Joan Schulze




Joan Schulze




Joan Schulze


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Susan Salser


San Francisco, CA

Interview indexer

Anne Lafferty


Evelyn Naranjo


Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and today's date is August 4, 2003 and the time is 11:25 a.m. I'm conducting an interview with Joan Schulze for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. We are in Joan's studio in San Francisco on Potrero Hill. So, Joan, thank you for agreeing to this interview and agreeing to having it here in your lovely studio. Tell me about the piece that you selected as your touchstone piece.

Joan Schulze (JS): I selected "Beijing: The Summer Palace" because it combines history of mine: part of my family history, plus an event in China which was a big step in my career. The quilt itself also shows all the ways I am working currently and includes some of the fabrics from my oldest daughter's First Communion [1971.]. So I am bringing really early fabric, even before I was a quilt maker, into the current work. I like to do that because it makes it more meaningful for me and I like mixing the history a bit. It makes it more fun for me. It isn't important for people to know that the white fabric is from my daughter's dress. I look at the fabrics in the piece and feel like I'm still a real quilt maker because fabrics are important and they do have a history. So that's why I chose this quilt.

LR: But talk a minute about the fabrics. You have your family fabrics in there, but I see, for example, lace, old laces on the side. How did you select, choose these particular fabrics?

JS: Okay. I don't choose the fabric in advance. I am really a collage thinker, and that means I combine disparate pieces of fabric and since I collect a lot of images and do image transfer, I put things together that I find very interesting. I did have a theme for this in advance because I wanted to make visible a very short, but important visit in China (this was in November 2000). The Chinese invited me to come to Beijing and be part of a tapestry exhibition. I had to write them and say, 'Why are you inviting me? I don't do tapestry.' They wrote back and said that two of their famous artists and professors insisted that I be invited because they saw my work as tapestry. So I said, 'Yes.' I would come, because I wanted to see what this was all about. And I also thought it would be an exciting adventure to be a visiting artist in a big international exhibition and meet all of the other artists. It was even more than that. They offered the artists who were coming the opportunity to visit important places. In between the symposium and the exhibition they had reserved three days: one day we could go to the Great Wall, another day to go to the Forbidden City, and a third day, well the third day wasn't programmed. On the third day they invited a Swedish tapestry artist, Annika Eckdahl and myself to visit the Temple of Heaven. It was incredible. Before I went to Beijing, the only place I wanted to see was the Summer Palace. I didn't see a tour to the Summer Palace nor any time to visit it. On the first day when I arrived, I met Annika. The two of us got along really well. I asked, 'Annika, have you been to the Summer Palace?' And she said, 'No.' I said, 'We have a half a day tomorrow morning before the opening, do you want to go?' She asked, 'Well, how will we get there?' I said, 'Well, we can take a bus.' [laugh.]. On the map it looked like a very short bus trip. But it turned out to be a three-hour bus trip which shot the morning. When we got to the Summer Palace we only had an hour to tour. Then we had to somehow find a taxi to get back so we could appear at the opening ceremonies. We had one hour with a guide, a hired guide. I hired the guide. I asked, 'Annika, are you with me?' and she said 'Yes'. So I hired a guide and I told him, 'We just want to go to the corridor of the paintings and anything else we see you can talk about it on the way but that's where we want to go and we only have an hour.' He said, 'But, I am at your service.' And I said, [laugh.] 'We only have an hour. Then you have to help us find a taxicab and tell the taxi we want to go to Tsinghua University'. We briefly, truly ran to the corridor and then for the 40 minutes that were left photographed and slowed the pace down. I was absolutely mesmerized by it all and realized I would have to come back another time. We did make it back five minutes before the opening. Everyone was looking for us. I had no idea how big the opening was [hundreds of people for the formal opening ceremonies.]. We had other events. It was a high drama for me to be there and to find out that in China my artwork was a known quantity; that professors in the universities presented my work. Never in my wildest dreams did I know about this. So this trip was really important. What did I do when I first came home? I wanted to get my impressions of the Summer Palace down. The professors at Tsinghua had already told me that in two years they were going to have the next exhibition and would I come back and be part of the advisory committee? I mean, it was such a big thing. So I thought, 'Ah ha. I will do a quilt called "Beijing: The Summer Palace".' This was the first thing I did when I came home. I didn't use my photographs. Just my memories. I wanted to create very contemporary little paintings in a grid. Just get an impression of what the garden might have been if it were summer time. It was very cold that November. In this piece, I did the central pattern. All of these little sections that you see, I roughed them up because I wanted to describe how the paintings were very old and they're outside [exposed to elements.]. I found out later that during the Cultural Revolution they were destroyed, ruined. The gardens were redone and they did a lovely job. So anyway, I did this part of the quilt, the central panel and had it around the studio for 4 mos. I said [to myself.], I really have to finish this. What am I going to do? I didn't know how to move further. I was working on another quilt using flower images and my handwriting. When this top got placed on top of the other quilt. I realized that that's what I needed around the edges. I needed some serene black and white to go with the winter garden, which is how I saw it. I sacrificed the center of the black and white quilt by cutting it out and built the edge for the Beijing quilt. When I looked at it I saw that it was absolutely how I felt about that garden. Two separate rivers (quilts) collided. I sacrificed the black and white quilt for the other (which eventually became another quilt about another garden). I put the pieces together. It said everything I needed to say about the Summer Palace. I knew I had what I would call a master work to send to Beijing in 2002 when I would be on the Advisory Committee and one of the 10 jurors for the tapestry exhibition. [laugh.]. So this is important to me on so many levels. I like the idea that both my daughter's dress fabric from her First Communion in the 70's and my writing that I had transferred to cloth from poems I wrote on a trip in Italy are in the same quilt. This is about travel to new places and the past. There is a lot of underlying text in this quilt. Someday if I were to write an essay on it, I would have a lot to say about life. Life happens. You think you're doing one thing but really, you are doing other things that you may not realize at that moment. It might come to you years later. I think this is a really important quilt for what I am doing in my work.

