Maria Shell




Maria Shell




Maria Shell


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

C&T Publishing


Anchorage, Alaska


Kim Greene


Note: The photograph was taken by Chris Arend.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Maria Shell. Marie is in Anchorage, Alaska and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is February 18, 2009. It is now 1:40 in the afternoon. Maria thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.

Maria Shell (MS): Thank you for taking all the time to document this.

KM: My pleasure. Please tell me about your quilt "Colors Unfurled AKA If Betsy Ross Had My Stash."

MS: There are a couple different stories behind this quilt. The first thing about it is the stars. It is an American flag quilt and there are fifty stars. Last summer, when I was reorganizing my studio, a girlfriend of mine who just had a baby and really wanted me to work on her baby quilt came over and my studio is a mess, and she is trying to get me to make this baby quilt for her. We had collected all of these blocks from different friends, and we were going to try to put it together and she is digging in all of my stuff which is all over the place because I'm labeling things at that point. She is an artist. She is a writer. She teaches creative writing. Anyway, she is very inspirational, very creative person and I just had this realization that I had been labeling and separating all of these old quilts that were half finished, and they were not going to be finished. I had compartmentalized all of them into these little tubs and labeled them, "Gina's Quilt" or "Broken Star." I realized those quilts were never, ever going to get made and that what I needed to do was to take them all apart and dump them into one large tub. So now I have a tub that has blocks, and I have a tub that has blocks ready to be pieced, which are all parts of other quilts that at one time were going to be like matchy, matchy sort of quilts and now they are not. The stars (in Colors Unfurled) came out of that experiment where I had thrown all the stars into the tub that had the pieced blocks in it and later in the summer during the convention I'm listening to the Democratic Convention on NPR [National Public Radio.] and I'm working on these quilts, and I had this realization. I had been very excited about the Obama campaign all along, but I was like, 'Oh I'm going to make an American flag quilt and I'm going to use those stars, and nothing is going to stop me.' During the convention, I started piecing all of the stars together and that took a lot longer than I thought it would, even though I had a lot of the stars already made. I got that part done and life came up and I had other things I had to take care of, so I put it away and then, I'm trying to think of what I was working on? I think it was the Fiber Artists for Obama Quilt, which we could talk about. After he won the election, Sue Walen posted--I think it was on Quilt Art chat room or the SAQA chat room, something about how she wanted to do an Obama quilt exhibit and I emailed her and said, 'I have. I participated in this Fiber Artist for Obama Quilt, and it would be great for your exhibit. Diana Bracy has the quilt right now. She should probably be your contact person.' We corresponded a little bit and then I started thinking maybe I can make this flag quilt and maybe that would be appropriate for this exhibit. I emailed Sue again and she was like that is a great idea. 'Of course, we want this flag quilt in our exhibit.' It was Christmastime and I'm thinking, 'I can get this quilt done.' So, Christmas comes and goes. January 2, I pulled the quilt out. The deadline is--we were supposed to have our quilts in January 20, and I had originally thought that I would use striped fabrics for the stripes and the vibrations of the different stripes would form the stripes so that you could see them, so there would be thirteen stripes. That was really inadequate. It just didn't have the pizzazz so then I thought, 'Okay I'm going to piece each row,' and after I started working on it I realized that I liked the idea. My husband is always interacting with my quilts. He names all of them and anyway, he named this quilt. He starts putting in his two cents about each stripe should represent something, and I was like, 'I don't want to do that. That is way too much. I'm never going to get this quilt done.' It is a big quilt. It is 77 [inches.] by 128 [inches.], something like that. It is a large quilt. Once the idea was there, I thought that is what really has to happen so each stripe represents something different. Part of why I wanted to make a flag is that over the last eight years the American flag has really come to mean certain things. It is a certain type of patriotism, that the Bush administration has promoted and if you wear a flag on your lapel then you support that notion of patriotism and I really had resisted that. It is like they took the American flag and shaped it so that it meant this particular thing and if you supported them and you wore the flag then you supported that type of patriotism and to me patriotism and the American flag are much bigger, much more inclusive things. Excuse me one second Karen. [speaks with son Tripp age four.]

KM: What does each stripe represent?

MS: In my mind, and I kind of hate to define the stripes for everyone, but--these are what they represent to me. I think for other people, maybe they represent other things. The first stripe on the very top, those are the amber waves of grain and then the trees are the environment. The next one I think of as technology or science, medicine. The fourth row is all patchwork blocks and that is art to me. The next one I think of as the galaxy or the universe.

