Sandra Hankins




Sandra Hankins




Sandra Hankins


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Temecula, California


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Sandra Hankins. Sandra is in Temecula, California and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is February 11, 2009. It is now 12:04 in the afternoon. Sandra thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt, "Everybody's All American."

SH: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Regarding "Everybody's All American," I was inspired to do this quilt because I'm a huge admirer of President Obama ever since 2004 when he was at the Democratic Convention and he made that groundbreaking keynote speech. I remember that it was at one point in his address that he spoke of an idea of--I think he said something like this, 'There is no liberal America or conservative America, there is only the United States of America.' He went on to say that 'There is no black America, or white America, Latin or Asian America. There is just the United States of America.' I was so blown away by those words then, and I thought to myself at that time that I was going to make a work of art that featured that powerful message. Karen, when he decided to run for president I was overjoyed. As a general theme during his long two year campaign, he was really masterful in uniting people of all races, religions and backgrounds He has the uncanny ability to recognize the feelings or the pulse of the all citizens of American and moved to unite us together. This is how I kind of came up with the name "Everybody's All American." For the quilt, what I did was to collect ideas from various photos that I saw through the campaign of the President, his family, and supporters. Then I chose an image that moved me. I then converted that photo into an ink drawing rendition that I painted on muslin with these really neat paints, called Tsukineko paints. These are Japanese paints that are often used in quilt making. Lastly, I pieced it on various strips of red, white, and blue cotton fabrics [that give the background of the quilt a nice overall patriotic affect.] The backing is a vibrant blue. As you can see from the quilt, there were some people just overjoyed when Barack Obama was running for and then became president. [there were a few photos of the Obama campaign that had.] People, who had inspiration that really touched me, like the one woman who has the Obama glasses. This photo featured a woman that had cute heart shaped Obama glasses that she was wearing during one of his campaign rallies when she was present, so that was one I knew I had to include in the quilt. I took that image and I ended up painting this woman, I believe she is an Asian woman with the Obama glasses and I set them with Swarovski crystals exactly the way she had them set in the glasses. I thought that was kind of cute. Other panels on the quilt are more inspirational to me. The one with Martin Luther King, that was another image that I found, a very old picture of Martin Luther King that was on the Mall in Washington [D.C.], I believe in 1963 where he gave his address. Someone probably took that image and they put an Obama campaign sticker on Martin Luther King's lapel, so I knew I had to include something like that on the quilt. Other panels on the quilt are of either the President and his family. I just think Obama becoming president and he being who he is a leader for all people, it was evident that I was going to do a quilt and he was going to be the subject of it.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

SH: It is interesting, as I made the quilt I thought it was going to be something that would just be in my collection, but as it turned out when he was elected for president there were people in my area so overjoyed. There were numerous inauguration parties that were held in the Southern California area and I was invited to one in particular that I featured the quilt to rave reviews. The couple that gave the party folks that gave the party happen to be good friends of mine that are collectors of black Americana art, so since they have been longtime friends and they were raving about this particular quilt, I decided that I was going to give this particular quilt to them.

KM: Very nice. So do they have the quilt now?

SH: They have the quilt right now. Yes, in their collection.

KM: Do you miss it?

SH: I miss it, yes. They gave me carte blanche to go back and replicate it which is what I kind of wanted. I said to them that, 'Okay I'm going to give you this quilt and if I need to for myself or someone else can I replicate it?' and they said, 'Oh sure no problem.'

KM: Do you have plans to make more Obama art?

SH: I think over the years I probably will. I don't have anything for the immediate future. Again, this is a dynamic person. His thought process that has been so inspirational for so many and truly has inspired especially me so yes, I think I probably will be doing something with him.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

SH: Yes it is. What I did with this quilt, Karen, is to use portraits or images of people. Sometimes detailed or sometimes I tweaked them a little bit where it might not be exactly what my vision was or what I saw and I typically paint the image and/or portrait form on muslin and then place it on the background fabric, typically cotton. I'm really into bright colors so I really enjoy seeing how an actual photograph comes out on a colored background. Then I do what is called Thread Painting on top of that, which brings out a facial feature or details in a landscape. I really enjoy painting facial expressions, especially eyes. Yes, to answer your question it is typical. I also do landscaping, things that I see during my travels during the day in the field. Many times I carry my camera and I will, if it is something very abstract, I will take a photograph of a interesting subject and I will try to replicate it in another image, and then in the form of a quilt.