LR: Can you talk at all about the technique? This is not the usual surface that you would see on most quilts.

JS: This is mine. This is my experimenting come to the fore. I do teach people how to do this glue transfer, but nobody really wants to work that hard. I remember taking this technique and teaching it in the Netherlands. I had people from France and Germany and Switzerland and elsewhere. I was showing the process and they said, 'But Frau Schulze, we thought this would be quick.' I said, 'You mean like fast food in America?' [laughs.] And they said, 'Yes.' [laughs.] And I said, 'Oh, I'm so sorry.' [laughs.] 'Not only is life hard, but art making can also be very hard. This is not the Mac Donald's Method. [laughs.] This is the Schulze Method.' [laughs.] I use a lot of my own photographs and I also search for images in magazines. I work with them. I destroy them. Let some of the images show while other parts get peeled away. What I am really talking about in my work is about the accumulation of history in a life. And the life I am talking about is my own. It's the only life I really know. In working this way I am finding out more about myself. We don't really know ourselves as well as we think because we are so busy living our lives. This is an opportunity for me to slow down and find out what I really like, what I really want to say about my life, and what I want to point out and put forward and have people notice, like time passing. That is why I like to do a surface that's rough. I like to relate it to walls and cities where people have put posters and notices and then they slap something over top and then rain happens and it peels off, and you see words from underneath. This is the way I think a life is lived. You just layer, layer, layer and then sometimes the under layers come forward, like you have a childhood memory that you abandoned for 40 years and now, ho, ho, ho, [laughs.] this is what I am remembering and working with now. I'm using a lot of metal leaf. I am not a person who likes jewelry. I only wear minimal earrings and so forth. I don't wear a wedding ring. I only wear a wristwatch when I am traveling. But I have found that I like this metal leafing. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would be putting shine in my work. But it happened. I was making a quilt from my "Objects of Desire" series which I started in the early 90's. I wanted to talk about diamonds. Now I am not a diamond fan either. Yet two of my children, I have 4 children, my two girls love diamonds and they love jewelry. I asked, 'Where did you come from?' [laughs.] I decided to do a quilt called "Diamonds Are...' There are some images of diamonds but very subdued. I put in, and this was subtle talking to my daughters hopefully without being pedantic, what I thought diamonds are. Diamonds are children--when you have your children, there is a diamond. Poets. Famous poets who change your life by writing some beautiful verse that twists how you think about your life and it becomes more meaningful. I put an image of Thomas Gunn as a diamond. Just looking at that quilt I see there are all kinds of other images that have nothing to do with what people think are diamonds, but are very precious. So I do like diamonds but I like to define what a diamond is. That is what I am doing in all my artwork. I'm defining images for myself, giving them a different message so that I can have a little fun, a little bit of a mind game. I make my work for myself, but I do enjoy when people notice things or when they tell me they see something that I didn't even realize I put in. The gold leaf, the metal leafing is interesting to me as a surface, not as a metal to wear, but as an old precious item. As you can see on this quilt I have really worn it away, and not made it so beautiful.

LR: How did you do that?

JS: Well, I'm applying it my way instead of following the prescribed way. I took a gold leafing class from a nun who made icons. She taught us the real way, and I'm thinking, 'Oh, oh. I don't want to do it this way. I want to scumble it. If I distress it, it will be much more interesting than this, you know, shiny, shiny gold.' So that's what I'm doing. I am taking the traditional way of putting metal leaf, but I'm putting it on fabric. Then, instead of following through with the nun's suggestion of sealing, polishing and keeping it nice, I'm roughing it up. I'm giving it some history. I'm doing a lot of this in my collages and in my work and using it freely. I think the nun would be quite shocked. [laughs.] I do have this love of the Byzantine era, so it's my homage to this era of art which was so message driven, beautiful, but very codified. Everything meant something, whereas I'm reinventing all of these images for myself. There is no code and I hope in 20 years if I am still around I can still remember what I was doing. But it won't matter because I can layer on another message. I am having a really good time.

LR: It's a very different appearance on the back.

