About My Mother

09/19/13

MomQACover

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People are often struck by the fact that I did not pick up a paintbrush until I was 32 years old. It’s true, I didn’t, and when I did, I had no idea (much less aspiration) that I would ever make a living as an artist. But what’s crazier still is my mom’s story.

Let me begin by saying that’s my mom’s quilt on the cover of the most recent issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, above. For those of you who don’t know much about the world of quilting, Quilting Arts is the magazine for art quilters. Art quilting is a broad term referring to contemporary textile art which may have some of the basic structural characteristics of a traditional quilt, but incorporates contemporary techniques and materials.

ridingthermaliweb

{Soaring, 2012}

My mom began art quilting in the 1990’s, though she had always been a prolific sewer and a maker. Her life has almost always been defined by sewing or textile art in some form. She has a Masters Degree in Clothing and Textiles from Penn State, which she earned in the early 1960’s. When I was a kid, she sewed a lot of my clothes and nearly everything for our house. She also had a large German loom which sat in our family room. The sound of the sewing machine and the swooshing and clanking of my mom’s hand motions interacting with the mechanics of the loom were the background noise of my childhood. Gorgeous woven wall hangings donned the walls of our suburban home. All my life, I have been surrounded by my mom’s hands making things.

What’s different about my mom’s quilting story from the rest of her career is that until she became a quilter she never considered herself an artist. She never sold her work or entered competitions. I suppose it was partly the times; she was busy raising three children, all of us close in age, and often working while we were at school to help support our family. She didn’t have time to become a full fledged textile artist.

fragmentsofalife

{Fragments of Life, 2008}

Fast forward to the 1990’s. My mom is in her early 50’s. She decides to take up quilting. She says she tried it once in the 70’s and didn’t like it. So she also decides pretty early on that art quilting–as opposed to traditional quilting–is more her aesthetic and speed. “I could continue my addiction to fabric, not worry about points and matching seams, and the end result was a beautiful work of art.” Also, two things are happening. For one, her children are grown and gone, so she has more time to create, and more energy to focus on creating. For another, the Internet is beginning to emerge as a way to meet other people with similar interests, share work, and get inspiration. Both of these factors have contributed to my mother’s prolific success.

indigomoons

{Indigo Moons, 2008}

While it may seem impressive that my mom didn’t start quilting until she was in her 50’s, what’s even more impressive is what happened afterward. She joined guilds and made friends with other men and women who also made art quilts. When she was in her 60’s she started a blog about her life and work. She built a website to showcase her work. She dyes her own fabrics, screen prints, paints, stamps and discharges dyes. In the early 2000’s, after refining her craft and participating in critiques, she began entering competitions, showing her work in galleries and quilt shows and selling pieces, many commissioned by private collections and organizations. Her work is featured in quilt books and numerous magazines. And, at the age of 74 (she turns 75 next week!) her work landed on the cover of Quilting Arts Magazine. When she found out, she called me to announce “I’m a cover girl!” It made my eyes well up with tears.

MomInteriorMagazinepage

{The full quilt, as it appears in the October/November issue of Quilting Arts Magazine}

So really, 32 years old is pretty young to start your art career. My mom was in her 50’s. And at 75, she’s still going strong. She works in her studio every day. She does meticulously and painstakingly detailed work. She constantly learns new techniques. She takes classes. She goes to conferences. She works part time for the prestigious Surface Design Association. She engages with her community. She is curious and passionate —  and she never questions whether to stop. “I’ll do this till the day I die,” she’s said to me many times.

Tomorrow the manuscript for my book is due. My editor asked me to write a dedication. That was not hard. “To my mother, Gerrie,” I wrote. “for showing me it’s never too late to find your bliss.”

Happy Thursday.

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