Barbara Olson




Barbara Olson




Barbara Olson


Rebecca Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Houston, Texas


Karen Musgrave


Rebecca Salinger (RS): This is Rebecca Salinger interviewing Barbara Olson today. It's November 4, 2000. We're at the [Quilters' S.O.S.- ] Save Our Stories project at the great Houston International Quilt Association Festival. We're going to talk today to Barbara about this particular quilt. Can you tell me the name of this quilt and why it's the one you chose to talk about today?

Barbara Olson (BO): It is Atlantis, an Ancient Message. It is my most recent quilt and I am just totally in love with it.

RS: What is it that you are in love with?

BO: It was such a joyous quilt to create with all the fabric choices, the energy created with all the lines. I liked that part. Then I got into the energy on the outside of the city. It was so easy to maintain.

RS: I notice in the center there are all these turrets and towers coming up with these little sheeted triangles, black and white, and then it looks like a road.

BO: It could even be water.

RS: Then it's basically in a circular frame.

BO: There's a star gate surrounding the city--

RS: That is on top of a background and then it is framed mostly square. It is a square quilt. I notice these designs right here. Do you use those frequently?

BO: I use black and white points in almost all my designs.

RS: Why is that?

BO: I think I love that power calm image created just brings life to almost anything quilted. If I did this quilt without a little bit of that element it would be pretty flat.

RS: It adds life?

BO: Yes.

RS: Can you tell me something about the construction of this quilt in terms of these backgrounds. It looks layered.

BO: I started with a full-size piece of black fabric, then I layered and fused this image onto the fabric and then I did a buttonhole stitch around the edges.

RS: So, it's raw edged?

BO: Yes, that's right.

RS: With piecing, too, it looks like right around here.

BO: It's not my usual process. I usually turn the edges. This is a first for me to use this particular technique.

RS: Was this a test piece?

BO: Yes.

RS: Do you think you'll be doing more of these?

BO: No.

RS: Why is that?

BO: I'm going to go back to that turned edge like "In the Beginning." I like the turned edge. I like the finished solidness, and the extra line it gives when I turn in the edge.

RS: Just for reference, she was pointing to the quilt that is on the cover of the show program for the 2000 IQA [International Quilt Association.] Festival. What do you plan to do with this quilt?

BO: I had to agree that it would travel for two years, so it will not come home to me for two years. Hopefully I will sell it and it will be some place that it will be seen. I feel that I've been given these images and they need to go out into the world. I was lucky enough to be part of the process, the image come through me.

RS: You said it won't be coming home. Where is home?

BO: Billings, Montana.

RS: Tell me in general about your interest in quilting. Is this something that is heritage?

BO: My mother quilted before I was born but didn't do that when she was raising me. She since has started doing it since I began quilting. I took a basic quilting class about sixteen years ago. The first night I felt like I had come home. This was it. I tried lots of mediums and venues, but when I walked into that classroom, I knew it.

RS: Have you always been making these very graphic quilts in terms of a picture?

BO: No, that's been in about the last six years. I just slowly evolved the traditional into the art quilts.

RS: I notice you have a quilt over in the teacher's section. Are you teaching now?

BO: Yes.

RS: How long have you been teaching?

BO: For about six years at the national level, I should say.

RS: Are you a member of a local guild?

BO: Two local guilds.

RS: Do you teach locally or just nationally?

BO: I just teach regionally and nationally.

RS: When you say nationally, I assume you mean some place like this venue, the IQA show.

BO: All across the country and Canada.

RS: What do you enjoy the most about quilting?

BO: The color.

RS: These look like hand-dyed fabrics.

BO: Yes. I support the dyers in this country. I have not learned to do that process and I do not want to learn either. It would just take me away from creating the image.

RS: So, you like creating the images?

BO: I like creating the images. I like playing with color and texture and adding texture.

RS: I notice that a lot of your machine quilting is these meandering stitches. You're using very different threads here in various areas. What is this here?

BO: Metallic. There's metallics. There's sliver in there, which is like tinsel. There's multicolored. There's neon. Whatever thread will bring life to the image.

RS: I notice this quilt has a very large ribbon on it. Could you read us the ribbon over here?

BO: It is the Millennium Quilt Contest--a quilt for the year 2000, Houston, Texas. The award was Visions of Tomorrow, Imagination Award, sponsored by EE Schenck/Maywood Studio, $2,000.

RS: This has obviously been chosen as a winning quilt. What do you think makes a great quilt?

BO: I have a little saying on my board: Art is about releasing the energy and the light from matter. I think that makes a great quilt. Quilts can tend to be just a flat surface. Then there's that added element that releases the energy and engages the viewer and technique.