KM: This quilt is 38 ½ inches wide and 24 inches tall, is that a typical size for you?

SH: No its not. What I really enjoy doing is the quilt journal quilts. Those are ones that are 8 ½ [inches.] by 11 [inches.]. Those I can wipe out very quickly. For example, this coming weekend I plan on doing, something I saw when I was driving this week, we have had some rain here in southern California, but we also have had some snow cap mountains from that rain and of course you can't do that one idea in a journal quilt so what I will do is maybe do different panels of a journal quilt from a photograph that I took when I moved to the side of the road and hopefully it will come out really nice. It's an illustration of a mountain with a lot of snow on the top of it.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

SH: My interest in quiltmaking started about five years ago. I'm a person that really enjoys traveling and especially really enjoy going to destination locations, spas. I knew that I wanted to visit this spa that was down in Jamaica, Jackie's on the Reef. I had seen online this upcoming retreat and saw that there was going to be a group of African American quilters led by Lisa [Sheppard Stewart.] that was going to be down there in the Caribbean and they were going to be quilting. I thought to myself, 'Quilting, oh my gosh, quilting, me quilting? Well it is creative and I like that but I really like to go to a spa.' So that is how I initially got involved in it. I thought to myself, 'Lisa is fabulous.' She was really good in coaching me as to what I needed to pick up as far as supplies and things to get ready for the trip. I thought, 'Okay, I will take this stuff and I will go down and I will humor them. I'll humor myself,' but I really ended up getting so involved [up at 5am in the morning.] quilting during that trip. Thanks to Lisa and her guidance and I've been quilting ever since.

KM: What year was this?

SH: This was in May of 2004.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

SH: Because I work full time it is very difficult for me to quilt during the day. I sometimes pool together ideas in the evening, but on the weekends is when I really get involved in it so I would say about fifteen to twenty hours a week, and it is on the weekend.

KM: Basically it is your weekend.

SH: It is my weekend and I love every minute of it.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about your creative process.

SH: My creative process usually begins with something that I might be thinking about. For instance, with the Obama quilt it was how he inspired people and I knew that I wanted to show that. Typically what will happen, it might be something I see in general. If I see something, a magazine article, a picture of an image I'll decide, 'Okay, well it might not necessarily be this woman in this makeup ad but I like the way it was in a winter background,' and I will think in terms of what kind of image would that be. A lot of what happens in my creative process is it will be a portrait, a fantasy portrait. I've done many things taking faces of people that I know and just {pairing} them with something unusual. For instance, I've done a quilt that hangs in my studio. It's called "Papillion." It's a quilt of my niece [Shaya.], of her face and her hair is [needled punched Alpaca roving.] flowing and it has butterfly images, which is Papillion in French that some are flat sequins, some are from embellishments of course, some of them are ones that are actually leaping off the quilt a 3D effect and it really came out quite nice. I was very pleased as to how that came out. I do a lot of thread painting too, I'm learning that process it's a really painstaking because you have to be precise as to how you move your fabric over the machine with free motion quilting. When you use a nice thread, maybe a metallic thread on a nice piece of fabric it can really come out to be very nice.

KM: How are you continuing to learn about quiltmaking?

SH: One of the ways is through going to classes. I always think that is very important. After coming back from Jamaica I couldn't get enough of going to classes and learning just some basic techniques. Other ways, Karen, that I continue to keep myself involved in and appraised to what is going on is through some of the groups that I belong to. You always get inspiration and ideas from talking to other people who love the medium as much as you do.

KM: Tell me about the groups that you belong to.

SH: I belong to several. I belong to a couple of organizations. One that is national, SAQA, Studio Art Quilt Associates, which has worldwide membership. In fact, I think we celebrated our 20th Anniversary just recently, and then I belong to a group of Southern California quilters called Quilts on the Wall. This group is quite interesting and very talented woman. They are doing some great things with folks all over Southern California, and last but not least, within my area I belong to a local group called Textures Fiber and Art. It's a very small group of eighteen women who all have art quilt backgrounds. Some of them more traditional quilts, but for the most part, the group comprises of love of smaller quilts, wall hangings. We been formulated for two years now and we had our second exhibit at a local gallery in the area.

