the bonus: I’m going to get to show you some things I just helped to catalog for the Quilters Hall of Fame collection. Here are two little quilts, the tops of which were made by Sally; we know that the log cabin was quilted by someone else, but don’t know about the other. There are links below if you want to read the full descriptions.
Also in our collection is a group of screen prints, eight of them showing autos, and six with people in or on the water. These were part of a research project, “Treasures From a Shoebox”, that Sally did when she was at Goddard College in 1974. The original images were family photograph negatives that she found in the attic. Here’s one of them, and there’s a link for the rest. With all but one of the images Sally experimented with different colors of ink or with different background fabrics, so be sure to see them all to get a flavor of her artistic process.
We also have a large undated piece made by Sally and donated by Hall of Fame Founder, Hazel Carter. We don’t know if this was also a college project or a later work, so if anyone has more information, please let us know. This is a large piece, 47” x 66”, and unlike the “Treasures”, it is printed on a heavy fabric, almost like a woven coverlet. I can’t imagine what it would be used for, so I’m going to say it’s “art for art’s sake” (ars gratia artis—you’ve seen that quote above the lion in old movie reels).
Well, that’s Sally Garoutte. I wouldn’t be writing today if I hadn’t attended an AQSG Seminar in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2012 and gotten hooked on quilt history. And I’m looking forward to this year’s Seminar in the Shenandoah Valley, where I’m sure to see many wonderful old Virginia quilts and many wonderful old friends and colleagues. I have a lot to thank Sally Garoutte for, and I’m glad to have had this chance to get to know her better. I hope you feel the same way.