Claudia Comay




Claudia Comay




Claudia Comay


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Anita Grossman Solomon


San Ramon, California


Karen Musgrave


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.

Karen Musgrave (KM): Claudia, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview for Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories. Claudia lives in San Ramon, California and I am in Naperville, Illinois and we are doing this interview by e-mail. Our interview began on March 12, 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 "The Left Behind" which is in the exhibit.

Claudia Comay (CC): "The Left Behind" quilt embodied what I was feeling at the time. My cousin, a young woman in her 30's, had just died (of a different illness) and I kept thinking about how her parents, in particular, how her mom must be feeling. How I would be feeling were I in her place. I was angry about her sad and lonely passing and I was of mixed feelings about how her father (my mother's brother) would react to her death. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for over a year by then. I remember several conversations with my aunt (his main caregiver) in which we wondered if the disease was a blessing in disguise at this difficult time.

I was struck by how difficult it would be to loose a child and not be able to share fully in the grief with your mate because he himself was not all there. Life had become so fragmented, with memories all displaced and forgotten, and with so much grief. Shortly after, I found out that my mother's sister had also been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. With anger and fear within me I was propelled to finish the quilt in homage to both my aunt and uncle and despite the fear that I may also some day succumb to this dreaded disease, I imbued the quilt with all the anger within me at the injustice of it all. (Hence, the strong color and the minimalist palette.)

I choose the black/white fabric because it reminded me of the static on a TV channel that isn't coming through very well. The signal is all fragmented. In my quilt the picture is there but not really. There are huge parts missing, and yet a person shape is left. And the people around them are left behind seeing both the missing parts and the parts left there.

KM: How did you find out about the call for entries?

CC: I don't remember exactly, perhaps through QUILTART (the online community). I know that I had started the quilt before I saw the call for entries but had put it away unfinished because it was too emotionally difficult for me to work on it. I remember thinking about the quilt when I saw the call for entries but somehow put it aside. Much later, I came across it and did a search online and found that I had just a few days (one or two) before the deadline and so I determined to finish it.

KM: How did you feel when the quilt got accepted?

CC: I was elated. Some quilts are meant to be shared, and only increase in their power by having a wide audience see them. Art has a way of reaching into places that are difficult to tackle otherwise.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

CC: No, not at all. Although I have made several "message" quilts they are mostly about the environment. Actually, the limited palette and the jaggedness of the design and quilting are quite atypical to my other work.

KM: What do you plan to do with this quilt when it returns to you?

CC: I have no idea. The closet doesn't seem a fitting place for it. Perhaps, it can be donated to raise funds.

KM: Tell me your impression of the exhibit. Do you have any favorites?

CC: I don't have any favorites. Each time I've looked at the quilts, whether on print, in life or on the CD, I find myself perched for a long time in front of different ones. It is a testament to the range of emotions that created these works. Some are quite funny and I appreciate the darkness of that. I also like the ones that are so clearly a celebration of a life. There's a lot of joy hidden in here.

KM: You've brought up the CD which is a perfect lead in for my next question. The CD has an audio part where each quiltmaker can be heard saying her artist statement. Tell me about your experience doing the recording.

CC: Oh gosh, that was so hard to do. Ami had us read our statements that accompany the quilts and I had a hard time doing that without crying. I had to repeat it several times because my voice volume was too soft or it was hard to understand in between sobs or because you could hear my cat meowing too loudly. Still, I felt it important to do it, it really lend a powerful note to the whole endeavor.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CC: I have been quilting since 1993. I took it up after my son was born. At the time I was looking for an alternative to the pastels I had been doing, I was worried about the dust for the baby. While he was really little, he seemed to be hungry all the time and I couldn't do
much in between feedings, but I could read the internet while holding him and feeding him. I found a list, QUILTNET, one of the earliest and really was taken by the art talk and how much fun all seemed to be having. I had never seen a quilt before and didn't really know where to look for them, but at the time I was living near Washington, D.C. and so I went to the Smithsonian to find out and to border's to look for books. I love books and so after a quick study, I dove right

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

CC: Yes, I'm a part of the California Fiber Artists, (a group of 30 professional fiber artists in the state), the East Bay Heritage Quilters (the San Francisco Bay area largest guild), Faultline
Studio Artists (that's the group that was featured in the DVD and PBS special "Woman's Work: Making Quilts ~ Creating Art" ), Nu-group ( a small of textile artists), and a couple of other mini groups. These are mostly groups that meet to promote fiber arts and/or quilting in general.