KM: That is the fan one?

MS: Yes, that has the pieced color wheels. The cityscape, you know our cities. The next one is Flying Geese. It is a Flying Geese block so it could be the air, or my husband thinks it looks kind of African or tribal. The flower one is flower power, it represents the social movements of the 1960's to me. Then the next one is all the people, and the next one my husband thinks, and I think probably it is a good representation, it is kind of like all the flags of the world. Those are little flags. Then there is the row that has the color wheel that fades from pink all the way to purple, and I think of that stripe as being the Rainbow Coalition and then the water. And the final one is traditional American flags which represent conservatism or tradition in our country.

KM: Did you make the deadline of January 20?

MS: I let Sue know probably on the 17th--we had some correspondence, and said, 'This is good news something we were working on but then the bad news is my quilt is not done.' She was like, 'I want it in the exhibit.' I don't know what it is about Sue, she is really an amazing person to work with, and I know she has some sort of background in psychology. I think she was a professor of psychology. She just knows how to work with people. Keep people calm. She stays calm. It is really amazing. We kind of worked out a deadline and then there was a little bit of an extension. We figured out how I was going to have my quilt photographed by the photographer who normally photographs my quilts instead of having the college photograph it so that way I could miss that part of the process and come in at the very end when they were hanging the show. Then we had three days of crazy weather up here. It warmed way up. It had been below zero for weeks on end, and then it warmed up and we had these rainstorms, and all the roads froze over with ice and they canceled school for three days. I have a ten-year-old and they have never canceled school. It was horrible. I had all my kids home with me. Anyway, I got behind and I actually mailed the quilt on Friday before the show opened on Monday and the quilt got there on Monday and they hung it and then the reception was on the next Friday. It was very, very close.

KM: Have you gotten any feedback on your quilt?

MS: There is one woman who is doing--we are doing a little surprise for Susan, and she is coordinating that and I asked her if she saw my quilt and she said, 'Yeah.' She hadn't seen anything like it before and I always like to hear that--I take that as a positive. I think it's sort of a re-envisioning of the flag, and that is good feedback to me.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

MS: Yeah, I think if you've seen the Fiber Artist for Obama Quilt with all of the Patchwork in the center that has Susan Shie's work in it, do you know what I'm talking about?

KM: Yes.

MS: When that quilt came to me, it was traditionally sashed, and I added the final border. If you look at that quilt, you will see that final border is a lot like this quilt. I like things to be wild and lots of color and kind of fun to look at.

KM: Tell me about your involvement in the Fiber Arts for Obama Quilt.

MS: I heard about it. I came in kind of late on it. [commotion in the background.] We have a Star Wars storm trooper with us. [KM laughs.] [speaks with child.] I heard about it, oh I think it was Gerrie Congdon. She had posted something on the SAQA chat room about her block for the Fiber Arts for Obama Quilt and I thought, 'Hum I'm going to find out what that is.' Then I joined, and at that time they had said, 'We are done collecting blocks.' I thought, 'Well, I'm a longarm quilter, I could volunteer my quilting services.' Everybody said, 'That sounds good,' but it took a really long time for the quilt. I mean they were still waiting on blocks, and it is just slow moving when you have a group of people that are all over the U.S. trying to do something in their spare time. It took a lot longer for the finished quilt to get to me and by the time it got to me, I had already had plans for the month of August so I couldn't get to it until I got back. Anyway, and I added the final border and then I quilted it and then fortunately Diana Bracy had--they were doing a exhibit at the International Quilt Festival called Patchwork Politics and Diana Bracy was one of the people who is involved with the Fiber Artists for Obama Quilt. She had a quilt in that exhibit and kind of had made connections with the people who were doing the exhibit, so we managed to get that quilt in at the last minute. They had told us they might hang it. They didn't know if they had room and the really wild thing is that--so we sent it hoping that they would hang it. Diana Bracy's friend who had randomly volunteered to be a quilt angel happened to be assigned to unpacking the quilts and she is the one that unpacked it, and so I don't know, anyway it ended up being hung so that was really nice. We didn't know what was going to happen with that quilt. When I finished it, we kind of had this idea that--there were no venues for it. We didn't know what do we do with it. So, we decided that we would just kind of have it visit different states. Kind of like, have you heard of a Flat Stanley? [KM hums agreement.] Kind of like a Flat Stanley that it would travel around to different locations, different campaign headquarters and just see the United States. Our goal was maybe that it would land in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration. I took it down to the Obama headquarters here in Alaska and the coordinator and I stood outside and took a picture of it, and it was snowing in September. It was kind of a funny picture of the quilt. But then we had this opportunity to send it to Houston, so we sent it to Houston. At that point it was like, 'Okay now it is going to [Washington.] D.C. for this show.' The original plan sort of disintegrated, because we had these other show opportunities, which is great. I think next it goes to Kansas City and it is going to be exhibited at a gallery in there. [speaks with child.]

