Molly Johnson Martinez




Molly Johnson Martinez




Molly Johnson Martinez


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Salser Family Foundation


Boonville, CA


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I am in Boonville, California with Molly Johnson Martinez, and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with her. It is 10:14 in the morning. Molly, thank you so much for doing this interview with me, and I would like you to start out by telling me about the quilt that you brought for this interview.

Molly Johnson (MJ): Well my quilt has two figures in it. They are two mermaids. There is a mama mermaid and a daughter mermaid. There is a sun that the mother is holding and a moon that the child is holding. They are in an ocean, a flowing ocean with fish and there is a beach. The beach has music in the sand, because I love music, and it has seaweed and driftwood. I grew up on the coast, so I think a lot about the ocean, and when I went to Mexico I spent a lot of time at the ocean, I love the marine life. The figures have hearts, and the hearts were the vision for this piece. I had the vision when my daughter was born, and it took me four years to get it down. [laughs] I jotted it down on paper with pencil right away. The two hearts have lines that swirl around and they are connected to each other. So anyway, the symbol is about my daughter and I having a strong connection throughout our whole life. That is what I want for us: communication, love and connection. And, about we have circular bellybuttons too, and that was symbolizes our connections to our ancestry. It is about generations connections between women and children. I work with Los hilos de la vida. I like to try things that I hear are hard to do from my quilter friends, so I used a lot of metallic threads and fibers to challenge myself and the Hilos quilters. I chose fuzzy things because they fray and silky things because they are slippery. So, I just wanted people to see we could do that, and I didn't really know if I could or not, but that was my experiment for myself. I made our hair out an old ponytail holder of Emily, and I also made seaweed and drifted things on the beach with it. Emily and I both really have long hair, and so, it was just another way to symbolize us united.

KM: When was this quilt made?

MJ: It was made about two and a half years ago. It was made when the original quilting teacher was her, and she helped me keep going. Since then, I have started about seven quilts and I have never finished one [laughs.]. So, they are all lying around my house waiting for the day that I take the time to finish them.

KM: Your daughter, Emily, how old is she now?

MJ: My daughter, Emily is now five. When she was three she made a quilt too, which was in our first shoe. It is called "A Flute and a lot of Little Houses." It is really abstract, it is great.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilting. Why did you decide on quilting?

MJ: Well, I was teaching parenting groups, and I saw that the moms like to do handcrafts, so we tried knitting, we made piñatas, we tried crocheting, and um, and various other things. It was fun because we could get together and talk, so I thought. I met a woman named Susan Kerr who was just hilarious, creative and fabulous and I wanted to work with her, so we had to create a reason to work together. She was a behavior specialist and I was teaching parenting classes, and so I knew that would work, but I wanted to have some sort of flare so people would come to our class. I am an artist. My come from 3 generations of artists. It turned out that she is a quilter and she had made really amazing quilts. The one, the first one I saw was on endometriosis, and I said, 'That's it, we will have quilting bees,' and then I remembered my grandma talking about her quilting bees, and how the women would get together and talk about their families, and so I thought, this would be perfect, we will get the women together and they will start complaining about their kids, and we can have some teachable moments and also make some beautiful quilts. So, it backfired on me. The women got together, and they never had a chance to do art, and so the room became completely silent, and it was great. [laughs] I thought if it is going to go wrong, this is a great way for it to go wrong, because they were so absorbed in the artist process. It was week after week of silence, and I was amazed, because we have always had really chatty groups. And so, this is after they decided that they could try it. At first they were scared to try quilting, and thought that they couldn't do it and they weren't artists. So anyway, after about five months, we had enough stuff to do a show. Amazingly enough people started seeing their things all together, and they agreed, 'oh yeah these are kind of neat,' but nobody wanted to have a show, they were shy. And so, after much convincing, they decided that we would have a show. And then we wrote stories about what the quilts were saying with this part of the program, a literacy program. Each part of this project pushed us to our limits. The quilters became comfortable with quilting, but then story writing and working with the computers seemed to be an insurmountable problem. Anyway, the stories turned out great and the audience response was incredible. We had our first show at a local restaurant Lauren's, with a really nice wall space. We had a big audience that came in and the feedback was really, really positive cross cultural experience. Six women sold pieces. So that put fire in our blood. So it has been a really strong group.

KM: So how did you come up with the name?

MJ: One day we decided we needed a name. I think it was for the poster for our first show, and there was a woman in the room and we were brainstorming names, because somebody asked us and we didn't have a name. And so, we tossed out a few names, and Araceli Jimenez, is bi-cultural, she would say that works in English but not in Spanish that works in Spanish but not in English. Then she said, 'How about the Threads of Life, Los hilos de la vida?' That had a nice flow in both languages and a lot of symbolism. So it was a person who has never made a quilt, and she named it. [laughs.]

KM: That is cool. [laughs.]

MJ: So, Araceli Jimenez is to be thanked for that.

KM: She came up with the name. So how long has everybody been together? Let's get some timeline here so people can have an understanding of when this started and how it evolved.