KM: Tell me about your experience with "Woman's Work: Making Quilts ~ Creating Art."

CC: That was really interesting. The movie is all about the process of making art. It follows the group Faultline Studio Artists, meeting them as a group during one of the discussions, and individually as we each create our work. We all have different approaches and view points. It was a neat opportunity to think clearly and distill what one believes. The actual process of the filming was also really neat and really gives you a new found respect for all that actors go through. Patience is key. It also made me realize how important the editor is to the final piece. Now I look at films in a whole different way. I hope you get a chance to see it. I would love to hear what you think.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

CC: I work on my art an average of 10-20 hours a week. At the moment, I have two children (a toddler and a teenager) so my time is fragmented by their activities.

KM: You talked about doing pastels. Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or you even make a distinction?

CC: I am an artist whose medium happens to be fabric. I make pieces, some of which meet the strict definition of quilts for the wall and for the bed and some which don't, and I make sculpture using fabric and other fibers. The distinction happens naturally because all my work is original. I don't follow patterns and only occasionally do a piece with a nod to tradition. I came to quilting from an arts background where I had previously been painting in oils, acrylics and pastels and also making paper so my approach was naturally infused with that sensitivity and not so much based on traditional quilting methods or ways. At the moment, I hand dye most of the fabric and sometimes I'll also paint on the cloth before any thread work. To me it's all about layers and the quilting line just adds another dimension. The materials are just tools used to manifest the vision.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

CC: I like minimalist art and I like lots of texture. I also like bold use of color. I'm especially drawn to Andy Goldsworthy's land work and to Mark Rothko's, Nicolas de Staƫl and Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings. I could look at them forever. Really, my favorite artists are all part of the Abstract Expressionism movement. People like Franz Kline and Clifford Still. Quiltwise, I like Nancy Crow's, Fran Skiles' and Jean Neblett's work.

KM: Describe your studio.

CC: Ha ha, at the moment most of it is still in boxes after a recent move. My work space is teacup sized and strewn among several different places. My sewing machine sits on a table between the dining room area and the living room area. My design wall is the far wall of my bedroom. When I look upon it from the doorway, I can also look out the window at the rolling hills beyond (which are green at the moment but in just a bit will be the golden hue so famous in northern Calfornia) and get a sense of openness. I think in landscaping they call that borrowed space. It is the last thing I see before sleeping and the first thing I look at upon waking. My fabric and yarns are tucked in amongst books in the bookcases and in the closet. Most of my tools are in the garage. I am a marvel at packing and unpacking, working in units and small stints, picking up and dropping all at a moments notice while maintaining the flow, and carrying always something with me to work on no matter where I go or what else I'm doing (I think the word multitasker was invented for people like me.). Really in that sense, the world around me is my hand basket.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

CC: Be fearless. You are the master of your domain, so do only work that you want to make and not that you "should" do. Work joyfully and from the heart and remember the biggest limits are in our minds so don't worry about following rules.

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

CC: The lack of respect. The non-quilting public doesn't usually realize all the time and effort that goes into a work. This is true regardless of whether the piece is traditional or contemporary in style or execution. Many don't even regard it as an art form.

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt?

CC: Good value contrast. Excellent workmanship. Great composition. Wonderful vision. I think those are all the things I look for. I love old Amish quilts for these same reasons.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

CC: It makes me feel good. I love piecing. I enjoy working with fabric and I feel a connection to all quilters. I love the tactile quality of fabric and I love how visible the human hand is in the work. No machine could reproduce that.

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?

CC: I would just like to say thank you to Ami for having the vision to conjure up this project and for steering it in such a magnificent way. She has amazing energy and patience and her love and dedication is very evident in her attention to detail. This whole exhibit has grown from about 50 quilts into a whole nonprofit organization; hundreds of thousands of people have seen and will continue to experience the exhibit. She created a book and a CD and has a whole auction set up to fundraise. I think she's close to $100,000 now, how cool is that? It is an awesome and humbling endeavor and I feel very honored to be a small part of it. I also would like to thank you Karen for conducting these interviews. Getting to know some of the background story on how these quilts came to be and showing what a diverse and creative group of people are involved, is a real treasure. So often, women's stories are forgotten or too easily dismissed and yet here you have compiled a powerful component to the "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" exhibit. I hope we all continue to create beautiful work for a long time to come. Art is life and can touch people deeply.

KM: Claudia thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. You were wonderful. Our interview concluded on March 13, 2008.


“Claudia Comay,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,