KM: What are your plans for "Colors Unfurled"?

MS: I entered in another show, we will see. It has its limitations because it is so big. There is-- hold on one second Karen, I'm trying to get "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" to come up. There is a show that I'm hoping that it will get into that is not a fiber show. It's in Florida. It is a Cultural Diversity Celebration. [speaks with child.] Sorry. What they do is they take, I think, it is 36 or 72 pieces of artwork, and they make them into billboards. It is an outdoor art show of art billboards and I think it would be appropriate for that show, but it is very competitive so we will see.

KM: You didn't put it up for sale?

MS: Yeah, it is for sale if somebody wants to buy it but it kind of has a high price tag. [laughs.]

KM: Did you do that on purpose?

MS: I'm trying to figure out how to price my work and they say square footage and take into fact the commission and so I just tried to do that but because the quilt is so big, if I do square footage, it becomes expensive. At some point in time, if it doesn't sell, I think, I don't know what will happen to it. I want to make some more flags though.

KM: Why is that?

MS: I'm kind of into it. This point where we are at in history; it is really exciting. My husband and I both follow politics and it's been really hard the last, well it has been longer than eight years it seems like, have been very conservative. I was thinking about this earlier today how Obama tends to try and get people to work where they can make an agreement and for the longest while the way politics has worked is that we are going to pick the things that we absolutely cannot agree upon and then we are going to fight about those things. You are just guaranteeing that there is going to be continued conflict instead of, there has got to be some middle ground here, and this presidency is really inspiring and I'm just into being an American and making these flags is sort of celebrating that I guess.

KM: Let's talk about Obama and at least in my lifetime I can't remember a president inspiring so much art and quilts. Especially quilts. Why do you think that happened?

MS: Quilting is reaching a sort of peak and maybe because I'm in the thick of it I think that is what is happening. I don't know that people outside my insular quilt world would think that, but quilting is becoming--more and more people are seeing art quilts and they are being considered a valid form of expression, and twenty years ago people weren't making art quilts in the way that they are now. I think that Obama, in addition to that, sort of inspires grassroots expression and the quilt is a pretty organic expression. Just like the Fiber Artists for Obama Quilt, it is just fun. These people from all over the U.S. said, 'Hey let's make a quilt together. We don't know each other, but we all support Obama's presidency so let's just make a quilt.' It's kind of funny but it happens. We certainly weren't the only people doing it. It was sort of a collective consciousness, like a ground swell that just came from the fact that we all realized together that it was time for change, and I think people are celebrating that.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

MS: I've been quilting since 2000. We have been up here in Alaska since '96. We lived in Anchorage for three years and then we moved to Valdez, which is a small, remote, snowiest sea level town in North America. I took a quilt class there at a shop called The Calico Whate and it's still there, different owner now but just a cute little shop. The owner, her name is Trudy Koszarek, and a woman named Lil Dillon, who is an artist. She lives in Oregon now. An older woman. They were both really encouraging even though. I remember the first time I went to take a mystery class, and I've sewn all my life, but I had never made a quilt and I brought in all these crazy like sixties fabrics that were upholstery fabrics really. Trudy was like, 'We can work with this.' She wasn't like, 'You need to buy quilter's cotton in order to do your work. Your quilt is not going to work unless you have these ten dollars a yard fabric.' She was totally willing to work with me and see what would happen. Lil is a formerly trained artist who had found quiltmaking. She wasn't a seamstress to start out with. She was an artist, and she was doing kind of nutty things. I have a piece of hers that is probably ten years old and its all-fusible collage work, which back then, I know other people were doing it, but it wasn't like Quilting Arts Magazine was available. Most people weren't seeing what people were doing on the other side of the country. She was doing some really interesting things and they both encouraged me just to quilt. I never thought this was where I would end up, but now that I'm here it makes complete sense that what I do is make quilts.

KM: Do you think being in Alaska influences your work at all?

