Joan Hailey Hansen


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Joan Hailey Hansen




Joan Hailey Hansen


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Rolla, Missouri


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Joan Hailey Hansen for the Alzheimer's Forgetting Piece by Piece Q.S.O.S., which is also the name of the exhibit the quilt is in. Today's date is February 14, Happy Valentine's Day, and it is 6:23 in the evening. We are doing this interview by phone because Joan lives in Rolla, Missouri and I live in Naperville, Illinois. Joan, thank you so much for doing this interview with me.

Joan Hailey Hansen (JHH): You are quite welcome.

KM: Tell me about "Jackie's Chocolate Quilt."

JHH: Jackie Voss Jones was a friend of mine when we were in high school. She was one of the most popular girls and the most active in everything imaginable. Everyone loved Jackie, in fact, they loved her until the very end. Her son married my daughter and together Jackie and I have a grandchild, Hallie, who is seven years old. She has some of Jackie's characteristics. I was very sad when she dies. Before she died, every time she called me, she would say, 'Aren't you glad we didn't get that old Alzheimer's,' and I would say, 'Yes I am really glad we didn't, Jackie.' Then she would say, 'Well, it is like my mother said, you've got to keep a pos-itive att-itude.' (breaking the word down and emphasizing each part of the word) and that is how she would say it. A pos-itive att-i-tude. She kept this positive attitude even when she was dying of lung cancer. She was in a nursing home because the Alzheimer's prevented her from taking care of herself. The reason I call it "Jackie's Chocolate Quilt" is because she loved chocolate. A box of chocolates was a perfect gift for her. I had some fabric that had some chocolates on it and purchased some that looked like fudge for the background. This is how the quilt got it's name. Jackie was laughing and joking until she died, so she kept her positive attitude to the end. I did not want to make a poignant type of quilt for this display because I didn't feel that would be appropriate for this kind of person. My quilt represents hope, hope that we can get rid of this terrible disease and hope that we can raise enough money make a dent in the research project. In fact, the corners of the quilt say ‘hope'on them with little rays to hope that look like sunshine. I painted her picture. It was the third picture I had ever painted. I used Bonnie McCaffrey's book and with the book in my lap and paint brush in hand, I followed the directions. It is Jackie's high school graduation picture because this is how I want to remember her. I thought through the quilt it would be an excellent memorial for Jackie with thousands of people seeing her story.

KM: What are your plans when you get it back?

JHH: I'm going to give it to our granddaughter, Hallie and her Dad.

KM: You have a lot of lettering on here, is this typical of your work?

JHH: No, not really. I just needed to put her words on the quilt and I didn't know how to do it any other way. I am a machine appliquér, so I just used this technique. The words would help get the message across.

KM: It says 'Jackie was smart, vivacious, pretty and one of the most popular girls in the school. Her greatest rear was that she would get Alzheimer's disease like her mother. We weren't sure if she knew she was sick because she often said I'm so glad that I didn't get that old Alzheimer's, we must keep a positive attitude. It robbed her of her memory and the ability to care for herself, but it never robber her of her spirit.'

JHH: That's right.

KM: That is so wonderful.

JHH: That is just how I felt. I wrote a lot more in the description which is printed on the back of the quilt. For example, I wrote about the last time I saw Jackie. As I was getting ready to leave, she said, ‘Come give me a hug'. She was so frail that I could feel her bony little body as she whispered in my ear, "I love you". I knew this was the last time I was going to see her and I walked out of the room with a very heavy heart. She died a few days later. That was the kind of person she was, and that was why I could not make a quilt that would be disturbing to people. I needed to make a hopeful quilt.

KM: Tell me about the back of the quilt.

JHH: For the back of the quilt I printed the whole message I sent to Ami [Sims, curator of the exhibit.], the whole description of Jackie. I also wrote who to send it to after the exhibit and who would get the quilt for keeps.

KM: How did you feel when you got into the exhibit?

