My Mom was the First Art Quilter…Ever

Here in Nebraska, you can’t spit without hitting a quilt, or some quilt related item. I picked up a little newspaper touting the local art scene and I kid you not, 75% of the newsprint was related to quilt shows, quilt shops, quilt classes, quilt patterns, quilt sales, quilt mugs….well you get the picture. In other words, I am in hog heaven. Yesterday I took some time to drive up to Lincoln and visit the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at The University of Nebraska. It was in a huge ultra-modern building and they are adding on if that tells you anything about the popularity of quilts here on the prairie.

While there, I noticed this fairly early Log Cabin Quilt which I thought looked ultra modern, and that got me to thinking about the early beginnings of the art quilt movement. If you happen to be from Ohio, then like me you are pretty darn certain that the art quilt world would not be the same but for the likes of early Ohio innovators like Nancy Crow, who happens to live about 15 miles from me, or Linda Fowler. But you would be wrong. My mother had them all beat by about 15 years.

As I mentioned before, we come from a family of do-it-your-selfers, often because we just want to, but many times out of necessity. This was never more true than back in 1960 when my Dad enticed my mother to go tent camping for the very first time, she agreed, but shall we say, was less than thrilled with the idea of sleeping on the ground. My Dad promptly started construction on a homemade camper which was basically two large plywood boxes with the tent popped up in the middle. When complete this contraption was christened the Gissaf, which was our last name spelled backwards. Before it’s maiden voyage, however, it had to be painted a nice shade of forest green with an oil-based paint. This task fell to my mother. Her paint jobs were fine, but my god, she was the world’s messiest painter, she always had more paint on herself and the surroundings than she ever got on a wall. So rather than defile my Dad’s pride and joy, she used a drop cloth. You guessed it, a quilt… a family heirloom. Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt, hand pieced, with swirly machine quilting. Deidre Adams, eat your heart out, my mother perfected your technique while you were still in diapers.

So you can imagine my chagrin, when during a three week camping trip to Lake Erie, in order to stave off boredom, my brother and I made a fort under a bush several campsites away. Another of the heirloom quilts was provided for our use. Now my brother and I knew better than to tarry when dinner was called, so when summoned, we snapped to, leaving said quilt forgotten under a bush. I sure was surprised, and confused, to witness my mother’s distress when we showed up sans quilt. Heretofore, I was pretty certain quilts had no more value than the dog’s blanket. All four of us searched the entire campground, but the precious heirloom was gone forever.

I still have the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt with that patch of hellish green paint that will forever remind me of my mother. The loss of the second quilt, rather than a horrific event burned into my young mind, was an experience that taught me the value of a quilt. You can bet I take care of mine!

1 reply
  1. Peggy Mcdevitt
    Peggy Mcdevitt says:

    Another fantastic story, wow you sure can spin a interesting tale. Sounds like we would all be happy in this neck of the woods.

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