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.
I have a small follow-up before I get to this week’s Honoree. You may remember that when I wrote about Honoree Cuesta Benberry, I invited those who knew her to share information. There’s only so much you can learn from the internet, and I hoped to take advantage of personal knowledge while it’s still available. (Quilt historians take note; we should be doing more of this across the board.) Well, to my pleasant surprise, I received a communication from Quilters Hall of Fame founder, Hazel Carter.
Hazel gave me some information about Cuesta’s “Always There” quilt. She related that Cuesta was adamant that she did not make the blocks herself. I knew that Cuesta wasn’t much of a quiltmaker, but I knew she had participated in round robins, and I thought she made at least some of those blocks. (There’s a link below where you can see a number of blocks from Cuesta’s collection that now belong to the Quilters Hall of Fame.) Hazel was able to tell me that Bettina Havig, who published a book of Honoree Carrie Hall’s 800 block patterns, had done one, as had a friend of Bettina’s. Hazel thought the makers’ names might be recorded as part of the documentation at the University of Michigan, but I can’t find it. Can anyone else help? If you made a block, or know who did, please share your knowledge.
I was saving this for later, but now is as good a time as any to tell you that Hazel Carter created a block to honor Cuesta Benberry. Here’s a shot of Cuesta’s induction to TQHF with the block on the wall behind her and Hazel, and the pattern–in case you’re ambitious.
Okay, now we can get to Honoree Patsy Orlofsky. If you know her name, it’s probably because you own or have come across the book she wrote with her husband Myron called Quilts in America. Published in the Bicentennial era (is that, or will it become a recognized “era”?), this coffee table book was intended to raise the status of quilts as collectible antiques or objects of folklore.
Google Books describes it as follows:
This work on traditional quilts offers guidelines for establishing the age of antique quilts and information on the areas of the country where they were made. Techniques, tools, fabrics and dyes are described in detail, along with all the known types and patterns of quilt and how to care for them.
In writing the book, Patsy brought her art history background and experience as a crafts teacher, but both she and Myron came to it with an interest in authentic American folklore objects. You can read more about Patsy’s life at the bio link below. What interests me is their idea that even worn out, faded quilts were worth inclusion in the book; not being in pristine condition showed what they called “the life of the quilt.” This viewpoint is reminiscent of the Velveteen Rabbit: “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real’.”
But it’s a viewpoint that perhaps runs contrary to Orlofsky’s other claim to fame. After writing Quilts in America, Patsy turned her talents to textile conservation and in 1977-8 she established the Textile Conservation Workshop (TCW) in South Salem, New York where she still works as Executive Director. TWC is a not-for-profit organization that treats textiles of historic importance and artistic value, serves as a consultant to cultural institutions around the country, and maintains an active outreach education and survey program for small museums and historical societies. Here’s an example of a recent project.
TWC will restore this quilt, which was damaged in a riot in the area of the Oregon Historical Society. The front will be repaired and the backing replaced. OHS will retain the backing as a separate object to document the history of the quilt and the riot.
Being on the TQHF Collections Committee, the work that Orlofsky and TWC do for museums is especially important to me. But you only need to be aware of quilting’s historical significance to appreciate their work. We wouldn’t have such wonderful museum exhibits (and lately, virtual viewings) if conservators like Orlofsky weren’t at work behind the scenes. If you are interested in a general overview of conservation and curator functions, you will find Orlofsky’s “Textile Conservation” article (link below) to be informative and approachable. Just a small example of TWC’s good work.
Let’s take a look at some of the conservation work TWC does. I’ll share some photos, but there’s also a link below if you want more eye candy. There aren’t many quilt shots on the website, but the before/after section is inspiring, and Eeyore will be a hit. Here’s Patsy Orlofsky, inspecting an object stored (properly) in an acid-free box.
There’s a good bit of science and chemistry involved. Fabrics are identified and tested for color-fastness, and solvents may be used for cleaning. The photo on the left shows the use of a suction table which aids in controlled application of the chemicals.
Of course, it’s not just historically-significant quilts that need repair and restoration. How many of us have done our best to preserve a family heirloom? Or even an ordinary piece? This morning I noticed a small tear (defective fabric? A slip of the rotary cutter?) in a table topper I was half-way through quilting. It was too late to replace the offending piece, so I hand appliquéd a patch using the leftover fabric. That was easy; I didn’t have to worry about finding matching fabric, dealing with fading or shattering, or preserving authenticity. So, hat’s off to those, like Patsy Orlofsky, who do real conservation.
I’m writing on Saturday, but you won’t read this until after all the eggs have been found. I hope you had a happy Easter. And I hope you will enjoy this quick look at some of our Honoree’s Easter quilts.
Since Ruby McKim was last week’s topic, I’ll start with her. Here are the rabbits from the Peter Rabbit quilt; it was first published in 1916 in the Kansas City Star and is now adapted to a panel available on the McKim Studios website.
McKim was noted for the squared-off (quadratic) shape of some of her designs, but she also had softer images like the lambs in her Spring appliqué. This was part of the Four Seasons series originally published in the 1930s and also available on the McKim Studios website. What do you think of the triangular dandelion?
