Morna McEver Golletz

Photos

AFPBP_35_02.jpg

Title

Morna McEver Golletz

Identifier

AFPBP-35

Interviewee

Morna McEver Golletz

Interviewer

Karen Musgrave

Interview Date

3/13/08

Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon

Location

Laytonsville, Maryland

Transcriber

Karen Musgrave

Transcription

Note: The quilt used for this interview is part of a book, CD and traveling exhibition called "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" which Ami Simms curated. The purpose of the exhibition is to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. All of the profit from the book and CD is donated to Alzheimer's research. For more information, visit www.AlzQuilts.org. No communication occurred March 11-12, 2008.

Karen Musgrave (KM): Morna, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Morna lives in Laytonsville, Maryland, and I am in Naperville, Illinois, and we are doing this interview by e-mail. Our interview began on March 7, 2008. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project based on the exhibit "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Please tell me about your quilt "I Like the Red" which is in the exhibit.

Morna McEver Golletz (MMG): First, I do want to say how grateful I am to participate in this project. It's powerful to know that my quilt will make a difference in combating this heinous disease.

When Ami [Simms.] asked if I would make a quilt, I was thrilled. I've been really living in the world of Alzheimer's since the mid 1990s. In the 1970s I had a grandmother and great-uncle die from complications from Alzheimer's. At that time, of course, we didn't have the diagnostic knowledge that we do today, and their diseases were discovered upon autopsy. Both these relatives, on my paternal side, were in their mid-80s, and while I have wonderful memories of them, I felt detached from the disease. I'm sure I thought it was something someone got as they aged. Enter my mother, who in her early-60s began her decline. She was living in North Carolina on her own, as my father had died in 1991. Once we realized she was having problems – her accountant called me – my four sisters and I decided she needed to move to the [Washington.] D.C. area, where three of us lived, as did her sister and her mother, who died this fall at the age of 100.

When I began designing my quilt, I tossed out countless ideas, as nothing seemed to capture her experience, before and with the disease. My mother has always had a wonderful sense of color. Born in 1930, she began her love of painting as a five-year-old. As an adult she earned a degree in Interior Design and went onto teach and win awards for her watercolor paintings. She developed early onset Alzheimer's disease in her early 60s. As the disease progressed, she lost the ability to draw, finally scribbling with a pencil, using the wrong end. She also lost the sense to distinguish color, with red seeming to be the last to go. My sisters and I would take her out, and, while she might be stimulated by new surroundings, we frequently heard, 'I like the red.' At a quilt show surrounded by wonderful pieces, she would say, 'I like the red,' only for me to discover she meant the azaleas used as floor decoration. We often dined at Nordtrom's Café, and as we walked through the store, she would say, 'I like the red,' only to discover she meant the lingerie on the mannequin or the red coat on another diner.

Finally, at Spring Quilt Market, with the deadline looming, the idea came to me. I came home with mental pictures, some sketches and proceeded to make a large design on graph paper. I started with the North Carolina Lily block as my inspiration, because my mother lived in eastern North Carolina longer than she lived anywhere else. (As an 'Army brat,' she moved frequently and would often remind her children that she went to 17 different schools, including one for only five days. As an adult, she moved less frequently, from Maryland to Georgia and finally to North Carolina. Today, she's back in Maryland in an Alzheimer's home in a room painted bright yellow and surrounded by her paintings.)

Once I knew I wanted to depict her loss of expressing color, I broke down the North Carolina Lily block into segments. I started with the complete block in vibrant reds at the bottom left and made another block next to it in only beige and taupe. As I moved up the quilt, I dropped off elements of the original block. I made a row with just the lily portion, a row of nine-patches, a row of triangles as I moved to the top of the quilt, ending with just squares. I included some bits of reds in each of the sections except the strip of squares at the top. I hand quilted the top with a variegated red YLI machine quilting thread in a variety of motifs. The fabric on the back is black and red with touches of gold. In the right light, you can see the red shadow to the front.

Today my mother lives in an Alzheimer's home in Maryland. She can no longer walk, feed herself and has very limited, almost non-existent, verbal skills. She was always proud of the artistic and business ventures of her daughters. She came to help when I vended at my first Houston Quilt Festival, though she tended to stray from the booth too much. She's seen and touched my quilt. I'm sure if my mom could express herself, she would say, 'I like the red.'