JS: The back. On this quilt the front is so visually important. For the back, I went through my fabrics and found a fabric that I was going to send my mother. She liked me to choose fabrics and then she would make house dresses. My mother had died before I could send this piece to her so I used it for the back. This is my homage to my mother but only I know that, and now you know that because I said it. I don't usually tell people this. I wanted to let my mother know she travels with me. This quilt is about traveling and how other people view you. I wanted to incorporate her [mother.]. I can hear her say, 'Joanie, you can be whatever you want to be.' You see, my mother was afraid to leave the house was--what do you call it? Agoraphobic, someone who really didn't like to leave the house. From very early on I was her shopper. I was her eldest daughter, so that was my role. She always said, 'Now, don't be shy like me. You go out and you follow what you want to do.' So she encouraged me. When I had an idea that was kind of weird, it was usually taken, as 'What a good idea. You do that, you do that.' So this is my homage to my mother. I often piece old fabrics in my collection to either make the quilt backing larger or to give it an edge. When a quilt goes on exhibit, the edges tend to get bruised a bit. I put a tougher fabric on this quilt's edge, a fabric I bought in the 60's before I even was a textile artist. I made all my children's clothes and saved every scrap. I was going to make dresses out of this black and white fabric. The pattern is three boys hooked together in an abstract design. The other fabric is three girls. I was going to do something and then I realized that 'Oh, no'. [laughs.] It was too strange for children. I have these fabrics in my collection. I like to throw old fabrics in every now and again to make a quilt back. Sometimes my quilts are two-sided. Often there is no one main front or back side. You can have six months looking at one side, six months at the other, or, at an exhibition, hang it away from the wall so people can see both sides. Do like this quilt's back.

LR: Beautiful. Let me talk a minute about more of your involvement in quilt making. What is your first memory of making a quilt?

JS: Well, the memory came after I started making quilts. I was going to give a talk in the 80's about how I started to be a quilt maker. I was running through my memory and I kept thinking, 'It was the bicentennial.' People were asking me what quilt I was going to make to ommemorate the event. At that time I didn't even look at quilts. It wasn't even in my thoughts. I didn't like quilts. I didn't go to quilting exhibitions. I had a very poor opinion of quilts. I was an embroiderer. I was a stitcher. I used the quilting stitch [running stitch.]. I used trapunto [stuffed work.], I used every technique a quilter would use, but I used it in my stitchery. So I was a snob. And when I got involved in the bicentennial fever it because somebody asked, 'Would you teach a quilting class at Adult Ed?' And I said, 'But I don't make quilts.' They said, 'We pay $25 an hour.' I said, 'Oh, when do I have to have this course written?' [laughs.] So I stopped doing everything and for 6 months in 1973 I researched quilts. There wasn't much written. Ruby McKim's book and there was one by a Rockefeller, but all the photos were out of focus. It was really a pitiful book, hardbound, and then, oh, I'm losing her name. Oh yes, Beth Gutcheon had written a book with the help of Virginia Avery. They researched historical patterns. Very lovely book. I didn't want to know how they did quilts, but I did want to have a sense, if I were going to teach quilting, I should have something of quilt history to give to my students. And so I wrote a course and I did all this practicing. I practiced on my children. I decided, okay, my son Derk is going to be 12--my oldest son. I'll make my first quilt for him. I finished his. Then my second quilt was for Dustyne who was 17 mos. younger. I made a quilt for her practicing what I was going to be showing students. Then I made my first bicentennial quilt, which was my 3rd quilt. By then I had started to teach the class. Well, 65 people showed up for the first evening. I said, 'Okay, everybody, just stay there.' I went to the office and I said, 'I cannot teach 65 people. How about if we break it up Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? I'll ask people which night they wanted? Would you like me to teach three nights in a row?' They said, 'Well if you can have 24 to start in each night.' They figured half would drop out and you had to have 12 to have a class continue. I went back and everyone was thrilled because they got to pick the night that they wanted. I started teaching three nights in a row. Every night they would have questions. I would never answer a question directly when I did not know the answer. I would say, 'I will get back to you on that next week.' [laughs.] I was often playing catch up. The class did not get less. No one dropped out. They loved what they were doing. We did a group quilt in each class. We did sampler quilts even though I never did a sampler quilt. All the sampler quilts were different. To make a long story short, out of those 65 people, 5 of them became very well known quilt teachers. Many of them went on to win prizes. At the final show and tell, people asked, 'How could you have so many different quilts come out of this class?' I said, 'Because everybody brought their own ideas with them and I didn't dissuade them.' About our class quilt. Maybe one of the reasons they didn't drop out was because they earned a raffle ticket for the class quilt for every evening they appeared. At the end of the 15 weeks we would raffle off the group quilt. They made some fantastic quilts. We didn't always finish them. Sometimes the binding wasn't finished. But whoever won it had to finish it. Some of those quilts were so wonderful. People put so much time into their section of the quilt. I remember one we did of windows. I didn't know how we were going to put all this together. I thought that if you did it multiples, even multiples, if you can divide by two, for example if a piece was 6 x 6 inches or 8 x 4 inches, or whatever with an added half an inch all around, just in case, for seam allowance that should work. Well, what did I know? I had never done this so I was making it up as we went along. I saw that creating problems was a good thing. That if they didn't have a definite recipe, they had to rely on their creativity. The work gained in importance to each person, because they each had to bring something to the table. There were no definite instructions. They had to write it for themselves. Each week I introduced a new way of doing something so that it was never boring. They didn't have to do huge things. At the final class they could bring their husbands, their children and friends. We would raffle off the quilt. They all brought things they had either finished or were in progress. The room was filled with exciting things and people. That was my beginning teaching quilts, when I changed my life to dedicate my art making to quilting. It is not that I stopped embroidery. This is a very important part of my life, but the quilting, act of making a quilt is so important to me I will never give it up. I am always reinventing a better way of doing something. A different idea requires a different assemblage of fabrics or ideas, and so forth. People like to talk about style. I hate that word because it limits people into thinking that their quilts all have to look alike. They've bought into something that is faux, phony. It is not about style. It is about what are you saying with your work. If it requires that you need 6 layers, then you need 6 layers; if it's 2 layers, then it is 2 layers. If it requires a mix of fabrics, then you do that. You try not to hear the rule makers. Somebody in Australia came to a talk of mine and they asked, 'How can you make this quilt like this? You're not following the rules.' I said, 'Well, what rules are you talking about?' She said, 'The rules in the books.' I said, 'But who made up these rules? You need to find out who made these rules and why you feel you need to follow them. Who made it up? For what purpose? Is it something you need to do that way?' So I am a rule breaker, but I also make beautiful quilts. Do you know what I mean? I care about how they are finished. But they're my rules, not somebody else's. They are my standards, they're nobody else's. That is another thing about quilting. I can reinvent it any time I want, and I have. I have made some two layered quilts. They are paper and silk. [laughs.] The homage to quilts is the bound edge. I don't need the binding, but it is my homage to quilt history. When I see these rules for entering shows: a quilt must have batting and must have three layers, I think, 'You are missing some good stuff.' Why can't air be batting? Why can't sticks be batting? Who says a quilt has to be three layers? I have seen lovely quilts that are over 100 years old, where newspaper is the batting, and why not? It creates warmth, it's a filler. It can be washed. [laugh.]. So anyway, I have a lot to say about quilts. It is my life's work, a very personal mode of expression. That's another reason I picked this quilt "Beijing: The Summer Palace" to talk about today. It can't get any more personal than this. I've included my mother, my children, the Chinese and my own writing (rough drafts of my poems which are transferred onto fabric and eventually are used in my quilts).