I had to look hard to find other Easter animal images by Honorees. Ruth McDowell has an entire farm series, but her work, although wonderfully realistic, doesn’t say “Easter” to me. I only found one other rabbit, this one by Yvonne Porcella (who usually does those happy, frisky dogs). But she did an Asian-inspired quilt and included a rabbit (from the hare-in-the-moon tradition) on the back of it.
The Quilters Hall of Fame has, as part of the collection, a number of objects that are not necessarily connected to our Honorees, but are used for education. Among these is an extensive number of family quilts, historic fabric samples, and quilts made by our great friend, Arnold Savage. This is one he finished in 2005 from a top constructed in 1934 of tiny Nine Patches that he made as a child while recovering from rheumatic fever. He hand quilted it with Easter eggs and named it “Opus 4 / Recovery Quilt 4 Easter Egg Quilt.” What an odd, but charming image to put in those alternate blocks! I wonder what made him choose that motif; maybe he was working on this at Easter-time.
When I thought about the Easter theme for this blog, the first thing that came to my mind was the Marie Webster French Basket pattern. Even though it’s filled with flowers instead of eggs and chocolate bunnies, it reminds me of an Easter basket. There is a good example of a completed quilt in the Hall of Fame collection, along with a pattern. As you’ll see in the third photo, instructions were sparse; but since this was sold as a stamped kit, maybe that was sufficient.
This design was very popular and appeared in other colorways. A few years ago, Honoree Georgia
Bonesteel designed reproduction fabrics based on Marie’s designs – this panel shows it in pink.
And here’s a French Baskets with a green background—which I like better, even though I’m usually a blue gal.
Webster designed three other basket quilts, Dutch Basket, Magpie Rose, and Pink Dogwood. Here are some shots of them from our collection.
And she also had a Bunny quilt, with eggs on the ground and in the baskets.
Other Honorees made basket quilts. This is a Ruby McKim Flower Basket quilt in the Hall of Fame Collection. McKim also had a fruit basket design, but again, nothing with eggs (and certainly no Peeps).
Honoree, Anne Orr was famous for her postage stamp designs, and she created at least two basket images in this style.
And a dishware pattern was the inspiration for Grace Snyder’s tour de force, Flower Basket Petit Point. There is a small plate in that pattern in the Hall of Fame Collection.
Of course, Marie Webster and many other pattern creators had lovely Spring flower designs which would be timely to show, but I’ll save those for another time. I want to stay on the Easter theme—unlike the editor here who really stretched the connection. I would not call those motifs “Easter Lily”, even if Honoree Ruth Finley did; it looks more like pomegranate and coxcomb to me.
I’m going to close with a quilt that looks more Autumnal, but which I think really conveys the Easter message. This quilt was made in 1939 by Mary Gasperik, our 2021 Heritage Honoree who will be inducted in July. In her own words, this quilt is about a woman “trying to bear the trials of poverty inflicted upon her by the depression” who must stop and rest “to gather fresh courage to reach the ‘World of Tomorrow’…. The birds are singing songs of encouragement. Beyond these mountains lies Recovery.”
And isn’t that an appropriate thought for us this year? We’ve been through a lot with the pandemic, but we’re on the road to recovery and there’s hope for the future. There’s always hope for a new beginning at Easter-time.
Your quilting friend,
Ruby Short McKim: Doodler to Quilter
This past Saturday was National Quilting Day, and marked one year since I started writing this blog. My original intention had been to introduce you to the Quilters Hall of Fame Collection because I had been working on the committee that is in charge of that. But the pandemic shelter-in-place policy put a quick end to that and so I shifted to writing about the Honorees. Now, with vaccinations, we should be able to get back to Collections work soon, and I’m looking forward to telling you about our “finds”. In the meantime, this week I’ll write about Honoree Ruby Short McKim.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have the discipline to be a true researcher. Generally, I poke around and find things, but often, I go about it the hard way. This is a case in point. I started out to see what McKim objects, if any, the Hall of Fame has; it turns out that we have quite a few quilts, and you can see them all at the link below. We also have some photos, including one with a block that caught my eye: “Smee the Irish Pirate”. Not knowing who Smee is, I went searching and learned that he is a character in J.M. Barrie’s play “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. He’s Captain Hook’s bo’s’un, “stabs without offense” and darns socks for the boys. I suppose if I had kids or grandkids, I might have seen the Disney version and recognized the name. But the McKim version is on her Peter Pan quilt. Now, if I had started with the Peter Pan quilt instead of just that one block, I might have missed Smee, thinking I knew all about the main characters. Here’s McKim’s Smee, Smee played by Edward Kipling in 1924, and a Disney version.
Well, that was a roundabout way to get to the fact that Ruby McKim was known for her patterns, including the Peter Pan quilt. You can take a more direct route by reading the bio information at the link below. And there’s also a link to a great article about McKim’s early years.