KM: Why is it important to you to belong to these groups?

SH: I always think when you are trying to establish yourself and you want to continue to grow it is really important to partner with people of like minds in a group. [Not only to you get inspiration, and ideas, but sometimes you get praise and encouragement to keep doing what you're doing.] I became a quilter late in life. I've always been an artist and there is a lot of techniques that I still don't know and through these groups I've learned a lot of different things. People are extremely helpful and it's just very important to connect and to network.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

SH: I do make a distinction. I think I'm more of an artist. I've been an artist since I was a child. As a child, I did portraits of people. When I was in the third grade I did a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King and there were teachers that would come over [laughs.] to our classroom and look and they couldn't believe that this child did this portrait. So I'm very blessed to have the gift of being able to recreate what I see- light and dark, textures. Quiltmaking is just another extension of that. I would not give that up for anything because it is something that is really quite exciting. It is another form of creativity that is very different than what I thought. Traditional quilting is wonderful, it really is, art quilts and fiber art is very different than what I thought quilting would be [and I really enjoy this aspect of quilting.].

KM: How is it different? Tell me a little bit more.

SH: Traditional quilting, it's mostly quilts that are practical. There is a utility purpose for it. One that is placed on the bed and it keeps you warm. For aesthetic reasons, it dresses up a room. Traditional quilts, how should I say, have dimension and there is, a little math involved. Art quilts and fiber art pieces or wall hanging are some just like traditional quilts just on a smaller scale. With art quilting, there's no rules. You can really kind do what you want. The only rule is that you have a work of art that has three layers, that is what it makes it a quilt. Three layers that are a piecing top, the middle which is your batting and then the back of your quilt that is pieced together.

KM: Describe your studio.

SH: I'm sorry.

KM: Describe your studio.

SH: My studio, it's called Studio Santeena. It's a small room in my home that is kind like my haven. The name Santeena came from a doll that I made for an exhibit years ago. Santeena is a combination of my name Sandra and Tina Turner, one woman that I really admire a great deal. [KM laughs.] The doll itself has my face and it has flaming red hair on a body with a little, wacky dress. The doll symbolizes the desire to move into a new area of creativity, something that I did mid-life at 45 [years old.]. Tina Turner at about 45 years old reinvented herself and became Tina Turner the superstar! So she sits in my studio. My studio is a place that I go to create. I made it a special room that is a very bright color of yellow, I think it's called Calabash Yellow. I purposely did that to, {remind myself while sitting there to just reminded of how much I enjoy color. It has many works of art that are of the people that I admire and then a few of mine own. I also have wall words art that inspires me. It's a quote of Oprah Winfrey that is on my wall that says, 'When I look into the future its so bright that it burns my eyes.' I think about that in terms of the possibilities as far as my art, quilting in particular.

KM: What else do you have in there?

SH: I have a craft table which holds my beloved Bernina sewing machine and then I have an art table which is one that I sit and I think of what it is that I am going to try to accomplish. I will take whatever I'm thinking about or whatever I saw and I photographed and then I will do it in somewhat of a sketch or drawing at the table and then I will decide how I want to choice fabrics from a closet that I have that has different textures of colors, I'm sorry, different sections of colors, whether they are fat quarters or yards of material. I don't have any special way that I separate my fabrics. If I did it is probably by color but I particularly love batik colors. I think batik colors are just wonderful. They are often used as parts of faces that I paint. I will use the actual fabric as the skin tone of whatever I'm trying to recreate.

KM: You talked about having work around of other people. Whose works are you drawn to and why?

SH: Oh my goodness so many different folks but in particular I'm really drawn to artist, I believe she lives in the states now but I know she lived abroad in Africa. Her name is Hollis Chatelain, and Hollis is a world renowned artist and a quilter. Her works are of images of when she travels mostly in Third World countries and particular in the West Africa, and parts of the African continent and she paints images of different people and these are done, I believe she uses the Tsukineko art paints also and she does a very, very detailed, delicate thread painting on these huge works. I would think that her works are probably 65 inches by 80 inches and she has won several awards in the International quilt shows and I'm sure other shows. Just awesome work. I also like an African American artist, Faith Ringgold, she does large art quilts but it is interesting that she uses characters from when she grew up or different thoughts that she may have about something that she saw. She uses acrylic paints on a fabric background and she has done many different works. Faith Ringgold has been commissioned by Oprah Winfrey to do a quilt for Maya Angelou. I don't have any of their original works unfortunately, but I do have prints of their works that are framed that are in my studio.