JHH: I was absolutely shocked. I didn't really expect to get into the exhibit because I'm a wearable artist, and I prefer that over quilts. Making a quilt is quite different and I am still very much an amateur quiltmaker. Jackie had just died and I felt it was worth a try to memorialize her in this fashion. When I was accepted I was number 49 so I said, 'Well, I'm number 49. I must have been near the bottom. [laughs.] I must have been one of the worst ones." Ami assured me I wasn't, but I was still unsure of myself and I am thrilled that so many people see it. The thing about it is that so many people say , 'Well I couldn't finish the exhibit it was just too tearful for me,' and mine is number 49! [laughs.] I don't know how many people have actually seen it.

KM: I white gloved--the two times I white gloved in the exhibit, people often didn't follow--start at the beginning and go around to the end, [the quilts in the exhibit are in order of the stages of Alzheimer's.] Depending how it was set up or where they came to they would often start there and go around and when I was white gloving because I knew about your writing on the back, I showed people the back of your quilt a lot.

JHH: Oh did you?

KM: Yes I did.

JHH: Thank you.

KM: I thought because yours does have the complete story on the back, I would show people the back of your quilt. So people have seen your quilt.

JHH: Oh well good, that is good. I just wanted to memorialize Jackie and her wonderful attitude. That is why I did it.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

JHH: Yes I have. As a matter of fact, Jackie's family and I went to St. Louis to see it and we took pictures. I happened to mention this to the show director and I thought she was going to kill me. I said I only took pictures of my own quilt but I gook pictures with Hallie, the grandchild and Jackie's two children. The girls that were white gloving let me do it, and I said this is my quilt. I want a special picture with the family in it. So I got to take some pictures.

KM: I should explain that Ami does not allow photography of the exhibit because there is a book and CD.

JHH: I do know that. There was only a CD out and I bought it, and several copies of the book later. I also understand that photography fades the quilts, but I just wanted a picture of the family with the quilt.

KM: I think that is wonderful.

JHH: I will probably put the pictures on the back of the quilt if there is any room left. [laughs.]

KM Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking. You said that you do wearables.

JHH: Yes, I started sewing in high school, much to my chagrin. I was preparing to be a music major and played a number of different instruments, but my dad made me take Home Economics. I said, 'I don't want to take that class because I will have to sew.' After taking the class, I decided it wasn't so bad, and then mother said that if I made my own clothes, she would buy all the fabric I wanted. Of course that was music to my ears and I began making my own clothes. I just gradually built on that, taking classes, reading magazines and books. I am anxious to get back to teaching at the quilt shop, because a lot of people want to learn how to fit and sew for themselves. I won third place in the amateur wearables in Paducah [American Quilter's Society.] one year, and then I was in that little style show in Houston [International Quilt Festival.]

KM: Bernina, the Bernina show?

JHH: No, didn't make that.

KM: I'm sorry.

JHH: [laughs] That is beyond me I think. I don't want to spend a whole year making something. It was the "Stitch in Time." That is where anybody can go and show off what they have done. So I won awards tow times. One of them was a vest I made. I took a class from let me think of her name, the artist that makes clothing.

KM: Is it Rachel Clark?

JHH: Rachel Clark, yes. I had taken a Rachel Clark workshop and I made a Christmas vest after the class. It was a humorous vest because I put a big diamond ring pin on it and I had Santa reading his list. I called "Santa Baby" which was taken from the Eartha Kitt song. 'I want a diamond ring and everything...' On the back was a sleigh full of gifts and I used a lot of jingle bells and appliqués on it. It was all done in Rachel Clark fashion. I was in the show but I didn't actually win any of the prizes, but they gave a special ribbon for the most entertaining garment which was quite nice. I just walked around and jingled my bells. [laughs.]

KM: Good for you.

KM: Tell me about the first quilt you made.

JHH: The first quilt I made was a small black quilt ad I put half-square triangles of bright colors on it. It was very simple and small. I took it to quilt guild thinking how wonderful it was because I love bright colors and I thought it was just the greatest quilt. When I showed it, they said ‘that's nice,' and then another lady showed her quilt that was almost identical only it had a little different twist on it. It was prettier than mine and I thought, ‘oh darn!' [laughs.] Here I thought it was so wonderful and it wasn't wonderful at all, but it was my first quilt.

KM: When did you start quilting? How long ago?