RS: You said that you eventually wanted to sell this quilt and you want the public to see it. What kind of venue do you see that being?

BO: Even hanging in a corporate headquarters, a public building, a museum would be wonderful. Quilts, Inc. owns In the Beginning, so obviously that image has gone out all over the world. Something like that would be wonderful to keep the image out there. One of my quilts went to a private residence that they use only maybe two weeks a year. [tape recorder shuts off during loudspeaker announcement.]

RS: While we had this shut down, we had just been talking about the back and your quilting. Could you tell us again how you quilted this?

BO: It's all machine quilted. There's some satin stitching. I just drop the feed dogs. I don't ever really mark anything. I just have a set plan and go for it. I am always so excited to get to the next phase of the process I can't spend the time marking it.

RS: Do you start from some particular place with each quilt? Perhaps with this one, tell us where you started.

BO: I usually always design from the center out and quilt from the center out.

RS: We're going to switch to another subject now. I know that you've touched on this, but why is quilting important to your life?

BO: It is my life other than my family. I do this full time. The creative process has just opened up so many opportunities in my life. It allows me to express myself in ways that I never could without this. I can't image my life without quilting. Without the fabric. Without the images. Without the texture and the color.

RS: Do you think these quilts in any way reflect your community or your life in your community?

BO: No, I don't. I think it's probably one of the ways I can express myself. I'm not a flamboyant person and it allows me to express myself in color. Even in decorating your house there's not many venues in which you can get all of this energy out. Personally, I'm a quiet person.

RS: What about the importance of quilts in America in a more general sense?

BO: I think this creative energy, this arena, this venue of quilting is extremely important to the world. We tend to be nurturing. We tend to be more pleasant people. What we do for this earth is extremely important, the softness that we add.

RS: Are you talking about quilters?

BO: Quilters and quilts. The whole process.

RS: Do you think these quilts in general have any kind of special meaning for women's history and experience in America.

BO: I think now that they're starting to be taken more seriously in the art quilt movement, they'll have a great impact. I think the wonderful traditional quilts will always be an important part of individual's history and relating back to the different generations.

RS: What about preservation? Would you classify this as an art quilt or a bed quilt?

BO: I would classify this as an art quilt. Being such, I'm not quite as worried about some of the issues that a traditional quilter would be in making a utilitarian piece that needed to withstand use and movement. These are on the wall so I can use a technique that a traditional quilter would not use. Some of the products are not proven long enough to know if it's going to impact these pieces down the road. One of the reasons that art quilts are having a bit of a tough time being accepted is because of their uncertainty of their longevity. With quilts you get fading. Fabric breaks down. In the art world it's a little bit tougher for people to accept it because of that. The fiber may not be here hundreds of years from now.

RS: Do you have anything else that you'd like to add that you would like to preserve?

BO: Just that no matter what venue quilters are creating in, they bring their own uniqueness to it. Their own joy. Their own spirit, their own energy to it. Those are the quilts that will stay at the forefront throughout history.

RS: Thank you very much for talking to us. This concludes the interview with Barbara Olson at the IQA Quilt Festival, November 4, 2000. It is 11:40 central standard time. [tape shuts off and restarts.]

RS: Continuance of Barbara Olson. This is text of her signage for the Millennium Quilt Contest for her quilt "Atlantis: An Ancient Message." Barbara Olson, Billings, Montana, USA. Materials and Techniques: Hand Dyed, Hand Painted and Commercial Fabrics. Fused, Machine Appliqu├ęd. Pieced and Quilted for the Visions of Tomorrow Category

A highly evolved technological society of ancient times.
A highly evolved technological society of the new millennium. Is it a beginning? A vision of a new Atlantis filled with breathtaking energy intertwined with passion and ancient knowledge. Or could it be an end if the lessons from ancient Atlantis are not heeded?

On the cusp of the new millennium, we hold the power of personal and planetary transformation in our hands. Opening our eyes to a new yet ancient way of seeing is the first step in creating an enduring, joyous, highly evolved society.

Enter this ancient city and discover its many messages.
Let the ancient sunlight warm our heart.
Believe in and fulfill our highest dreams.
Present the universe with the gift of our unique individual expression.
All creations must vibrate with the energy and spirit of humanity. Awaken, know what you are seeing.
Revitalize, not anaesthetize our youth.
Engage, not disconnect the life force of our families and communities.
Hard edges and constant perfection must yield softness and spirit.
Also, honor more tactile, hands-on ways of creating.
Live and create with the joy.

These are but a few of the many messages Atlantic has to offer. What additional wisdom can you give voice to?

End of signage. Next, end of interview. For Barbara Olson's text this is Rebecca Salinger.



“Barbara Olson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,