MS: Yeah. Well part of it is my husband and the lifestyle we have- these three young boys and he works a lot and I work a lot. We are very sort of focused. We are from Kansas and if we lived in the Kansas City area where all of our family and friends are, we would be at barbecues and socializing and doing a lot more of those sorts of things. We don't have extended family here. It is just us so we tend to put a lot of energy into our work that we might not have if we lived outside. I also think the weather plays a role. For a lot of people, you have to have a winter hobby up here or you will go nuts. There are lots of quilters and knitters and weavers and spinners and people take their gardening very seriously up here. We like our hobbies. [laughs.]

KM: Are your quilts always colorful?

MS: Yeah, yeah. I actually was trying to make a jewel toned quilt just recently and my husband was like, 'You can't make me like it. I'm not going to like it.' And I'm kind of with him; I like the really bright colors. [child speaking in background.]

KM: He is cute.

MS: His birthday is coming up and he is going to be five and so there has been lots of discussion about what Lego Star Wars things he is going to get.

KM: Tell me if you have ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time.

MS: [child speaks in background.] Definitely when I was in Valdez, it was a difficult time. I didn't necessarily feel like I fit in and quilting was a way that I could create a community. It has a common language that you can make friends and talk to other people. Living in Valdez sort of relates back to the "Colors Unfurled" quilt. It is a very conservative town. It's an oil town and with the 2000 election when there was the recount going on and it just felt very isolated. I don't think it is a good situation where people--my husband and I probably were an extreme minority. There wasn't anyone that was left of center. The entire town was sure the recount was unnecessary; that their guy had won. It was very hard to find other people that had the same political views as we do, and I'm not saying that everybody should have the same views, but it is really hard when you're the only voice. When the majority becomes just the--there is no descent, so you feel very alone and then when the World Trade Center, 911 happened. It was really odd to be in Valdez. We were actually considered like one of the ten most vulnerable spots in America because we are the end of the gas pipeline, so we had planes circling overhead. They called out the National Guard. My husband and I knew we were going to war with Iraq at that point, that fear was going to be used as a way of getting a particular policy or a particular agenda furthered, and it was a lonely time then to see this moment happen. Wow. When I heard Obama speak at the Democratic Convention when Kerry was running and how he was just saying what I think a lot of people were thinking but they didn't know how to say it. They didn't know how to say we have to find common ground. We are all Americans. We all love this country and being against each other isn't getting us anywhere. Then to watch his career at each step of the way, it was like, 'Oh no, there is no way this is going to happen. There is no way he can be president,' Then to watch it happen, to watch him become president of our country. Today, every time I see him on the news, I'm like, 'Oh that is my president. He is black and he is my president.' It is just so amazing. I think a lot of people wanted to make quilts to celebrate that.

KM: How many flags do you think you will make?

MS: I don't know. I want to do a black and white one, and I don't know how that is going to go. I like making the people. I don't know if you can see in the photograph but each of the people have different little outfits on to sort of represent different communities and that was a lot of fun to do. Just to have this person be a hippy or this person works at OfficeMax. I kind of gave each of them an identity as I was piecing them together.

KM: One of them has a butterfly on her t-shirt.

MS: She is a raver.

KM: Oh okay.

MS: There is a Hawaiian. One in a Hawaiian dress and there is a little surfer guy. It is just kind of fun to do that, and I have a pretty big fabric stash with fabrics from the 1920's to the present. I really like to kind of--I like working with them all together and I don't want to separate them out. It's fun. I think I could make some more flags. I also had a problem with this quilt, that I started with stars that I had already and that determined how big the flag was because I had to put 50 stars in. I had to use the stars that I already had so when I got the star part done in order for it to be proportional it had to be huge and so I would like to make some that are a little more reasonable in size.

KM: You've seen the quilts that are in the show, which is called "President Obama: Celebration in Art Quilts." Are there any ones that you would love to see in person?

MS: I'm in love with Susan Shie's work and I would love to see her quilts in person. Because I live up here and because we have younger boys, I have not really had a chance to see a lot of quilts in person. I see them in magazines and I actually when SAQA did their 12 inch by 12-inch block auction. I bought a couple of the quilts.

KM: Oh "One Foot Squares." Whose quilts did you buy and why did you buy them?