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

MMG: In a sense, it is, though I don't think I have a style. I know what I like and what I enjoy creating. I like working with some kind of structured format, though I'm definitely not a person who follows a pattern, so this started with the structure of a traditional block. I like the idea of tradition with a twist, which this is, as it doesn't repeat the block and drops the coloring. I love the choices we have in fabrics today, and you can see I've used a lot of different fabrics in this quilt. And, I enjoy hand quilting. I'm one of the decreasing numbers who enjoys hand piecing and hand quilting. With my business activities, I find such little time to actually quilt these days, so the hand work is relaxing. That said I've got several pieces under construction right now. One is a piece started in a workshop with Ruth McDowell, one is a small project started in a class with Paula Nadelstern and one is a hand-pieced scrap quilt I work on when I travel. All are pieced, use lots of fabrics and fit into a unit structure.

KM: What do you plan to do with your quilt when it is retuned to you?

MMG: Well, if my mom is still with us when the quilt is returned, I want to hang it in her room at the facility where she lives so others can see what I've done to honor her. And, who knows, she might, at some point, see the red. We'll also have it her memorial service along with the urn that my sister, who's a potter, will have thrown. I did have one sister ask if she could have the quilt when I died, to which I replied, 'What makes you think I'm going first?' Remember I do have longevity on my side! I think I'd like each of my sisters, my aunt and my nieces and nephews to write a remembrance of my mother and then add that to the back of the quilt. It would become a memory quilt of sorts that stays in our family.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit? If so, please tell me about your impressions of it. Do you have any personal favorites?

MMG: Yes, I saw the exhibit in Harrisburg (PNQE) [Pacific Northwest Quilt Extravanza.] in September, 2006, and also white-gloved while I was there. It's quite powerful, both to see the quilts and to hear the comments of viewers. I don't think anyone can view the exhibit and not be moved in some fashion. I liked each quilt for what it brought to the exhibit, but I did have some favorites. I loved the humor in Georgia Bonesteel's "A Porsche Problem," about her father and his car. I loved "Jackie's Chocolate Quilt." Keep a positive attitude; I laugh because that's my life attitude. When we first told my mother she had Alzheimer's, she told us she couldn't have that disease, because you needed an autopsy to know. When she asked a few years later what was wrong with her, I told her and she said, 'Oh, that's sad.' The next morning she didn't remember the conversation. I'm guessing she, like Jackie, didn't get that disease. I liked Mary Stori's quilt, again for the bit of humor I saw in its title – "Brain Cramps." And, the bits of conversation that Ami shares in "Underlying Current" made me laugh.

As you can see, I was most taken by those quilts that caused me to smile. (It's that positive attitude.) Each quilt is unique and brings something different to the exhibit. And, as you read the story with the quilt, it's so clear how this disease takes its toll on us all. Each made an impression on me. Your quilt, "Shattered," both its title and emotions, really expressed what happens to all of us.

KM: There is a CD of the exhibit that has an audio part where each quiltmaker can be heard saying her artist statement. Tell me about that experience.

MMG: It was actually quite easy to call and record my statement. Ami told me I made it easy for her as I did it in one take. My quilt tells a story about my mother and how her artistic spirit faded. Once I knew what I was trying to express in the quilt, I found it easy to write a statement. When it came time to record it, I did it on a Sunday after church. I'm active in my church and had served as a chalice bearer and a lesson reader that morning. I think it gave me a level of peace that I needed.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

MMG: I started quilting in January 1977. I've always had a needle in my hand. The family story is that I threaded the needles from the age of three for my great-great grandmothers. I went on to make many of my own clothes and was a store and regional winner in the Singer Sewing Contest. I think sewing at any level has always been important in my life. Anyway, I went to an outdoor craft show in the fall of 1976 at Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina, and met Sue McCarter, who was quilting at a frame. I thought that this is something I would enjoy. I loved sewing and had lots of leftover fabrics. This would be an inexpensive and fun hobby. Well, I was right on one account!

I didn't come from a family quilting tradition. My mother sewed and taught me to sew, but she was more a fine artist. One grandmother graduated with a degree in fashion illustration from Parsons School of Design, was experienced with fabric draping and passed along a sense of style and color. The other grandmother taught me to crochet and encouraged my needlework. Eventually I did end up with a couple family quilts – one a white wool crazy quilt and the other solid red with large cross-stitched star - but I know little of their history.

