Adriene Cruz




Adriene Cruz




Adriene Cruz


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Portland, Oregon


Kim Greene


Note: Photographs by Art Alexander.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Adriene Cruz. Adriene is in Portland, Oregon and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is February 23, 2009. It is now 9:19 in the morning. Adriene thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me.

Adriene Cruz (AC): Thank you and it's 7:19 here in Portland. [laughs.]

KM: I know and you are so brave to get up so early. [AC did choose the time.] Tell me about your quilt "Warrior of Light Shield for Obama."

AC: I'm happy to share the information about my "Warrior of Light Shield for Obama" which is a quilted talisman stitched with prayers and herbs--well lemon verbena is fragrant leaf and different talismans from around the world. There is brass and carved bone and cowrie shells and beads and mirrors and good energy and bits from Pakistan [stumbles trying to say country name.] and help me with that.

KM: Uzbekistan.

AC: Uzbekistan, right. [laughs.] I can see it but it was not coming out my mouth at this hour. It came about, I was actually in New York when I got a call from Roland Freeman saying, 'I know this is really last minute but I have this idea and I want you to make a quilt for Obama, the trick is I need it in thirty days.' ["Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebration of our 44th President" at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.] Technically it was less than thirty days because it would be another week before I could get home and get to all my goodies. On my flight from New York to Portland, I'm thinking, 'Okay, here is an opportunity,' because throughout the summer this kind of underlying energy was pushing me to create something to mark the moment. I really wanted to mark the moment about what was going on with Barack Obama but I wasn't getting clarity beyond the fact that I wanted to do something. With Roland's request the opportunity was there to focus all that energy and create something. It was like, 'Okay, here it is. Now what are you going to do?' I'm not one to do portraits or mark history or those types of things so I kind of knew what I didn't want to do, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. [laughs.] While I was driving back home, I thought, 'Well the strongest energy that would come up whenever I would think about Obama and what he was doing was my wish, like many people, for him to be protected while he was doing--being brave enough to step up, come forward and offer to make a difference.' The "Robe of Light" prayer [I clothe myself with a Robe of Light, composed of the Love, Power and Wisdom from God. Not only for my own protection,but for all who see it and come in contact with it,will be drawn to God and healed.] came to mind. I thought perhaps I would write that on the quilt some sort of way and so the prayer came up first and as I was thinking about how I would incorporate the prayer into it, I realized then it was going to be a shield. No I take that back, the shield came out after I realized what the name of the quilt was going to be. "Warrior of Light" was the first thing that came up after the prayer and then when that came up I knew it would be a shield. The focus was protection and power and grace and God and all things good. [laughs.] Then the next step was looking through what I had on hand that could help me pull the quilt together in a way that I wouldn't feel like it was unfinished before I had to send it off, because basically I had like three weeks and a week was already done so I had two weeks at this point, once it got to the physical part of creating it and panic attack, 'Oh God I want to do this. It has to come together, stop thinking so much, create,' and so I went through my fabrics, things that were maybe started and not quite done.

The center point of it is actually a small piece that I created in the summer and I expanded on that and had it grow wings in a sense, built around the center piece that had a mirror and some cowrie shells and little talisman things on it. I'm trying to get back to remember the place where I was, I have to say because of what I was focused on in terms of prayers and protection, I felt like I was drawing in the energy of everyone who felt the same way that I did and I felt this empowerment to represent all of us who felt 'okay we want him protected, we want his family protected, we want to see this all the way through in a peaceful manner' and I guess that thought was really what pushed me through the whole time I was working and wanting it to not look unfinished [laughs.] before it was time to send it off. Thankfully, Roland had a size limit on it. He didn't want anything more than I believe it was, first it was 40 inches and then it was 38 [inches.] or something like that and I was grateful for that because that meant it was confined, it wasn't going to be that big making it easier to complete. I was working on it right up to the point that it went into the box and was shipped off.

KM: What are your plans for this quilt?