MJ: The Even Start Project, which is Even Start works with Headstart on family literacy for low income families, and that project started in, 2003 or 2004. So I have been working with women for a couple of years, which was really good because it helped us become closer and developed trust between all of us. And then in December of 2004, November or December, Susan and I had been talking, she was working at the school and we would run into each other and just have great talks. By January, we had our proposal typed and approved, and um, so the quilting component of this program started in December of 2005. Los hilos just had its second year birthday, and we have made incredible progress in those two years, artistically, with confidence, with helping the quilters overcome depression, within the community, just building community between the women. The program had already started, and really it was already started a little bit by, um, a little bit, it was started a lot by a sister project, The Salsa Project. That was sort of the ground breaking project for these women in the Valley.

KM: Explain what The Salsa Project is.

MJ: The salsa project started in an English as a Second Language class with Kira Brennan. Kira noticed that there wasn't a lot of interaction between the women, and she wanted to build community, and so she started having women take turns each week bring in a salsa. She would have everyone compliment each other. They would have a snack time where they would eat and give each other a compliment. She said the first compliments were about clothing or hair or something like that, and then they got deeper and deeper. The salsas were so good, that eventually they decided to make a book, which was neat, because they hadn't written their recipes before. The students just had the recipes in their head, and so this was the first time they like tried to measure the stuff out and make a written recipe. The book has been a phenomenal success, in that it has keep our adult school alive and most adult schools of our size in California have shut down in the last ten years. So we are one of the few survivors, and it is because of this book, the revenue from the book. And so, anyway that project lasted a couple of years. I had heard about that project when I was living and working in Fort Bragg. I thought that the project was really phenomenal and I wanted to work here. And so, by the time I moved here, the people who had not been in the book wanted a little recognition, and the people who had been in the book were ready for another project, so this was a really good timing for the Hilos project. It was great timing politically, because there is so much negative press right now about Latinos and families that live here. [laughs.] It is kind of funny to me, because we have all moved here. We are all immigrants. [laughs.] Period. Except for the Native Americans. And maybe they were too many, many years ago. So, it is just ridiculous to me, this whole situation is. I am not sure how to resolve it, but it makes me feel really sad that to think that of all the negative publicity about border issues. I love working with this group. We are all wonderful women that contribute a lot to our community.

KM: Talk a little bit about Boonville for people who don't know about Boonville.

MJ: Boonville is a rural area. It's about forty miles from the ocean on Highway 128. If you go up Highway 101 from San Francisco you get to 128 at Cloverdale and cut over to Boonville. There are a lot of vineyards here. There are also many apple orchards. Apples used to be Boonville's main crop but now a lot of wine growers that have come in. We have a few music festivals and wine so the tourists visit us on the way to the cost. Demographically we are mostly white and Latino. A lot of people come here to work, and what else am I going to say. I would say there is a big discrepancy of incomes in this Valley, and that the school really does a nice job I think working with all children. I have worked in other districts where I did not think the funds were spent to represent the student needs. This district really, really uses the money well to try to support the kids and their families. And, there is a nice balance in the schools I think. And I love that our school educates kids in their first language until third grade and then transitions them, instead of just plunking them into an all English speaking classroom. It gives the kids a longer time to learn to read and write in their first languages and there are opportunities for parents to learn English so that when their children are teenagers they can communicate in two languages. It gives the kids, pride about their language, like they feel solid in their own language. Spanish reading is easier to teach and to learn then English, so they can transition to English reading faster by doing that. So, it is really a smart way to go, I wish we did it all the way through twelfth grade. My daughter will learn to read in Spanish first. The system is not perfect here but it is so much better than where I grew up. When I grew up in the 70's, they made all the kids go directly to English, so they all lost their native languages, except if it was spoken at home. But I remember being in Spanish classes with a few brave kids that wanted to re-learn Spanish, and they could speak it great, but grammatically they had no idea. So this gives the kids a solid background. And it is really important now, since there are so many bilingual jobs, so I think it prepares our children better for the future.

KM: So, lets go back to talk about the group. How many women are in the group?

MJ: I think we have fifty, about 50 people, I think eight of them are children. More and more children are starting to quilt with their moms. Our weekly class ranges from 3-15 people. A lot of the sewing happens at home now because people have their own machines. We had a lot of machines donated. We had money donated. We have fancy machines are in the classroom, but almost every woman now has a machine in her home. One of the deals that I make with them is that the first quilt they sell, they buy a machine with the money, instead of paying the regular bills. Of course we all have many of those. But, I ask them to buy a little fabric, buy something for themselves to give themselves a treat, because they earned it. So a lot of people just come in and pick up fabric now. We have been very lucky, Deanna Apfel and Lee Serrie have been really wonderful volunteers in this program, and they both help teach the class now. They set up Internet and blogspot connections so that we can get donations, and people donate all over from the Bay area, and this area, and, so we get a lot of fabric. We have received donations of cash from as far as Minnesota and Florida. The school gave us file cabinets, to sort and house the fabric, because this room was a disaster, [laughs.] so they gave me a place to store the fabric. What was the question?

KM: Just what was the number of women, that is fine.