When I took the first class in 1977, I was hooked. I remember being so excited with the nine-patch pillow I made. I still have it; and when I was teaching beginning quiltmaking, I would bring it to show students where I started. After that first class, I hit the public library and also bought a couple of block pattern books. I made a lot of pillows in various blocks using the leftover dress fabrics I had. It didn't take long for me to make a couple baby quilts and then I went right for a queen-sized bed quilt. We didn't have the huge selection of resources and fabrics back then that we do today. The students in that first class as well as some of Sue's other students went onto form a guild that eventually became the Charlotte Quilters Guild. I can remember our driving to an NQA [National Quilting Association, Inc.] show in Washington, D.C. to see our work at the annual show.

Later that year I moved to Connecticut and began teaching quiltmaking in a local adult education program. Four years later brought a move to Philadelphia. I decided at that time to give up my regular day job and devote myself to quilting. I taught in the adult ed program, at fabric stores, on a free-lance basis and even did a quilting demo on Good Morning Philadelphia. I also began selling my work at juried craft shows, by commission and through two fine-arts cooperatives that I was juried into. Another four years brought a move to Harrisburg, 90 miles west of Philadelphia. I stayed in one cooperative and kept weekend classes at one shop near Philadelphia. I also began teaching at a shop in the Harrisburg area and became responsible for its Bernina club/classes. You've heard the old saying, 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket.' Well, change that to two. In the same month, the shop outside Philadelphia decided to close down its dress goods/quilting fabric department and the shop in Harrisburg, which had been in business for more than 150 years, closed its doors. About that time I had also decided to go to grad school. I eventually earned a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. While working as a journalist, I still quilted and occasionally sold my work. I also started doing more writing about quilters and quilting. That eventually led to my purchase in 1994 of The Professional Quilter, which let me combine my vocation and avocation. It's a joy to actually work in a field you love.

KM: Tell me about The Professional Quilter.

MMG: The Professional Quilter is a quarterly business journal for serious quilters, teachers, longarm quilters, artists, judges, shop owners, etc., who are interested in making a career, either full-time or part-time from quilting. The magazine was started in 1983 and is read by thousands of quilters around the world. You can find lots of magazines that teach quilters how to make quilts; we're the only one that teaches you how to make a quilt business. We also offer lots of targeted business resources for quilters, and I teach quilt business classes and publish a free monthly online business newsletter. The business lets me be creative, make an income and has been flexible with family moves. Since I've owned the magazine, we moved from Pennsylvania to Connecticut and now to Maryland. And, the field is so dynamic. We see changes every year, whether that's new products of just influences of new quilters. It's very exciting.

KM: How does running a magazine impact your quilting? Do you have time to quilt?

MMG: Well, not enough, and I miss that. I have the couple projects from recent classes and a quilt I'm working on for my youngest nephew. I have sketches from years ago that keep tugging at me. I need to schedule that time. I also enjoy getting others involved in quilting. While I didn't come from a quilting background, I'd like my nieces and nephews to know they did. My eldest niece, age 11, works on her first quilt when she visits. Her 8-year-old sister has made a patchwork skirt. I've also been working with people from my church, many of whom do not know how to quilt, introducing them to the joys of quilting. We all want quilting to continue to thrive, and I'm trying to do my part.

KM: I know that your time is limited. However, do you belong to any quilt groups?

MMG: I'm active in two local groups. One is Nimble Fingers Quilters that meets monthly in Potomac, Maryland. I'm lucky to be in an area with many fine quilt guilds, but this one suits my time best. I've been on the program committee for the past several years. I also design the flyer and program cover for the guild quilt show. This is a wonderful guild. It's a mix of traditional and art quilters, all of whom are respectful and encouraging of everyone's work. Plus, we serve lunch each month after the meeting. What could be better! I'm also a member of the Mason-Dixon Quilt Professionals Network, which is a group of teachers, designers and other quilters in business, largely from Maryland and Virginia. We meet quarterly to share ideas and support. I've done several programs for this group, as well as bring goodies to share from my twice yearly Market trips.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

MMG: Well, my answer would definitely depend on the day you asked. I'm always amazed when I come back from a show, later look at the photos and ask, 'Wonder why I took that one?' Many times, it's not really a work by a specific quilter, but rather a style or color that attracts me. I'm drawn to work that has a geometric/block structure, yet I'm very appreciative of appliqué. I like color and light in quilts; I'm definitely not drawn to quilts that are dark. I like quilts that make me smile. And, I love so many of the "anonymous" antique quilts, particularly those with imperfections. I also find that my tastes change; maybe that's why I don't recognize those photos! As for specific quilters, I'm particularly fond of works by Ruth McDowell and Jane Blair. I feel fortunate that Jane lived near me in Philadelphia, and I took her quilting and design classes. I still hear her voice urging innovative design, stretching tradition and finding our own voices.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