LR: Talk a little bit about how you combine your poetry and your quilt making.

JS: Well, I create poems the way you piece a quilt together. I write random thoughts. Then I recombine the words to get a sense of what I've written. It's the same way that I gather my fabric pieces together for making quilts or collages. I get all the fabric pieces together. I happily rearrange the pieces and put it together. I find the theme over a period of days, what I really have been trying to say. It wasn't verbal. It wasn't visual yet. The poems may relate to a quilt. Sometimes I will stop in the middle of making a quilt because I have all these words that have come to me. Then I write a poem. And the poem may be about that quilt. It is not explaining the quilt, but it's an additional element of the quilt. It can stand alone, or it can be with the quilt. Sometimes I have written a poem and I'll make a quilt based on what this poem is about. In this case the poem came first and then the quilt. Other times the quilt is finished. There is no poem. Maybe a year later, I am writing a poem and I realize, 'Wait a minute. That goes with a particular quilt that I made for a collector.' So I write it up and send it to them with a note that this poem goes with their quilt. It's like my poems and the quilts are not separate. I published a book of poems in 1990, which went through 2 editions. It was very exciting. I thought I would do it again in 5 years but life had gotten very complicated. I went to Australia again to teach in 2003. When I teach I read poems. I read my own and others in order to make a point or to set a mood, to show people that art is not a separate activity. It is a part of life. How everything connects to everything. People said, 'We have your book from 1990 and you said you were going to do another poem book.' I said, 'Well, perhaps I will have time when I go home.' Almost immediately I worked with my book designer, Morris Jackson. It was just going to be a small book, just 20 poems. Now it is 50 poems and 92 pages. Morris asked, 'What do you want on the cover?' I said, 'Here is this piece that I finished for a Texas show in 2004. There is this one section that I love. Could we do this as the cover?' A detail of "Blue Notes" is now the cover. I photographed all the different parts of the quilt. Each section break features a detail of "Blue Notes" which became the main visual part of the book. Other details introduce each section. I was shocked to find that fit each detail that I photographed fit the parts of the book which include nature, time, rhythm, and memory won't come right now for the others. These small images from "Blue Notes" are sometimes only 2 layers of silk organza. Actually the third layer is newspaper, but not completely throughout the quilt. So, should I enter in the show that says you must have batting? Well, I might [laughs.] and let them deal with it. Reject me, fine. That's good, that I'm making a statement, too. This book of poems is really about my quilts. It's about how I think I am doing one thing and suddenly it's become a larger event. This is no little book now. It is really a statement about my work on how everything I do is really connected to everything that I am going to do or have done. It is a conversation that never stops. It's just taking the form of a book, now, with a really good image of "Blue Notes" plus all the details, plus the cover which is quite beautiful. There's one page of color, the first page when you open it, a shocking acid green. We scanned images from a photograph that I had already put onto fabric--misty trees and fog. It is really beautiful. So it's about beauty. Some of the poems are quite tough. They're about my childhood. Some are very of the moment. A lot of them are based on time, which I use in all of my work. You will see timepieces and hands and faces of clocks and maybe even the word 'time'. It just seems to be a big thing with me. People ask, 'Is it because you are getting older?' And I say, 'No, I don't think so'. I've always been interested in time. I learned how to tell the time since the time I was three because I was always running away from home from the time I was 3 [laughs.], and I had to know what time it was to make sure I would get home.[laughs.] Anyway, it's an ongoing theme. So, yes, I am getting older, but I am feeling younger lately, again, and the reason is I am tackling a new way of doing things. I have a new series going and it's just so exciting for me.

LR: You have another publication on quilts. Would you talk a minute about that?

