Thursday, December 31, 2009

Losing Our Minds

My friend and fellow artist Christine Mauersberger, sent me an email yesterday with pictures and a question about a family heirloom, a gorgeous mid-19th century red and green quilt. I didn't ask permission, so I won't post a picture of the quilt here, but will tell you a story of what happened when I looked at it.

Gayle and Christine at our group exhibition opening, Flavors of Fiber

I am not an expert in 19th century quilts. My research expertise has been focused on the contemporary quilt movement, which emerged in the 1950s, and which I wrote about in my book Uncommon Threads: Ohio's Art Quilt Revolution. Two of my friends, however, happen to be world renowned experts in quilt history: Virginia Gunn and Ricky Clark. I first met Virginia in 1988 when we moved back to Ohio from Philadelphia. She was presenting a program on quilt dating, and participants had brought quilts for her to look at. Recently retired from the University of Akron, Gunn is still teaching courses at the International Quilt Study Center. Seven years ago or so, we had both been invited to speak at the Ohio Historical Society in celebration of Ohio's bicentennial, as had Ricky. Having recently received a family heirloom quilt of my own, I decided to bring it along, so I could show it to Virginia. Having told her nothing about it, she took one look at it, and said, "This quilt was made in Knox County, Ohio in 1840; I recognize the fabric." I was stunned, and she was right. That's how good she is.

I met Ricky Clark around the same time I first met Virginia. I attended a program on quilt history that Ricky was presenting related to the Ohio quilt documentation project she was conducting. Over the years, Ricky truly became a mentor, enthusiastically supporting my artwork production and my interest in quilt research. It was she who suggested that Ohio University Press approach me to write a book; it was she who gave me all of her old Quilter's Newsletter Magazines, and generously shared her other research materials. It was she who invited me to serve as co-curator for several exhibitions she assembled, and it was she who suggested that I take over as curator of the Artist as Quiltmaker exhibition, which she had founded in the early 1980s.

When Christine emailed me the picture of her quilt, I responded with my initial observations, then immediately went to put my hands on two of Ricky's books, which I knew contained detailed information about the style of quilt in question.

Quilts in Community was published with the research results of the Ohio quilt documentation project, and has always been one of my favorites. It is the perfect combination of quilt and state history, two of my passions. It is chock full of information about Ohio's wonderful treasure-trove of quilts and quiltmakers, with just the right helping of historical detail, such as the types of dyes used, or where Ohio's immigrant community came from. Oh, and there are lots and lots of color pictures.

Quilted Gardens was directly written about the type of quilt Christine had, and, although it wasn't strictly focused on Ohio quilts, the book contains its fair share of Ohio-made quilts from the 19th century, with wonderful genealogical stories to go along with the heirlooms.
It was delightful last evening to look through these books, since it had been several years since I had read them for the umpteenth time. Reading Ricky's words, the exquisite detail ferreted out from 150 years of quilt history by a brilliant mind, reminded me of the joy that comes from following one's passions. It also saddened me, because the Ricky Clark I knew no longer exists. She has been taken from us by Alzheimer's disease.
In the past several years, several fabulous women in my life have fallen prey to this terrible fate. Like Ricky, family friend, colleague and Oberlin printmaker Mary Rosenthal is gone. Painter, entrepreneur extraordinaire, dear friend and former mother-in-law Kathy Pritchard is gone. Kathy technically died of breast cancer, which she fought valiantly, but when I saw her last prior to her death, at my 50th birthday party, she didn't know me. I miss her. She was only in her early 60's. Another close family member, also quite young, was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year. I dread the day when she no longer remembers who I am. Finally, two nights ago, our dear Aunt Jane succumbed. Jane was also young, and had been a brilliant accountant, and one of the brightest women I ever knew. I miss her, too.
As the New Year, and the new decade, approaches, I am once again reminded of the frustratingly fleeting quality of life. I was hit over the head with this not-so-gentle fact when both of my parents died a year apart in the early 1990s. Once again, life nudges me to remember...remember love, remember who I am, remember to live in the now, remember, remember, remember...lest we all lose our minds.


  1. You have given so much to sooo many...dear friend. It is on a night like tonight when reflection creeps into our hearts and minds. The love you give will remain in your complete humanity as your heart continues to beat in your vessel. The full Blue Moon promises a gentle nudge into 2010 with the reflections on freshly fallen snow blanketing our hillsides. Time is the authentic gift we have to give to those we love so each day becomes a gift to our souls. Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  2. I lost both parents 17 days apart in 1990. With no siblings, and really no family to speak of, and the Gulf War starting and the possibility of DH being sent, I learded quickly to live in the NOW.
    It does not set well with some, they dither, they want to put of and ut off, but I want to decide and move on.
    Life is too short, too precious, too rare and special not to be treated as the most blessed of gifts.
    Use it....while we may.
    And may 2010 bring us all a year to make these words come true!


  3. These reflections ring so true. Time is the real gift: time given, time given away, time taken. The real question each day is, What will I do with my time today?

  4. Gayle, I'll send you more pictures of the quilt. You have my permission to post if you like. Marion said that her grandmother was given the quilt as a wedding present.

  5. Thanks for the pix, CB. I think I will also share them with the American Quilt Study Group online. Such a treasure! I'm not surprised that family history records it as a wedding quilt: just the right style for that, as well.