AC: I have no idea. I'm waiting for it to instruct me [laughs.] what will be next. I thought I would show it here in Portland and I probably will but it's going to be in [Washington.] D.C. longer than we thought. Originally the exhibit was to end at the end of February, no actually the end of January and it would be shipped back I believe on the 15th of February and now it will be there until July, mid-July so I honestly do not know.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

AC: Yes it is and the way I know that is there are people who reported back that even if they did not see my name next to it they would have known that it was my quilt. I thought that was interesting because the shape is different from what I've done before but I, I think my pallet is pretty consistent and some of the things that I do are consistent but I had about four people share that information with me that they recognized it as my work.

KM: Tell me about the opening of the exhibit.

AC: The opening was just wonderful. I had hoped to get there an hour before so I could have a look to see what everyone had done. I knew we were all pretty much in the same time constraint and I was excited about seeing what folks put together in such a short space of time. I was able to look at Carolyn Mazloomi's work and L'Merchie Frazier's work and Jim Smoot. I don't remember the name of the person but there was a completely embroidered piece from an African artist that was near where mine was that I was just blown away by because it's a beautiful piece. Then you get on top of it, it is completely embroidered. Someone said, 'Well you know they do that by machine,' and I thought, 'Yeah but you have to know how to operate [laughs.] the machine to do it and she used the colors properly and all of that.' It was wonderful. It was wall to wall people so while I was not able to visit each work as I would have liked. It made me feel good to see how many people came and then my mom [Beryl Cruz.] was there with me. I had extended family [including my mentor Valerie Maynard.] there with me that I didn't expect to be there and that felt really special and the really wonderful response to the work I created with people actually thanking me for what they were looking at and enjoying the work. Yeah, it was amazing. It was amazing. I think many of the quilters felt like I did in terms of being grateful to have a place to direct all of that energy about our new president. I'm sure some of them had done the work prior to Roland requesting it not knowing they would have the opportunity to show it in an exhibit like that. Yeah, it was great. [laughs.]

KM: I don't remember in my lifetime a president inspiring so much artwork and especially quilts. Why do you think Barack Obama has been such an inspiration artistically?

AC: Because he is a Light. He has affected so many people. Some people just have that thing about them that can not be ignored and he is one of them. When we are affected that way, artists are inspired to respond and react to it and there's so much excitement about him and wanting to spread the excitement about him. It is like we have been infected. There must be a better word than infected that means the same thing. [laughs.] Inspired! With his energy, it is like you start at one point and it radiates out. We are radiating from his vibration. This is what he does. Like the sun, like the rays of the sun. You have the sun and then you have the rays that shines out all over and that's what Barack Obama has done whether you like him or not he can not be ignored. If the sun is out, you are going to know it and people respond to the sun. Come to think of it I think he is a Leo. That is the sun. [laughs.]

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

AC: My interest in quiltmaking facilitates my passion for beautiful colors, shapes, and design which I've always loved. For years I worked with tapestry crochet, creating wearable art and I would see quilts and it just seemed like a secret code. Like, 'How did they do that?' Because I didn't sew yet so it was a pure mystery. I was not able to engage with the tapestry crochet as I had been for seventeen years because I was an old person with new babies [laughs.] and trying to adjust [to being a mom and an artist with two daughters, Tasnim and Ola.]. I took a quilting class here in Oregon at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts and learned a new language. I was still able to use the same colors and designs with a new medium and I loved how immediate it was. With crochet, I was creating the fabric into something. With quilting, the fabric was already there and you, it was like playing with a puzzle. What happens if I move this over here and with all the needle arts was what I love is. If you made a mistake, it was easy or I should say if you change your mind, you could make adjustments. Where other mediums, if you are working in stone or wood, which I did way back when, you can't change your mind [laughs.]. I love the flexibility of working with needle and thread, fabric, color, design.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

AC: Not enough. [laughs.]

KM: Good answer.

AC: I don't know but it's not enough. I always feel like I should be doing more.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

AC: That is a good question. I think they really like it. My mother loves it. My daughters will let me know if they think something I'm creating is not up to speed. I think they are my most honest critics. They are twenty and twenty-three now and they will say, 'Hum, I like what you did before better,' [laughs.] or, 'This one doesn't look like it's finished yet,' or that type of thing. I think for the most part my family is very proud of me and my accomplishments as an artist. [My father was very proud of my work and my mother is very, very supportive of my work.]