JHH: In 1999. I retired that year and joined the quilt guild. I took every class that I could find and then I joined the Springfield, Missouri guild and they had a lot of national artists come in. I took classes from them and learned a lot. I actually had two classes with Rachel Clark and I just loved her work and her classes. The only other wearable artist that I took a class from was Jenny Raymond. I learned a lot from that class also. But I have had a lot of technique classes - Jackie Robinson and Libby Lehman. That one was really valuable.

KM: How was it valuable?

JHH: I learned thread painting and bobbin work. Fill your bobbin with decorative thread and sew from the reverse side.]I thread painted on a quilt that had a scene on it and did bobbin work on a jacket.

KM: Anyone else?

JHH: I don't know. I have taken so many classes because I have been going to Houston every year since 1999. Between in Houston and Springfield, there are so many artists from whom I have taken classes that I can't remember them all.

KM: Describe your studio.

JHH: [laughs.] I do have a sewing room, but I have to my cutting upstairs ad my millions of pieces of fabric are in a walk-in closet, so my studio is all over the house. I wish I had a real studio.

KM: What advice would you give someone just starting out?

JHH: I would say take classes and strive for perfection and learn to altar and fit patterns. I think that is one reason I won some of those honors that I have won. I know that is why I won in Paducah, because every stitch was perfect. I think you have to strive for fit and perfection. I don't mean the old fashion thing where you have to make the underneath side look as good as the outside, I don't advocate that at all You get discouraged trying to make everything perfect, but I think the garment should fit nicely and look good. I would say take as many classes as you can.

KM: What do you like about teaching?

JHH: I spent thirty years in the classroom and I enjoyed that. I had seventh graders, and I had every seventh grader that went through middle school for seventeen years, and one of the things that I enjoyed most was teaching them to use the sewing machine. The boys loved the sewing machine. I taught them how to write with the sewing machine. They loved that. After retiring, my friend opened a quilt shop and asked me if I would teach. I have enjoyed the adults as much as I have the children and adults are so enthusiastic. Just to have them excited about their garments is a spirit lifter. Some tell me that people ask if they purchased their garment at Cold Water Creek! [laughs.]

KM: Let's return before our time is up. Lets return to the exhibit. Are there any quilts in the Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece exhibit that really speaks to you, that are your favorites?

JHH: Each one is unique, each one has a message and I have both the book and CD and I have seen the exhibit, and I would really hate to say which one I like the best because they all speak to me in some way or another. Like people, you enjoy all different personalities and that is the way these quilts are to me. They are all different personalities and they all have a message, so I can't tell you which one I liked the best.

KM: That is quite alright. When you did the CD and you had to read your artist statement, how was that experience for you?

JHH: It was fine with me, because I have done a lot of public speaking besides in the classroom so it didn't bother me that much. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to do that. I would never have thought to do that, but it was an enjoyable experience to me. It wasn't frightening or nerve racking or anything like that. I practiced a bit and then did it.

KM: I had to do it three times because I kept crying.

JHH: [laughs.] Well, I managed to get through that. I just turned my mind off. I wasn't thinking of the meaning. I can do that and sometimes I can't, but luckily that time it worked.

KM: Why is creative endeavors important to you?

JHH: It is an outlet. I just love to do original things. I don't like to do quilts a lot. I did a quilt for my grandson where I had to make about a hundred blocks that were all the same and I thought I was going to die of boredom. So a quilt and things that I do for the most part are creative. Art runs in the family. My sister is a painter and my brother has done a lot of woodworking and some stained glass windows so I think we have a bit of the artists genes. It gives me peace of mind when I create.

KM: How many hours a week do you create?

JHH: A lot, almost daily. I have several things going at once.

KM: What does your family think of the quilt?

JHH: They are very proud of the Alzheimer's quilt. I am not sure how they feel about the others.

KM: I want to thank you for taking this time to talk to me. Is there anything else you would like to add?

JHH: Just that I am honored to be in the show. I'm thankful with everything that has happened with the show. I'm happy that I could memorialize Jackie in this fashion. I'll bet she is smiling down from heaven and watching people look at the quilt. I'd like to think that.

KM: I think you have done a wonderful thing for her.

JHH: I wish Jackie could see it in person, but you know you have to believe she knows it is there. That is my story.

KM: Thanks so much for doing this interview with me. The interview concluded at 7:10.


“Joan Hailey Hansen,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024,