A doodler from an early age, McKim illustrated her high school yearbook and often included little sketches in her letters to family and friends. She did a number of watercolor paintings, including one of Russell Stover’s garden—I didn’t know he was a real person, I just know the candy name. After formal training in New York City (a big move for a Midwest farm girl whose parents were Latter-Day Saints, but-never fear-she stayed with her older sister who was married to a missionary) McKim began her career as an art teacher, but soon seguéd to syndicating quilt patterns. Her first, “Bedtime Stories”, was based on the animal characters of Thornton Burgess, and she called them “Quaddy Quilties”—maybe because the characters were four-footed or was it because they had squared-off shapes? As an aside, Burgess, who was McKim’s fellow columnist at the Kansas City Star, wrote over 15,000 bedtime stories and 170 books, and collaborated with illustrator Harrison Cady. Here are some of McKim’s animals next to Cady’s frontispiece for one of the “Old Mother West Wind” books.
The McKim Quaddies are available as Spoonflower yardage (maybe because outline embroidery isn’t as popular now as it was when McKim was publishing in the 1920-30s, but we all love panels and color). There’s a link below, and you can also get another design, “Toy Shop Windows”, at the same site.
The original patterns appeared as weekly newspaper installments, generally coming out over a twenty- week period to provide a 4 x 5 straight setting of the blocks (although some, such as “Bird Life” had twenty- four), usually sashed. The Kansas City Star, the Omaha World-Herald, the Nebraska Farmer,Woman’s World, Successful Farming, Indianapolis Star and the Ft. Wayne News-Sentinel were among the papers which carried her patterns. Each design for the Peter Pan quilt was accompanied by McKim’s fanciful telling of the story. For example, Smee was said to be fat and jolly because he enjoyed pirating so much; the Father slept in Nana’s doghouse because, even though he was usually stern and dignified, he had remorse for leaving the children without their protector; Tinkerbell appeared as “a tiny darting light like a fire-fly or a wee tinkly noise so faint that you’d just imagine it wasn’t a sound at all.” The placement of the blocks in the “Peter Pan Quilt” was also specified: corner blocks were identified because their curved outlines were a design element. This is a listing of the series quilts, several of which can be found on the Quilt Index:
Quaddy Quiltie, Mother Goose Quiltie, Nursery Rhyme, Rhymeland Quilt, Roly-Poly Circus, Fruit Basket, Flower Basket, A Jolly Circus, Child Life Quilt, Alice in Wonderland Quiltie, Flower Garden, Bird Life or Audubon Quilt, Three Little Pigs, Colonial History, Bible History, Farm Life, Peter Pan, State Flowers, Wildwood Flowers, Toy Shop Window, Patchwork Sampler, Parade of States, and American Ships. (Let me know if I missed any.)
Here’s a quilt from the “Flower Garden” series with an alternate plain block setting and a special border.
And here’s “Roly Poly Circus” with a traditional setting.
In addition to the newspaper outlets, McKim’s designs appeared for several years in Child Life magazine. One of the features, appearing in 1923, was “Fables in Fabric” in which a fable was printed in one column and an illustration of the fable (suitable for embroidery) was next to it. Included in this series was “The Fox and the Grapes”, “Tortoise and Hare” (intended to be a counterpane), “Goose That Laid the Golden Egg”, “Wise Owl and Foolish Grasshopper”, and (designed for a laundry bag, although I don’t see any connection between image and use) “Frog Who Looked Before He Leaped”. McKim illustrated the first fable, but other illustrators interpreted her sketches for the final fables.
By the late 1920s, the Colonial Revival caught up with McKim, and her work expanded into appliqué and piecing. McKim published two catalogs, Designs Worth Doing, and Adventures in Needlecraft. Individual patterns from the Designs series are available on Etsy, and you may find some from Adventures as well. Here’s a quilt from those catalogs, made by Rosie Marie Werner, an expert on kit quilts:
I can’t tell whether to call this style Art Deco or to just say it’s reminiscent of McKim’s other quad/square designs. Either way I like it, so here are two more stylized floral McKim quilts.
If you want a break from quilt-making, but still want to be quilt-connected, Designs Worth Doing is being re-imagined by McKim’s granddaughters as Designs Worth Coloring. This series combines Ruby’s floral designs with zentangle backgrounds; books are available at the McKim Studios site below. (This is probably a good point at which to say that you can find all things Ruby Short McKim, including a notecard of that Russell Stover Garden watercolor, at this site. Happy shopping!)
Ruby Short McKim may be best-known to day as the author of 101 Patchwork Designs, published in 1931 and re-issued by Dover in 1962. It originally had a lavender cloth cover, but now looks like this, or this, or this:
Don’t be fooled like I was; they’re all the same inside—only the cover is different. I own all three.
Some of the block designs were also patterns for a sampler published in the Kansas City Star. Here’s a quilt made from that series; You can find lots of samples in mixed colors, but this limited palette is unusual.
Now I’m going to close with one final McKim picture, a “House on the Hill” block from the Kansas City Star.
I have four of these blocks, and wonder what to do with them. The Quilters Hall of Fame already has one donated by Honoree Cuesta Benberry, so they don’t need more. I could set them into a small quilt, but they really aren’t my style. “Why did you buy them?” you ask. I’m at a loss to explain; I knew they were something historical, but that doesn’t help. Please send suggestions.