JS: The book is called "The Art of Joan Schulze" which is a strong statement saying it that way. I wanted to be clear that I have thought I am an artist and I wanted to make it clear that all the work I have done in collage, in embroidery, the quilts, are of a piece. That I have grown as an artist and I wanted to put it into a fine art book. I didn't want a soft cover. I didn't want a how-to book. I wanted to make a statement that, if you are a quilt maker, you can have an artistic life. I wanted to put it between covers of weight. I wanted a coffee table art book, is what I wanted. I had a publisher for a while that was going to help me do that and then, when they said they wanted a how-to book first, I realized I had better take control. I found a self-publisher. I worked with a book designer, Morris Jackson and then spent two and a half years working on this book. I had a wonderful editor, Robert McDonald. During that time I kept up my own work and earned the money to pay for this book. It came out in this country in January 2000 and in Europe in October 1999. The book coincided with a one-person exhibition that went from Germany to Denmark and then back in this country a year later in Washington State. There is not another textile-related book quite like it. The pages are high quality. It was meant to make a statement of weight. It almost weighs 4 lb., which is a problem when you ship it overseas. [laughs.]. It also puts my history, of how I discovered I was an artist and what I did to invent myself as I went along, still staying married, having 4 children, same husband, not throwing everything over because I thought my art should be the one and only thing. I never separated my art making from my life. Now I have 11 grandchildren and most of them visit and want to make quilts. It has increased the pace of my life which has accelerated as I have gotten older, which I think is really weird. It's supposed to get calmer and, you know, and everything. But it's not. My world has gotten so complicated but in a very good way. The book was like a culminating activity of 27 years of being an artist and, not that it was going to be an end. I am an ex-school teacher. I taught elementary grades for almost 6 years. Every important unit that I ever taught would always have a major culminating activity. So my unit was 27 years of being an artist and I wanted a really big culminating activity. That's what this book is. It also helped me in another way. Many young artists and people who want to make art have contacted me. I have letters, boxes and boxes of letters, and the email, they just never stop. And all the questions they want answered! I would say, 'I don't have time to write a book. You are asking me to write a book. I can't answer all these questions but I can tell you this.' I'd give them one thing. So now I can point them to the book. Everything, all the questions that they asked are in this book. I have letters thanking me for writing this book because it is a book they can show their husband, their boyfriend, or if it's a guy, he can show his wife or his family, It helps them say 'This is what I want to do with my life. I want to do important work and I want to make a statement. This woman is still married and so forth and she worked in a laundry room and then the dining room and then the kitchen and then the garage and only after she worked for 25 years did she get this big time studio in San Francisco. Incrementally, you can invent your artistic life and keep the family connections.' For me, I wanted to put it out there. I also wanted a history for my family. I can tell you this, my family does not know how many pies I have going. It would overwhelm them. When I would call my mother she'd ask, 'Joanie, what did you do?' I would only tell her about a quarter of what I had done and she would say, 'Oh, no, don't tell me anymore. I'm tired right now. I have to rest. How can you do all of that?' And I would say, 'Well, mom, I'm loving what I am doing. It gives me an opportunity to use all of my skills as a person who uses their mind, a person who uses their hands and a person who teaches.' I never left the teaching field. I keep trying to quit and then somebody will ask, 'But would you?'

LR: Would you mind if we stop because we are just about at the end of this tape and continue on a new one?

JS: Oh, fine, great.

LR: [Le begins a new second tape.] Okay. You were talking about how much you share of your life when you return home.

JS: I did that to keep connected to my mother, to let her know what I was doing, to let her know that I was following my path and that I was happy. She didn't understand all of the traveling. She would say, 'Joanie, why do you like to travel so much?' I would say, 'Mom, I like meeting new people. I like to see that I can do it. I like to know that I can go into an airport and know what to do because for years and years when the kids were small Jim was the only one who got to travel and I really didn't know that I could do that. Could I go off on my own, pay for my ticket, manage the airport, all of this?' This was in the 70s. I had never really traveled out of the country until 1974. I decided that I needed to test my wings and I found I loved it. I loved going to a foreign country and not having anybody know me. I liked practicing what little language skill I had just to see if I could navigate a foreign country and do things on my own without relying on somebody else carrying my bag, making the arrangements or deferring to someone else. I liked being just an adventurous person. And it fit how I wanted to be viewed. I wanted to be a trailblazer. I wanted to feel powerful, in charge. I wanted to be able to do whatever I decided I wanted to do. So travel became really important. The other thing travel gave me was some time without the phone, without children making demands, without Jim, not that he was demanding, but you still are deferring and cooperating and all of that in a marriage, and I wanted uninterrupted time. I solved that problem temporarily when the children were small. When Jim came home from work by saying, 'I'm going shopping now and I'll be back in 4 hours.' [laughs.] Not that I always went shopping. I might just go somewhere, have a cup of coffee, and think my own thoughts, not having to talk to anybody. Later when the children were older, I started taking road trips. I would say to Jim, 'Do you think you could manage for the weekend? I want to take a road trip. I'll stay in cheap motels and I will write. I will let you know where I land so that you can contact me if anything should happen.' I started doing things like that and my road trips kept getting longer. The big road trip was 2 weeks and that was during the earthquake of 1989. I was away in San Diego for that one. Jim said, 'Don't come home. Everything is fine but wait awhile till everything gets sorted out.' So I increased my road trip [laughs.] and I wrote some great poems. I was teaching a lot. Then every major trip I took was paid for. I got to like that. I went to Australia, to Holland, to Luxembourg [laughs.]. I started going to Australia in 1984, went for three months that time. That was a big shift in our family life when Jim had to be the mother and father at the same time while I was away. I did an awful lot of preplanning on that. It was huge to be away for that long. After that I decided three months was too long. The next time I went in '89 for two months and that seemed fine. But then two months seemed long. Six weeks seemed about the right time. I went to Europe for 6 weeks a couple of times. The traveling gave me a chance to touch the other side of me, the one that wasn't the mother, the one who wasn't the wife. Even though I would check in with the family, I could be this other person. That was necessary to have time to think, to have time to write, a time to meet some new people and see how I was judged without being Mrs. Schulze, or mother, or grandmother. I was Joan the artist. On the other hand, I like coming home to my real life because it is an anchor. It gives me time to settle and think about what I did on my own, and know that I wouldn't give up my family. Family is really special and have your husband, somebody you can tell your stories to and share things from the other life, which is what the man does when he goes off to work. He has this totally separate life and he may or may not share what went on at the office. So my office has been international. But it hasn't been for more than, well it was 3 months that one time, but it hasn't been for more than 2 months. I try to keep it less than that. I have written some really good poems on the road. That's another section in my book, "Travel". I'll continue to travel, but not any more this year. I'm kind of burned out after 2 months in Australia. You see, I know that 2 months is too long. Well, the workshops have such long waiting lists and I'm asked 'Couldn't you stay a little longer?' Well, I'm too easy and say yes. Then suddenly I realize I will be gone for 2 months now, okay I have to say no. But it took me longer to recover from the trip this time. I realize I have to manage this going away a little bit better. I told everyone in my family that I am not going away until next February. But there might be a trip to New York [laughs.]. It could be a red eye on a Thursday night and come back on a Monday. So that is not too bad.