KM: Anyone else?

SH: I am also a person that enjoys paintings about everyday Americana- somebody like Norman Rockwell. I have one of his works on my wall. [his work about the civil right event of little Ruby Bridges integrating a school in the south during the early fifties. it's captivating.]

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

SH: I would say the number one thing for someone beginning and I can say this from experience is that they really need to be patience with themselves. Quilting like any other work of art or form of art is something that you have to learn, the whole process of quilting is something that may come easy to some but may not be that easy for others. It wasn't in my opinion easy for me so it was really important to go to classes. I would say the number one thing would be if you can get into a class on the basics that will allow you to see how a sampler quilt is made so you can see what the different pieced blocks are, traditional blocks in quilting. That would be the number one thing to start. Also, don't limit yourself. If you decide that you want to be a traditional quilter, go for that. There are so many different books and so many different classes that you can learn from in that area, just go for it. If you decide you want to be an art quilter and not be confined by what traditional blocks look, keep in mind that is what you need to do. You need to see exactly what you want to put on a quilt. Whether it is you want to do landscaping or something abstract or if you want to do an image or a portrait. I think the main thing is be true to whatever you want to do, concentrate on a style and learn as much as you can from classes and others that you might network with.

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

SH: Definitely people thinking that quilting is just one thing. It is not, it is multi-layered. It is like any other form of art. There's many different styles and techniques and quilting is not just the quilt that your grandmother made and threw on the bed that kept you warm. The image that quiltmakers are a little old woman sitting in a chair and painstakingly sewing pieces by her hands, truly that's not all of quilting. When I tell people that I am a quilter, they immediately think, 'You a quilter? That can't be,' because I think they have that image of someone that is unlike much myself. I think that is the barrier that we have to break down that quilting is just one thing, it's many things.

KM: What in your opinion makes a quilt artistically powerful?

SH: I think ones that have a message. It doesn't necessarily have to be a message that is powerful. There are many messages that are ones that are subtle. It doesn't have to be one that is positive, I've seen many quilts that talk about reality and things that are not so great about the world that we live in but they are still powerful as one that is very positive. If the artist, the quiltmaker, knows what it is that they want to convey and if they stick to that message and you seen the different symbols and you see the different ideas, whatever their thought was or whatever the theme is and it is continued, that really makes a quilt powerful.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

SH: I want to be remembered as somebody who really loved life. Loved the bright {things in} life. I really like colors. I really like creativity. I hope that I am remembered as someone who was always involved in working with my hands and putting pretty things on paper, putting pretty things on cloth.

KM: Is there any aspect of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

SH: I don't enjoy traditional quilting as much as the next person. I think it is beautiful when it is done by someone who really does it well. I am a person that probably as a child never really colored within the lines. [laughs.] So it is hard for me as a quilter to really stay within the confines of a frame.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

SH: Initially when I started quilting, it was something that was a lot of fun. It is about what I'm about, bright colors, putting them together and the workshop that I was in with Lisa we did watercolor quilts where you could see gradations of colors and how they would morph into something else. That was great. Now it's become something that is more meaningful. If I'm doing a piece of work, if I'm doing a work of art it will have a theme and I'm hoping that I can continue that theme throughout the work. Yes incorporating color is nice and pretty, but also making sure that the people understand, 'Oh gee that is a quilt that illustrates a woman that has hair that is flowing adorned with butterfly images like Papillion,' or 'Gee that is about the new President Obama and how he inspires people.' I don't want a person to be confused as how my quilt or what that quilt was supposed to symbolize.

KM: What do you want people to walk away from having looked at "Everybody's All American"?