KM: Tell me some more about your creative process.

AC: From my early childhood, I've always loved creating and I pretty much used whatever was on hand. I remember there was a time when my mom, I think they were doing something with wiring or something where my mother worked, and she brought home all these multi-colored wires. In my mind's eye, I can still see them because it was like [multi colors of.] yellow and green and purple and red and I've not seen these wires ever again [laughs.] but I loved them. I absolutely love color and two things usually are going on when I'm working- one is playing with the colors to see which one compliments, how they compliment each other. If there is a certain purple, maybe an orange might really make it pop or a green or whatever; and the other thing is the healing component. Creating has always been a healing art for me. I feel purposeful and it soothes me and makes me feel good when I'm creating and later I came to find that other people were being affected for different reasons but the same feel good type of thing. [dog barks in the background.] That is Sophie, Sophie my dog barking.

KM: That is okay.

AC: It made me forget what I was saying. What was your question again? [laughs.]

KM: About your creative process.

AC: I like to feel like I'm tapping into spirit or that I'm pulling, that I'm channeling energy from spirit, especially if I'm working with materials that maybe came from someplace else. Maybe the fabric came from another country and I'm wondering what its journey was and if it is really old I wonder whose hand was on it before, because I do take textiles from other places and rework them. I just like to think of the spirit connection and channeling, channeling messages of healing.

KM: Do you plan things out ahead of time?

AC: No, usually I have no idea what is going to happen until it is done. I might know the size but often that is a surprise too. No I don't know. [laughs.]

KM: Do you work on more than one thing at a time, or do you work on one thing at a time?

AC: I like working on more than one thing at a time. I like to work on a piece for as long as it's flowing and when it tells you to stop, to leave it and go to the other piece and move with that flow and then have the opportunity feel and see. You know they talk to you and tell you what they need or back off or let it breathe a little bit. More than one at a time.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

AC: My favorite thing is embellishing after the piece is solid. What I've found on the "Warrior of Light" piece I really wanted to get the base together so that I could get to the embellishment because that is the part I really love. I guess it's the equivalent to accessorizing. It's like, 'Okay, this is the basic outfit. What earrings and bracelets? What is going to set this off really nicely?' I love embellishing the piece after it's in a solid form. Stitching, sequins, mirrors, cowrie shells beads. The latest thing I've found is beetle wings. They are gorgeous. They look like sequins because they have--but more special because they are iridescent and the trick is to use them so they don't look like fingernails [laughs.] because they have a fingernail shape but they are gorgeous. I just love them.

KM: Where do you get these?

AC: I got them at a bead show here in Portland from I think the company is called Tika, T-i-k-a. She has all kinds of goodies but these beetle wings are like magic.

KM: How do you attach them?

AC: There is a tiny little hole.

KM: Oh wow.

AC: It has its own little hole right there. You just stitch it like a button or a bead. I know for sure I have two in the Warrior talisman piece, one of them is kind of coppery colored and the other is green. I don't remember if I had more in there. Working on the piece is almost a blur now [laughs.] because of such concentrated intense energy. I remember working on it, I remember what I felt like but some details I don't remember.

KM: Describe your studio.

AC: My studio is the attic of an old house. This house is almost 100 years old and I have everything and its mother up here. I have tons of fabric. I have yarn and woodcarvings and a nice work table and stuff and more stuff. I have lots of stuff up here. It also happens to be my dog's favorite part of the house so there is also lots of dog hair. [laughs.] Unfortunately. [laughs.]

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

AC: I really like the work of Renee Stout. She is not a quilter. She is an artist and what I love about her work is her work looks like how I feel about what I'm doing as I create and connecting to ancestry and spirit and a little magic. I don't know exactly how to describe it but I just really like her work whenever I see it. I like that she plays with different mediums as well, it's not just one thing.

KM: Anyone else?

AC: 'Oh gosh, come on Adriene, whose work are you drawn to?' I'm drawn actually to anyone's work whose colors grab me. I'm just a color fanatic, strong vibrant colors, so whose ever work is that way [laughs.] whether I know their name or not is going to get my attention.