MMG: Find like-minded people. This could be in a class or a guild. It is so encouraging to share your passion at anything with others. Have you ever been to a show-and-tell and not seen people encouraged to make something else? Look for quilt shows to attend. Read quilt books. Study antique and new quilts. Continue to take classes and try new things. Be open to everything. Don't be concerned that what you make is not perfect. All your efforts will only give you 'more tools in your toolbox' and help you find your voice in quilting.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

MMG: I don't want to speak for everyone, but I think it's what challenges us in our everyday life – information overload and how it affects our available time. We all have the same 24 hours in the day, and everywhere we look we are bombarded with information vying for our time. And, we try to get everything done – faster, too. This is true in the quilt world. We've got at least 15 consumer quilt magazines, at least 4 new quilt books a month, untold numbers of patterns each month and new sites and blogs cropping up every day on the Internet. All this information is fabulous, says the gal who publishes information, but we need to step back and remember what we want to get out of quilting. Is it to share our work with others? Is it to have something that adds peace, joy and balance to our lives? We need to find the time for what's important to us.

KM: So why is quiltmaking important to you?

MMG: I'm not sure that I always know, just that it is. It really meets so many of my needs. I've always loved fabric, the colors, texture, hand, and, like most quilters, my stash is out of control. I find quiltmaking to be joyful and peaceful. Sewing and quilting are meditative. I love to design and I love to see what I've created come to fruition. It meets a basic creative need. I come from a creative family. My mother is a fine artist. One sister is a potter. One sister is a book designer. The other two sisters are crafts oriented. So I know this was encouraged from an early age. I enjoy the connection with other quilters; they are such caring and giving people. And, obviously, since I make my living in the quiltmaking field, it has an import at a different level. Sewing has always been a part of my life, and I can't imagine my life without quiltmaking.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MMG: I think it's one that stops you in your tracks and makes you really look at it. It might not even be well made or attractive, but it has something that draws you in and in again. And, it could be any style. And, for me, since my taste changes over time, what I think is a great quilt changes over time.

KM: What do you think the future holds for quiltmaking?

MMG: I'm definitely an optimist about its future, and I think it's an exciting time to be a quilter. New techniques are being developed or translated to quilting, as seen in so many of the art quilts we see at shows. Just look at the photo transfer and other techniques utilized in the quilts in this exhibit. The longarm segment of our industry continues to rapidly grow. This either lets quilters send their tops out or learn to use the big machines to do their own work. One quilter no longer feels the need to complete the whole process, so this lets a person coming to quilting find that part that excites her – or him. And, the Internet continues to fuel the education and connection of quilters. As more and more baby boomers retire, they will look for new ways to engage their hearts, hands and minds. And, we do see young people looking to quilt. I'm encouraged when I see younger people at my guild or at shows or even as subscribers to The Professional Quilter. I know there's discussion about bringing young people into quilting. If I look back to when I learned to quilt in my early 20s, I see that we had 'famous quilters' or 'rising stars' that were young. I think we see that today.

KM: What do you think about the importance of quilts?

MMG: I believe quilting is important to women – and men – because it fills so many needs. It's an outlet for creativity. It lets someone share a story. (Again, AAQI [Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.] is a perfect example of sharing a personal story.) It lets quilters give back, whether that's making quilts for charity or teaching others to quilt. It lets quilters make connections with other quilters. And, a quilter can find her place within quilting, at a variety of levels and at different stages of her life. It's basically empowering in everyone's life. For me personally, it also helps me keep balance in my life.

KM: I always give people the opportunity to share anything that they would like that I haven't asked so here is your opportunity. Is there anything else you would like to include before we close?

MMG: It's been fun to answer the questions and quite the change for me. I'm usually the interviewer rather than interviewee. Thank you for documenting this project.

I also want to say how proud I am to have been involved in this project and thanks to Ami for birthing it. It's gratifying to know my actions will make a difference – we've all helped to raise more than $160,000 totally for research, piece by piece. Wow! And, we've raised awareness and educated people about the disease. That's important too. The more people are aware and educated, the quicker I see an end to this disease.

KM: Thanks again for taking your time to share. Our interview concluded on March 13, 2008.


Citation

“Morna McEver Golletz,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed February 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1382.