LR: Let's talk for a minute about quilting in American life. How do we encourage quilting in young people?

JS: Well, by making it fun. I had two grandchildren, Evangelin, 8 years old and Naomi, 10 years old here two weeks ago. They said they wanted to make a quilt. And I said, 'I can't promise we will make a quilt. Grandma is very tired. I'm glad you are here. We'll play in the garage and see what happens, but I am not making a promise that we are going to make a quilt. I will teach you to paint fabric, but first we have to find some fabric.' We went out to the garage and I found a box that dated from Texas, when we lived in Texas in the 60s. All the fabrics were from dresses I had made for the girls, overalls I had made for Derk. We went through all these fabrics. I told them stories about each of the fabrics as we sorted and made piles of fabric. 'Do you like this? Okay, we'll put that in your pile.' We searched through the fabrics and found quite a number that they liked. I said, 'This is the pile that you didn't like. Why don't we take a few of these and I'll show you how to change it so that you will like it?' The first day we did all the sorting. We chose big enough pieces and I cut off ratty ends, you know, from the sleeves and things like that, of fabric and then I taught them how to iron and press. I had the two little girls out in the garage and we did nothing but choose the fabrics, press them and make beautiful stacks of pressed fabric. I put the extra pieces away. They each had about a six-inch stack of fabric, of miscellaneous sizes, colors and textures. And I said, 'Okay, after our break, we'll come back and I'll show you how to mix paint.' 'What are we going to do with this fabric?' 'Well, we won't think about that right now. Let me show you how I mix my paint.' We spent four or five hours literally going through paint that I hadn't used since before I went to Australia in March. We stirred and we strained, and we mixed up colors that they liked. 'This color has to be like whipped cream. It can't be lumpy.' So I taught them how to strain it. I made them do all the work. We had many beautiful colors in 8 oz. yogurt containers. 'We are tired. It is 7 o'clock at night. We'll have dinner and tomorrow we'll get up early, have our breakfast. We wíll come out early and I will teach you how to monoprint.' 'What's that?' I did a little demonstration showing what we were going do tomorrow. 'Oh, Grandma, can we do it now?' And I said, 'No, we'll do it tomorrow. Just think about the things that we did today.' So we went in and did other things. We played games. I taught them a new way to play Scrabble and things like that. 'We're going to start early?' 'Oh, yes, we're going to start early.' So we started very early the next morning. We went out in the garage, set up the monoprinting station. I let them practice a little bit. Then we did nothing for 5 or 6 hours but monoprint on these fabrics and had stacks and stacks of things hanging to dry. We took a break. Actually I forgot to feed them and they mentioned they were hungry and I said, 'Oh, yes, we have to eat.'[laughs.] And then I said, 'Now we're going to let everything dry.' We went to Auntie Nicky's and played with some of the nieces and nephews. That night we came back. I said, 'Let's go into the garage and see what is happening.' Things were dry. I said, 'Do you feel tired?' 'No, not tired.' So I taught them how to set the fabric. They ironed all the things they had painted and were looking at all of the things that they had done and were saying, 'Isn't this beautiful?' 'Well, now that you've got all the pieces ironed and flat, let's choose the ones you like.' Naomi chose from her pile of painted things and Evangelin chose from her pile and I said, 'You lay them out on the table and see what you have.' I have a big table. Naomi had one side and Evangelin had the other and they laid out the ones they thought went together. I made a few suggestions like, 'Let's put that one in just so we have enough. Let's lay them side by side so that you have a long string of them. I will show you how to cut the edges straight and then we'll pin them so they will be ready to be sewn.' 'Ah, we're going to sew! Well, Grandma can't find her sewing machine. We're going to have to go to the loft [studio.] on Friday.' [laughs.] Truly, I could not find my sewing machine. I couldn't find the cord for the sewing machine. I found the sewing machine but not the cords. It was a good thing because we didn't rush forward. That meant when we went to the loft, the studio, we would just be sewing. We spent all of Wednesday choosing things to go next to each other. They had no idea what they were going to do, but I showed them how to pin the edges together and didn't talk about seam allowance or anything like that. When we turned it over to the right side they could see how nice it would look when it was going to be sewn together. Not that it was neat and tidy. We were not going to worry about that till we got them sewn together. I said, 'We have all this paint. Let's paint some big fabric.' We painted some big fabric and I showed them how I cleaned my brushes. We made all these color stripes. We were really making the quilt back. The funny part is the quilt back became the front on Evangelin's quilt. The large painted pieces worked so well with their pieced strips. The quilts grew. They asked, 'Grandma, are we making quilts?' 'No, I don't think so yet. We're just making all this fabric, and maybe we'll have it sewn together, but I'm not sure.' I didn't know how tired I was. I mean these are two little girls with high aspirations and we were really doing what I teach an adult to do, and they were doing really great stuff. They were making flowers and they were making houses, drawings, writing words, how they felt. I taught them how to write in the monoprinting and stuff like that, and it was just lovely what they did. We put all this in a bag and I said, 'Let's not think of it anymore. When we go to the loft we will open our bags and see if we do have a quilt. I'm not sure that we do.' I didn't want their hopes, their aspirations to be so high. 