MS: This is embarrassing. If my husband reads this interview because he doesn't know how many I purchased, but I will be honest here. There is one person, I don't know who she is and I love her piece, it is actually sitting up here in the office with me. Christine Sauer, S-a-u-e-r, and it is called "Pair." I love it. She used upholstery fabric for the background and it's two female body forms from the back and each one, they are the same, but they are different. It is a really neat quilt. I teach a class called "Artsy Journal Quilt" at one of the quilt shops in Anchorage. Excuse me I have to cough. [little voice says hi.] Excuse me. I teach this class called "Artsy Journal Quilt" and these little quilts are such great samples for people to look at. The first one I bought was Eva Henneberry, and it is absolutely beautiful and that kind of got me addicted. She actually paints on to paper and then stitches it onto cloth and then she does some appliqué collage work on top and it's, they are just beautiful. I purchased one from Pamela Allen and I love her style and I love the way she is in the quilting world. I mean I've never met her but when she writes about herself, she is silly, and she is sort of, I don't know she just seems really fun, and her work is fun. Jetta Clover, her piece is very different. Jetta's work is very different from any work that I do. It is more muted, she does this collage work with sort of ripped fabrics, and I think it is just beautiful. There is something about having these. I totally recommend people should buy them because they are just fun little pieces that I get so much inspiration out of them when I look at them. Another one, the artist's name is Sherry Kleinman, her piece is called "Senorita." It is painted on canvass and then she cut the canvass and then put it onto regular fabric and then quilted it. It looks like Freda, the Mexican artist. What is Freda's last name?

KM: Kahlo.

MS: I love her. It is kind of a neat combination of things that I like about it. Kathy Weaver who does the robot quilts. I like her work because it has sort of a political, not so much political, social message. That's one of the things I like about my quilt "Colors UnFurled". It is my first quilt with a sort of social message. I want to do more quilts like that, but I'm really grounded in patchwork, more so than say painting. I don't do representational work. I do abstract so how do you take patchwork and use it for social commentary? Use symbols within patchwork to convene a social message? Part of the reason I really like Colors Unfurled is I think is that I was successful with that quilt. It has a message, but it is all patchwork, and I don't know if I will be able to do it again. Then I have one more little quilt, and it is by Connie Rohman. Do you know here?

KM: No.

MS: R-o-h-m-a-n. It is exquisite work and what she does, her quilts have, you should Google her it is interesting because she spells things out with her stitches. It is sort of molling, reverse appliqué?

KM: Mola.

MS: Mola. The one I have spells seam, s-e-a-m. You wouldn't necessarily know that it looks kind of like a series of country roads. It is wild. She has a series of them spelling out different things, words like hope or, you know, just the craftsmanship is just amazing. There are so many interesting artists out there right now, it is really exciting.

KM: Were you surprised when the quilts came? Did they look very different from what you had seen on the web?

MS: Yes and no. I think that the Eva Henneberry's piece was so much more than it was on the web. It has layers to it that you can't really see in the photograph. I think it is so much fun to look at all the quilts online. I look at the quilts, then. I will go to their website and kind of see what the rest of their work looks like. It's just a really fun way to learn about the larger community. It's kind of like going and reading the interviews at the Alliance for the American Quilt website.

KM: Yes.

MS: I think it is money well spent on these little treasures.

KM: Where do you have them?

MS: I have them in my studio and I take them down because I have to take them to class, but I will have one or two up and then actually I had one up in our office just kind of move them around. That is another thing; they are small so you can just move them.

KM: Do you plan to acquire more artwork?

MS: Actually, SAQA contacted me and said, 'Whether you like it or not you are now a collector and we doing an article about the auction.' They asked me some questions about being a collector, which makes me feel kind of funny. I'm okay with it. I think it is good to support the community. I have all of these little--I have all these artists in my studio now, so it is really inspiring in that way to have their work to look at and challenge me and inspire me.

KM: Did you hear from any of them after you purchased their piece?

MS: Yeah, I did actually. Sherry Klineman and I emailed back and forth a little bit. It is funny, I told her that I got this piece from Connie Rohman and she said that she had bought Connie's piece last year and that they ended up joining the same art group and it is kind of funny how the world is small. Cathy Weaver sent me a thank you. I guess her son had studied up here in Alaska, so she was excited that one of her quilts is going to live in Alaska.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

MS: You mean as a quilter? [KM hums.] I like all the things that are going on in the quilt world. There are so many directions you can go right now. There are a lot of fiber artists that are doing a lot of experimental sort of imprints on fabric, using Shiva paints that sort of thing. I'm interested in those techniques, and I like playing around with them, but I'm really pretty true to the traditional art form of the patchwork and I think if I could be remembered as someone that helped promote patchwork as artwork, I would feel pretty good about that. There is the constant discussion of are you a quilter or an art quilter, are you a quilt artist or, I guess the new thing is studio artist. I want to be a quiltmaker who makes things that are artful.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about your teaching.