KM: I will ask you this next question then, what makes a quilt artistically powerful to you?

AC: That is an interesting question because I was surprised when I went to the National Quilt Museum, whatever the quilt museum is in Paducah, Kentucky. I was surprised to see how drawn in I was to quilts that had absolutely no color whatsoever but were stitched beautifully. I think if there is any quality about the quilts, color of course, maybe a unique shape or design, and then I just discovered a year ago that stitching, especially if it is done by hand is unique and just beautiful. There are so many things to love about a quilt that could make it powerful. I don't think it's any one thing. I think a quilt that has incredible color with an unusual shape and amazing stitching would probably just knock me right out. [laughs.] That would have all of the qualities I admire. I like things that are unique.

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

AC: I'm a part of the Women of Color Quilter's Network. I never officially signed a membership form, but I've certainly been a part of Carolyn Mazloomi's stable of artists for a number of years now, which has been great for having my work out and traveling in exhibits.

KM: Tell me some more about your work out there traveling and exhibits.

AC: More about my work. [laughs.] Well let's see, "My Favorite Things" is just about to open at the Folk Art Museum in New York [as part of Textural Rhythms.] and other work ["Wisdom Seeker."] just opened in I believe Kansas [in the Quilting African American Women's History exhibit. Both exhibits are shows Carolyn Mazloomi curated.] I have works that have traveled to places that I've never been and I tend to go to the exhibits where either family lives nearby because I will have a place to stay and it is a nice excuse to go home or visit extended family or if the work is someplace I've never been that I've always wanted to go to and I can afford to get there. There have been lots of exhibits that I wished that I could have checked out but opportunity or funds did not allow it. I love having, I love that something that starts small grows big and travels around and is shared and communicates with people so it's like having conversations with people I may never meet but some sort of creative conversation takes place by the work being out.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

AC: Starting out with?

KM: Quilts.

AC: With quilts. I would say to trust your inner instincts, have your own rules. Based on my insecurities in the beginning--because when I first started looking at quilts back in '92 and saw that stitches were supposed to be so many spaces apart and there are certain rules and laws that you are supposed to follow and I would say just trust yourself and go where the spirit takes you and have fun. Have fun and don't be afraid to see what will happen, don't worry about mistakes.

KM: What aspects of quiltmaking do you not enjoy?

AC: The technical stuff. Making sure that it is not going to hang crooked [laughs.], (all my quilts are a bit off) the things that, the technicalities of pretty much having to think ahead how it's going to hold up in terms of putting the back sleeve on to hang straight, the parts that have nothing to do with esthetics, that is the part I'm not crazy about.

KM: What is your favorite part?

AC: The embellishing part. I absolutely love it.

KM: How did you do the, you said there was lemon verbena, was it lemon verbena in the quilt?

AC: Yah.

KM: How did you incorporate that into the shield?

AC: Thanks to Valerie Maynard who years ago commissioned a quilt from me and she said she wanted sage in it, which I hadn't even been quilting a year yet and I was like, 'Sage, how am I going to put sage in a quilt?' [laughs.] It is in there two ways. One, it's a part of the batting and the other way is I made little medicine bags, so they are little pouches that are fabric wrapped around little bunches of lemon verbena and the medicine pouch is then wrapped with beads and embellished and stitched onto the quilt. Little medicine bags.

KM: Does the quilt smell?

AC: Yeah, if you get next to it. This was fun, some friends called me here in Portland. They called to say, 'We are standing right in front of your quilt,' [laughs.] and I said, 'Well can you smell it?' And I said, 'If nobody's looking, find one of the little pouches and squeeze it.' They said, 'Oh yeah, this smells like your space.' [laughs.] Since I used a lot of it when I iron on my work table the smell of the lemon verbena comes up and it's a very pleasant scent. It's not perfumy or anything like that. It smells like lemon. It smells like fresh lemon. I use--what is the other one? Lavender. I also use lavender but I didn't have any on hand so I used the lemon verbena leaves.

KM: Why did Valerie want sage in her quilt?