'Whatever it is we will do something with what you have done and then you'll have all this extra fabric that you can use to make doll things and all. You can teach your family how to monoprint. And all this paint you mixed up, we'll have to get it nice and clean and with a lid. We'll put it in a box and pack it up so that if we don't finish what we are doing you can do it at home.' We did a lot of things that didn't necessarily have to do with the quilt, but I knew that we would get quilts out of it, but I didn't let them know that I thought that we would because I knew how dedicated they would have to be. They didn't know how to use the sewing machine. When we got to the loft I had to teach them how to sew straight on the sewing machine, which is a kind of a scary thing for little girls. We did it in teams, sit for a little bit, try that, then the next one could do it. I would sort of watch that and then ask them did they think it was straight enough. I would let them decide if it was straight enough. They decided they needed more practice so we literally practiced for an hour and a half till they were happy that they could sew straight and then I showed them how to press seams. They used my really heavy iron with hot steam and I showed them how to press safely, where to put their hands, how to press in one direction, how to finger press it open, how to make the seam open, how to make a good press, all the things you would have learned if you took a basic quilt class from me. And I haven't taught those basic things in years and it was fun. They were so good at it and they could see the value of knowing how to sew straight, but they made that value, that rule for themselves. And the pressing. They learned how if they didn't finger press it open good enough, how they could go back and steam it and do it again so that when they flipped it over to the other side it would look nice. And you could just see how excited they were that everything was looking so beautiful. They would say, 'Grandma, this is looking like your quilts.' 'Yea, it does. Look at how nice and flat that is and everything.' And they said, 'But the edges are all crooked. The seams were straight, but we didn't do templates. We didn't do that.' I said, 'Grandma has a trick. See this long ruler. We lay it down, we'll make a mark, and then we'll just cut at that mark, and you see, it is even now. And then you have all these extra little pieces and Grandma will show you later how to do collage. We don't throw anything away.' [laugh.] Then it just flowed and they could see it grow as we laid it out on a table. We did Naomi's first and then I realized that Naomi's wasn't as big as Evangelin's. Now Evangeline is 8. Naomi has to have a quilt the same size, So the quilt grew. 'How do you think you can make this quilt grow?' 'Well, Grandma, if we added fabric.' 'Well, let's see what I have.' We went into my binding box. I have all these strips. They chose what they liked and little by little their quilts grew. Then I had a friend visit who is a famous quilt maker and she said, 'Joanie, when did you start doing this with the girls?' 'We started Monday.' 'You started Monday? It's only Friday!' It was 3 o'clock Friday. 'Where's the pattern?' 'Well, Sonya, it grew. We didn't have a pattern.' She said, 'You didn't have a pattern?' 'Sonya, I don't do patterns.' 'They're going to finish this?' We didn't have the batting yet and the backing together. 'Well, yes. After you leave we'll get out the batting.' So she left. The girls were getting tired. One of them looked at me. It's 4:30. I mean, they are troopers. I forgot to feed them again. [laughs.] 'Grandma, are we going to eat today?' 'Oh, my gosh.' 4:30 and we hadn't had lunch. We had a very minimal breakfast because we started right away. 'Grandma is too tired to cook. Let's walk up to the pizza place, but we're not going to have pizza. They have other things that maybe you don't often get at home. You can choose.' And so we did. We went up there. They ate everything. They were so starved. Starve your grandchildren and then they will eat everything, even strange things that they wouldn't eat if they weren't quite as hungry. We spent an hour and a half and then came back to sew. They were all invigorated because it is uphill and downhill and the fog was coming in and it was getting chilly. We quickly put the quilt backs together. I told them that I would do some of the sewing. I was driving them home, 7 hours, the next day. 'We'll get these quilts pinned tonight. I'm not sure we can get them quilted, but at least it will be pinned, but who knows, maybe somebody, your mother can help you finish. I knew that we were going to get them finished and that we were going to stay up very late. I started sewing. I made them sit and write a diary. Instead of writing in a diary I said, 'Let's just do an outline.' They were writing at the desk while I sewed. I would talk to them 'Okay, what did you do on Monday?' They did an outline. It was so much fun for them because they realized they had done a lot. Naomi took Monday. 'The neat thing about doing outline is that if you forgot something you can stick it in the outline. It is just like making quilts. You can always piece another thing back in.' After the quilt tops were sewn, I showed them how to pin and baste, help me do the stretching and the laying of the batting down and then putting the top down. My fingers were numb from other projects. They did the pinning with safety pins. They had the quilt, batting and the top pinned and it was only 7:30 at night. 'Well, girls, we need to start quilting. Now we don't have to quilt a lot. We're just going to do straight line quilting.' I let them start. I could see that it was exciting for them but that they were tired. 'Okay, you got it started. Now Grandma is going to do the rest while you finish your diary outline.' They did the writing of the diary for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday while I sat and quilted on the machine. Both quilts were quite large, actually. I think they were 65 x 45, which is a goodly size. They had done it. Each one was unique. Evangelin decided that her back with the large painted piece was going to be the front with one of her strips of sewn pieces. Naomi wanted a really quiet front. It was really interesting how they made their decisions. I would just stand back and say, 'Okay, I think it is big enough. That's your top, all right.' It was interesting to see how their minds worked and how they kept admiring their monoprinting and their painted parts, and how interesting it was one piece next to another and how you could read that and how, when we ran out, we needed another inch and a half, how going through those scraps that they had cut, they picked from that to piece and add on. So that is how we grew the quilt.