MS: I teach at the Quilt Tree. I started teaching when I was in Valdez at the quilt shop there and I try to do my own thing. I'm working on a series of classes. I would like to be able to go, to travel and teach at some point in time. I teach a class called Border Bonanza and then I do this Artsy Journal Quilt class. The Border Bonanza class is--when I lived in Valdez we would do these Round Robins and out of that I learned quite a bit about attaching borders onto a medallion style quilt. I'm not really into math so I figured out all of these ways of doing kind of intricate borders, but I fudge on them, so they fit, and the class is kind of about doing that. In fact, "Colors Unfurled" has several borders from other quilts. Like I said, I dumped all of those half-finished quilts into one tub and several of those borders, several of the stripes were unfinished borders from other quilts that just went into "Colors Unfurled," which is kind of fun. Just to take stuff and move it around and say, 'Okay here is where you go. I know you were supposed to go in this other quilt, but you are here now.'

KM: Do you have a lot of unfinished projects?

MS: [laughs.] Yeah, yeah, I do. I finished a lot of them too. When I first started out, I did a lot of mystery quilts, and I would want to learn techniques, so I'd take the class to learn the technique and end up with a half-finished quilt. I eliminated about fifteen quilts by putting them all into 'and there you go.' It is like I finished them, but I didn't.

KM: Is there anything you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

MS: I just want to thank you Karen for taking the time to do this. I don't think I really got it when you interviewed me the first time. Now I realize how great these interviews are going to be, how exciting a hundred years from now that there is this archive of what people were doing with quilting and really the history of the movement. Quiltmaking has really transformed and now we are where we are at right now which is just amazing, and it is wonderful that you've taken time to document it.

KM: That is nice. Where do you see quilts going? Where do you think quiltmaking will go?

MS: I think it is going to be an acceptable art medium. As far as art quilters are concerned, I really think we are on the verge of that. It is interesting, some quiltmakers have started putting their quilts, mounting them like you do a framed picture because galleries want, if you are at a show, they want to be able to hang it like a picture and I don't want to do that. I wish that they would realize that this is a different medium and it needs to be hung in a different way and get used to it, but I don't know if that will happen.

KM: Maybe it will take a little longer for it to happen. That is my hope.

MS: I belong to a non-profit called The Wrangle Mountain Center. I'm on the board and it is an environmental and arts education organization. It is out in the middle of nowhere Alaska. It is off the grid, and we do a lot of different things. One thing we do is a two-month long science program for college kids where they go out and they live on the glacier, and they create their own science experiment and they follow it through over this two-month period, and then we have a weeklong writing workshop and we do just a lot of different things related to the arts and environment and conservation. I've been working on a quilt that we are going to auction so people have been coming over to my studio, and I've been showing them, they are not quilters, so I'm kind of showing them how to make a quilt block. I did the same thing when I taught women's studies. A lot of them don't know how to use a sewing machine but they can, in their own way, make quilt blocks without sewing, you just use the adhesive stuff, iron it on, and you have a quilt block. It's really interesting how quilting can build community, and how I have these people in my studio, they don't really know anything about fabrics or quilting but they are really engaged. They want to learn. It is like, 'Oh, this is really interesting,' and how it's so much fun to do together. That is another thing, I hope that we continue to see that, that people get together and quilt and enjoy each other's company and make something, and it is a wonderful thing.

KM: You talk about community. We now have community through the internet because there was a community created around the "President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts."

MS: Yep.

KM: How is that community and what have you gotten from that community?

MS: A lot of it is Sue Walen just being this amazing person. She is just like, 'I want to put on a show. You guys want to put on a show?' Then the next thing we've got this amazing space that we are showing our quilts in. I loved it that it really was, 'Do you want to participate? Okay, come on and participate.' It wasn't 'What are your credentials?' Or who do you know. It was just that she put it together and from that--and she creates such a warm environment. Both Susan Shie and Sue Walen, they send you emails and there is like, 'love, love.' It is like, 'Gosh, that is really how it should be isn't it.' Why do we only have a certain amount of love that we hoard, why can't we just give it to people? That is really inspiring to me that there are people out there that are like 'No, of course not, we've got plenty of love. I've got love for you and I've got love for you,' and put on a quilt show. I don't know; it is good. It is really nice.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day and talking with me and sharing with me. We are going to conclude our interview at 2:28.


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