SH: I got a very good reaction when it was featured at the inauguration party and it kind of brought a tear to my eye and I had to step aside. I didn't want anybody seeing me tearing up. I got the reaction that I had hoped for, that yes this is truly a person who inspires other people. I want them to see that President Obama and the folks that are behind him are all on the same page. Right now our country is in a very tough economic situation and it is interesting that we have him come during this time. It is a wonderful thing. I was fortunate last year to be traveling in South Africa. I gave that trip to South Africa as a gift to myself when I turned 50 years old. I finally got there and it is interesting how President Obama has inspired us here, but even more so has inspired and magnified his message of peace around the world. I was able to stop over in London, England before moving on to South Africa, same thing. When people spoke with me and heard that I was an American by my accent, they chatted a little bit about why I was there, but they quickly wanted to talk about politics and what is happening here in the United States with the election of President Obama and how they are hoping that things are better in the states sometime soon because that will help with their economy and world position. What I got from what has happened here in the United States with the election of President Obama is not just perhaps a good thing for us, it's a great thing for other people around the world.

KM: I can't recall in my lifetime a president inspiring so much art. Why do you think Barack Obama has inspired so many art quiltmakers to make quilts?

SH: It kind of, Karen it goes back to how he put himself out there initially. I first remember him coming, as I mentioned earlier on the political scene in 2004 and when he spoke, he talked about a country where we were all one. That has been his theme since he started in 2004 that it really shouldn't be that we have different parties in the United States. Of course we do, we have the two main political parties, but he wants to bring people together, he wants to unite people to help with some of the issues that we have. He understands that he has the full support from his political party and people who support him but he would like to, and he said this in his I guess election address that, 'I know that there are people who are here that did not vote for me, but I'm your president too.' I think because of that people have said, 'Wow! This guy and the people who are behind him, his wife, Michelle, the people who are on his campaign staff are ones that have been instrumental in wanting to move this country and that is what we need'. That is the reason that I wanted to put him in a work of art. Obviously I'm an African American woman, I'm very proud of the fact that we have someone of African decent as the leader of the free world but I'm really, really happy for all of us, regardless of our race in America that he has been elected president.

KM: Where do you see your quiltmaking taking you?

SH: Right now it is still something that I'm doing part time. I have put together my thoughts as an artist, as a quiltmaker in a blog []. I think I'm going to continue that blog and I think that as I become a person who is more familiar and more comfortable with the quiltmaking process I think that what I will want to do in the second part of my life is to become an artist, because truly that is what I am even though it is in a part time way. I think that it will take me to new heights to meet new people, to be able to show my works more. I think that eventually I will be a full time artist in the second part of my life [laughs.].

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share before we conclude?

SH: Just that I think that it would be wonderful if there were more people involved in quilting and the whole idea of quilting. That if there are more opportunities like what you are doing here with your organization where people can see what fiber arts is all about, it's not just for a practical purpose of using as a bed cover. I have to admit five years ago I didn't have the same perspective on quilts as I do now. I had the same age old perspective as many people that quilting was such that it was for a bed. I did understand about quilt years ago with the Underground Railroad and how those bed quilts were used to help run away slaves through the underground railroad, I understood that and I had an great appreciation for that. Now I have a whole new perspective that it is something that should be used in many ways and hanging them on the wall is a really good thing.

KM: Any ideas how you think quiltmakers should make their art more known in the world, something different than just bed quilts?

SH: I think quiltmakers should go and talk more about their work in any creative outlet, whether it is something local like a fair or an art exhibit. They should go and see whatever the works are whether it is an exhibit whether on pottery or watercolor or canvass work, etc. That should be an opportunity for a quiltmaker to go and admire the works that are there and also to talk about what they do. It is more of a networking type of thing. I think that's the way to put it out there.

KM: Do you think that quilts made by African American women differ from other quiltmakers?

SH: I think that there are some that do. Most of the quiltmakers that I know, they have different cultural backgrounds. The African American quiltmakers that I know, most of them are traditional quilters. There are very few people of color here in my area that are ones that like to for a lack of better term 'color outside of the lines' like I do. What is wonderful about it is that we have an appreciation of what we all do.

KM: Which is a good thing.

SH: Which is a wonderful thing.

KM: I mean I just feel that the more creativity out there of any kind, the better the world will be.

SH: Absolutely.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me and to share. We are going to conclude our interview at 12:44.


“Sandra Hankins,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,