Sunday in San Jose

Lynn Schoeffler 2010

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Last September, I had a wonderful time meeting Jane Przybysz, Museum Director, and Joyce Hulbert, Collections Manager at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles for a crazy quilt conservation workshop. (See The Art of CQ Conservation.) SJMQT has been recognized as the first museum in the United States dedicated to quilts and textiles as an art form, and it provides a distinctive and eclectic variety of fiber arts exhibits from around the world.

Imagine my excitement when Joyce asked me to be part of a day of presentations during the Still Crazy exhibit; exploring not only technique and styles of crazy quilting, but also the socio-economic status of the women who made them. It was an opportunity not to be missed; and I managed to submerge the thought that it had been a very long time since I had spoken before a group. Jane and Joyce made us all feel most welcome, however, and their thoughtful help including volunteers to assist with display, lighting and even tech support for the Power Point presentations was key for a special day for speakers and audience alike.

Photo from the SJMQT collection; permission granted for use.

First to speak was my friend, Kris Herman, Education Coordinator at the Oceanside Museum of Art; she brought a wealth of information, great images and vintage quilt pieces for her talk about Crazy Quilt Iconography--motifs and images found in historic crazy quilts.

According to Kris, "women who did intricate stitching demonstrated a plentitude of leisure time that testified subtly but unmistakably to their privileged class position. Her textiles were gifts a woman gave to her family; extensions of her own pride and abilities. The homemade object signified the female producer's thriftiness, creativity and personal care for the comfort of her family."

Kris documented and provided photos for a huge number of motifs covering everything from women's issues of the vote and temperance, to activism in politics, to the language of flowers. Roses alone provided a list of over ten different sentiments including pink roses for grace, happiness and beauty to yellow roses for jealousy or infidelity!

A special code of signals for Victorian women was represented by a fan: it could mysteriously shadow a lady's expression, disguise the direction of her glance from a chaperone or coyly indicate her changing moods.

Bonnie Montgomery is an independent historical consultant who had done some amazing research on a quilt made in 1892 by the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, owned and exhibited by SJMQT. Bonnie was kind enough to send me a detailed transcript; please read about her investigation into the provenance of this quilt. (See Bonnie Montgomery: Quilt Detective! for more information.)

Bonnie also sent photos of the five rebus squares in this quilt. As you might remember, a rebus is a kind of word puzzle that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. The five patches are read as "Johnstone," "Bellingall, "Gausline," "Case," and "Britton." Bonnie described her true "a-ha!" moment when she figured out the C + ACE square, saying that Hattie Burgess, recipient of the quilt, must have felt much the same way as she puzzled out the names of the ladies of the GAR circle.

Photo permission SJMQT

After a quick lunch, Joyce Hulbert spoke about the conservation and preservation efforts for the wonderfully varied crazy quilt collection on display. Joyce and her team spent many hours of extremely painstaking and meticulous work to get these quilts ready for display.

Photo permission SJMQT

Thoughtfully curated, the collection had almost thirty pieces, including a full length crazy quilted robe, drapery panels, and a fabulous full size quilt made up of over three hundred "Countries of the World" cigarette silks.

Photo permission SJMQT

And then it was my turn! Joyce had positioned my presentation in perfect segue, because my subject was "Contemporary CQ--An International Movement." Thanks to a number of skilled crazy quilt artists from around the world, I was able to display many beautiful pieces of art not only on the screen, but up close and personal for audience viewing afterwards.

The splash of the bright colors and the bold and innovative use of modern fabric, threads and beadwork on these pieces provided an amazing contrast to the beautiful old quilts in the main gallery. My presentation focused on the explosion of teaching and learning that is happening in today's crazy quilting, and the global community that shares its talents so generously. Every woman that I contacted about this program answered with an immediate and enthusiastic loan of their work; it was a privilege to be able to represent these consummate CQ artists and teachers:

Sharon Boggon

Hideko Ishida

Jo Newsham

Rengin Yazitas

Leslie Ehrlich

Maureen Greeson

Pat Winter

Suellene Petersen

Allison Aller

Dakotah Davis

Cathy Kizerian

Lauri Burgessor
Debbie Quiron

I chose these pieces of work as representative of a few of the current trends in crazy quilting that have contributed to the ground swell of interest into this form of textile art. Indeed, crazy quilts have been called the "first art quilts". Contemporary crazy quilting encompasses not only the monumental variety of materials and techniques available today, it also seeks to preserve and understand the skills, knowledge and creativity of the women in our past.

Photos by Cynthia Furey

Suellene Petersen and Lynn Schoeffler
Photo by Cynthia Furey

We rounded off the afternoon with a panel and group discussion led by Jane Przybysz that gave us some additional insight into the values and societal mores of the women who practiced fancy needlework at the turn of the century. Jane read parts of a poignant text on crazy quilts by Ruth McEnery Stuart, entitled "To her Crazy-quilt...A Study of Values." According to The Quilt Journal*, "Jane Przybysz's discovery of the unpublished musings of an accomplished female writer who used the crazy quilt as the central symbol in a discussion of changing values, is of unusual importance." Follow the link below to see the entire text.

Finally, this article cannot be complete without a colossal thank-you to my in-house support staff: my husband Dave, without whom the Power Point wouldn't have been nearly as good looking as it was; and to my son Devin, who showed up in the nick of time with his friend Cynthia to help me cart my stuff in, take photos, and more importantly, get the tech working!

For a schedule of the 2010 exhibits at SJMQT, visit the museum's website at

* "The Victorian Crazy Quilt as Comfort and Discomfort" by Jane Przybysz

The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. Vol. 3, Number 2, 1994

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