LR: Wonderful story.

JS: Before I sent them to bed we watched nightfall because of my big windows. It was 10 o'clock and I said, 'Girls, we have to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning because we have to get out of here at 6:30. You go sleep. Now you've seen nightfall. Grandma is just going to do the binding and then she'll be in bed.' I put the binding on and then I realized that that was it. I could only machine sew the binding, not finish the final edge by hand. That I would do when I got to their house Saturday night. I could sit and do the binding while they told their family the stories, have them read their outlines and such. So really it was an incredible thing and I would do this, I would recommend people to do this with children. You can. You could have them choose fabrics. You could make it fun and just not put out too many rules. Have them make these choices and then figure out a way of doing it. This is quilt number 1. Look what you did! And that is how you get young people. Then they go home and they can teach their siblings, have quilt making parties. Naomi had her best friend visit later. They took her scraps and they're doing little quilts. And she is saying, 'Now this is how you sew it'. Isn't that neat? So that's how you do it. It is not like I am against templates but I think there is a time and a

place later for templates. You can just sew pieces together and make it.

LR: I want to ask one more question.

JS: Okay.

LR: What is the future of quilting in America?

JS: I worry about it, because I see people putting their aspirations ahead of making good work. They, I don't know how many times I have heard this, 'I want to be famous', and if that is your aspiration before making quilts, you are putting the cart before the horse. Fame has nothing to do with good work. People seem to be cloning other people's work. They take a workshop and instead of figuring out what they can learn from that workshop which will help them make their quilt better or enhance the way they think, they copy the teacher's work. I think sometimes the teacher needs to be aware that she need not teach her quilt, that she can teach a process, that you can teach a way of thinking. You shouldn't even be showing them your work until the workshop is over. People need that space in order to think what they want to do. So I worry about the kind of teaching that is going on. I worry about people's aspirations and I worry that people aren't having fun. I think that they are so worried about getting into important shows, getting their work published that they have forgotten that there is a joy in making things and that really you make the work first and then decide where the baby is going to go. Do you know what I mean? I also find that people have not taken time to learn how to use color. The kitchen sink method seems to be in play, every color in the rainbow, because they see quilts winning prizes that have, what I call high color and high technique and then they aspire to do that kind of work. They get the wrong kind of message. There's a whole continuum of the kind of work that can be done. There are quilts that haven't been invented yet that can show the way to the future, but if you're always looking at what is being done now--somebody said, 'What quilts do you look at before you make your quilts?' I said, 'I never look at quilts. I don't look at other art for my inspiration. I look inside myself to see what I want to talk about. And, yes, I look at quilts, but after I've done a big series of work. Then I like to go out and see what people are doing. Of course I have to be aware of what's out there because I'm sometimes asked to be a juror. I need to know whose doing what. I really must say that many people aren't taking the quiet time, removing themselves from the fray, and just making work. Just seeing what they can do. And that's about it and it's a pretty harsh thing to say.'

LR: I think we're coming to an end. This has been very enjoyable. And you have a glorious studio here with the view of the city of San Francisco. Are there any final words that you would like to add?

JS: I just hope people enjoy what they are doing and that they celebrate people finishing a quilt. That's the other thing I wanted to say was that there are so many judgments being made about, 'Is this quilt worthy, etc.?' I think that any quilt that is finished should be celebrated. Just really enjoy what you're doing and forget about fame and fortune because it isn't all that is it cracked up to be [laughs.].

LR: [laugh.] Joan, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories Project. Our interview was completed at 12:43 p.m. and it is August 4, 2003.

JS: Well, thank you for thinking of me. I really had a good time.



“Joan Schulze,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,