Archive for Thursday, March 26, 1998


March 26, 1998


In the technological `90s, some area quilters have used a traditional art form to express their views in a national exhibit.

A handful of Lawrence area needlewomen will step into history next week when "America Remembers: Quilting the 20th Century" opens at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

The exhibit, which was curated by the Kansas Historical Museum's education supervisor, Mary Madden, looks at the nation's recent past through the eyes of its quilters.

"Women have always chosen to mark events with quilts, but what you see in the 20th century is they're very original with using their own designs to express their thoughts," Madden said.

Of the exhibit's 30 quilts, four are from Lawrence.

"Lawrence has a wonderful group of quilters," Madden said. "There were some excellent quilts to choose from."

A group of 20 women who call themselves Seamsters Union Local 925 teamed up to create "Death Becomes Her," an irreverent parody of the well-known Sunbonnet Sue pattern.

Each block depicts Sue's death, some in a nonsensical manner, such as when Sue is chased by a ``Jurassic Park'' dinosaur or is sat on by a circus elephant.

"We tried not to use anything that was extremely distasteful; we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," Cherie Ralston, one of the creators, said.

Nevertheless, the quilters walked a fine line of "questionable taste," Ralston said, with Sue encountering Hale-Bopp, becoming a casualty in the Sunflower Surplus fire, being carjacked, stung by killer bees, even meeting two quilting-related fates: death by rotary cutter and by quilting machine.

"Death Becomes Her" is a '90s update of an earlier quilt that killed off the cloying quilt pattern character. The original quilt, "The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue," created a furor in quilting circles when it was entered in the Sunflower State Expo in 1979 and ended up being displayed folded and face down on a table, according to Seamsters Union Local 925 member Karla Menaugh.

That quilt's images were subsequently incorporated into the play "The Quilters," and it was sold to a nationally known quilt collector, Shelly Zegart, for $4,500, Menaugh said.

Other "Death Becomes Her" quilters are Barbara Brackman, Shauna Christensen, Sarah Fayman, Chris Johnson, Pam Mayfield, Patti Mersmann, Lois Sierra, Roseanne Smith, Jean Stanclift, Terry Thompson, Wendy Turnbull, Beth Yoder and Shirley Wedd, all of Lawrence; Jan Nitcher, Vinland; Julie Swords, Meriden; Shirlene Wedd, Holton; Jane Braverman, Prairie Village; and Kathleen Brassfield, Lenexa.

Joining Sunbonnet Sue in the Reagan library exhibit are two creations by Thompson -- "Princess Diana Memorial Quilt" and "Honey, My Hands Beg to Toil for You" -- and one by Shirley Wedd -- "The Spirit of St. Louis."

"The Spirit of St. Louis," a red, white and blue pieced quilt that uses a propeller-shaped pattern to commemorate Lindbergh's famous solo trans-Atlantic flight, is a prime example of how certain patterns evolve from national events.

Madden described "Princess Diana" as a "symbolic quilt," featuring a rose and a "wounded purple heart" theme. Thompson turned a collection of vintage dish towels, found objects and even a kitchen plate into the tongue-in-cheek "Honey, My Hands Beg to Toil for You," a sentiment expressed on one of the towels.

"In the last century, probably women would not have made something so irreverent, but they're a great historical record," Madden said. "Women are continuing to comment in a traditional art form.

"In a technological world, it's very comforting ... and it's fun."

"America Remembers: Quilting the 20th Century" opens April 4 and is on display through Oct. 4.

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