AC: For the healing properties of sage and the quilt that I made for her is a bed quilt so it fits a twin size bed. I don't know where the idea came from. It was certainly a puzzle to me, but I would have to say that once I figured out how to do it, I figured out all kinds of ways to do it since then. All of my works have had some sort of essence and I like doing that because you have more sensual experience because there is the visual. There is the tactile. They say you're not supposed to touch them, but and then this essence that you can smell. It is a full experience. I have a quilt ["Mixed Blessings".] that's in the Hartsfield International Airport, I believe it's called, in Atlanta and I was excited about the quilt being there but I'm so sad that they have to have it encased for protection because there are lots of herbs in that piece and it is all behind Plexiglas. [laughs.] The poor thing is in there suffocating. It's really supposed to be a full experience. That is the idea behind it.

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

AC: An artist.

KM: Okay so you consider yourself an artist.

AC: I'm an artist who quilts. I've done public art here in Portland. I designed a light rail station that has glass tiles and metal art and let's see, a cement bench, some different things. I've done a little bit of public art here locally and the fabric art is what travels around. Hopefully the planet. [laughs.] It's all the same in terms of the color and design. It's just the medium that changes.

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

AC: The biggest challenge, I don't know about other quiltmakers but for me it's money, money, money [laughs.]. It's just really hard as an artist to do the thing I love and support myself. When I have pockets of time when I don't think about money at all it's just pure bliss. I feel like I'm purposeful and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and then the bills come in. [laughs.] That is just really a drag, yah money.

KM: Reality is a drag isn't it. [laughs.]

AC: It is. I would like to stay in my nice little dream bubble. [laughs.]

KM: Do you think that your quilts reflect your community?

AC: What do you mean by the community?

KM: Anyway you would like to interpret it.

AC: Yes.

KM: Tell me how.

AC: For the people, okay there was again a friend was in front of the quilt there in [Washington.] D.C. and she called me and she was able to identify each of the, I will call them 'power pieces' for lack of a better term that I used in the quilt, the talismans. She recognized them and she knew what they meant so I felt that because she understood the language that I represented well. For people, the community, 'Come on Adriene!' [laughs.] It is hard for me to explain it.

KM: You must have been really happy though.

AC: I was, most definitely it was. I think for people who look at work the way I do they felt represented, they understood what it was I was doing and I would say, 'Yes they did.'

KM: Tell me a little bit more about the "power pieces."

AC: There are Adinkra symbols in there. Adinkra symbols are a language of shapes from Ghana and the one that I used--I can't pronounce it well Gye Nyame but what it means is that there is nothing greater than God and there are two of them where you can easily see them on the top. It is all over the back of the quilt and it's also on other parts of the quilt. Other symbols represent strength. Adinkra symbols that represent strength and wisdom. The cowrie shells are very spiritual. They were once used as currency in the slave trade. They are used in rituals for readings, as well as used for decorative purposes. The mirrors are used as protection in that whatever is sent to them is sent back so it acts as a shield. Silver amulet type thing on there that I always felt was a shield that is also on there, I don't remember what else. I can't remember what else I have in there, but it's loaded. It's loaded with symbolic forms of protection and spirituality.

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

AC: Nothing is coming to mind right now. [laughs.]

KM: How would you like to be remembered?

AC: I would like to be remembered as hopefully a thoughtful, caring person who shares a wonderful gift of creativity of which I consider to be a blessing, a blessing to be an artist and also a blessing to be able to share what I do. Did I say that twice? [laughs.]

KM: That's okay.

AC: I would like to be remembered as the colorful woman who enjoyed her work and shared it.

KM: Have you ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time?

AC: All of my work is about getting through difficult times. [KM and AC laugh.] That is why I got started as a child. Oh, most definitely, it's my healing. It's my medicine. It is medicine. That is why I say it's a gift. It is my passport through life. It's like it will get you through anything.

KM: Wonderful. Passport through life, that is good. I want to thank you for taking time out of your morning.

AC: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity to share. Thank you for having the project and allowing me to be a part of it.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 10:00.


“Adriene Cruz,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 15, 2024,