MJ: So we have about forty women, and a lot of them are working at home. I won't see some quilters for a few weeks, and then they will show up with a quilt or two. Sometimes people come in just to help beginners and visit, other times it is to bring in a finished quilt or type a story. Often they will come in if they have a problem with a quilt, or if they get stuck in a place, or they have a technical difficulty.

KM: So how often does the group meet?

MJ: We meet once a week and we have childcare, which is one of the reasons we can meet, because the kids get something to do to enrich them and the moms get a break. Childcare is one of the important aspects of this program that is what makes it work. We have a building that is cut in half basically, half of it is childcare and have of it is a classroom, so it is a lovely set up.

KM: Tell me more about the book.

MJ: The book. Well, after we had many shows, I realized I was the only person that knew all of the stories of each quilt. I wanted a way for people to have a keepsake of what they had done to share with their families. I also wanted the quilters to know all of the stories because they are all wonderful. My first plan was to make a book for each woman from the computer. As time went on I realized that my ink cost too much and the book would be too flimsy. We also realized we could use a lower end product to sell at shows. I wanted to have something that would be nice to show the museums, something of professional quality, because we like to show. We need more wall space basically. It is hard to find space to exhibit around this area. We pretty much exhausted our possibilities at this point.. So if any of you know of wall space that would like to hang beautiful art on, we would love it. Our book will feature one story and one quilt of each artist. The artist was able to choose their favorite quilt and story for the book. It is so tough, because now, you know, everybody is making even more amazing pieces. They keep walking in every day with better and better work. I just want to add this to the book, or we will get a new student, and I want to make sure they get in the book, but I think the book is done now. We can't do anything more to it. So, it will be a paperback, and it will be one story per person and a beautiful cover, it should be really beautiful. We were so lucky to get a photographer that. I was taking shots of them with a decent camera, but they didn't look too wonderful. We had a wonderful man, John Blaustein who is helping us with the photography. I'm a little worried, but mostly excited because I was working with Chico State and they got busy so now we are going to have our high school students make the book, put it together on the computer. It is really exciting, so the moms are making the quilts and the little kids are joining in making quilts, and the big student children are going to put this book together, so it is a fabulous experience for all of us. So, I really like the idea. We are extremely thankful because we received a thirty-five thousand grant to help us with our book and our movie, and that was thanks to the Community Foundation of Mendocino County. Anyway, we should have a really nice looking book. We hope to have it out by June, that is our grant deadline, and we would love to stick to it.

KM: The book is going to be for sale?

MJ: Yes, the book will be for sale. First we are going to save our money so we can print the second, round of the books. I would like to use the money to help the women to come and learn the skills so they can eventually be an independent cooperative, so they won't rely on someone. Right now, I do all of the publicity, and I do a lot of the data entry to keep track of what sold and where it sold. So I would like them to have all of the skills to book the gigs, to show up. They are, almost all of the women who have had a chance to hang shows now, so they have an idea of what to put where and how to, you know, we have to learn how to cut the sticks, everything. We didn't know anything. None of us were quilters, none of us were artists. I was an artist, but none of the quilters were 'artists,' because they had never had a chance to do that. So that is one of the phenomenal things about this project is because inside of these women is these incredible visions and now they get a chance to express themselves. So yes, the book will be a promotion piece and it will also be for sale. I have been back and forth to the High School and it looks really beautiful. Many people have contributed to this book the editing takes a lot of time!

KM: What is the age group for the women? What age?

MJ: Well, the youngest person who has ever made a quilt was my daughter and she was three at the time. And the oldest person I believe was sixty-eight. Well, and there is my father who is eighty-three. He was so inspired by this group that he went home and made a quilted jacket with an enormous octopus on it. So, we have a range.

KM: That's good. That is really good.

MJ: We have a couple of really good quilters that are boys. One of them did a piece called, "Maserati Mioì" and I'm going to try to schedule an interview with him so you can meet Juan Pablo, because he is a great kid. Another boy is Jesus Valdivia. They just love the machine! It is like driving, you step on the accelerator of the machine. [laughs.] It is fun. I wish I had some videos of our first--the first time the women that hadn't had a machine had to sew. They were scared to death that they would crash it or destroy it. It was like driving a car and it was really funny. Probably I liked it because I remember that lurching feeling of the first time I used my mom's Singer as a girl. It was great. Some people came in with sewing experience but they had never done quilts or decorative items.

KM: What about the movie?

MJ: The movie. Lee Serrie had worked with Heidi to make the Salsa Film. She, we are so lucky, joined us after our first show in May 2005. Lee is just an artist and I can't wait to see the completed work. She has been taking footage in the classroom. Lee and Deanna came on with our first show, they saw our first show and they were expired by it and we are so lucky to have them help us. So, we have been taking classroom shots, we have taken shots of the different venues where we have show Lee and I worked over the break to interview the women and then go back and translate the footage to find the gems for the film.

KM: It's a documentary?

MJ: It is a documentary, a history of this program. It is really, really beautiful.

KM: What do you plan to do with the documentary?

MJ: Well, I would like to take it to conferences as an inspirational piece, because this program has been very inspiring for all of us. And I would like to send it to museums so they know we are serious, and we mean business. [laughs.] And just to share, I think it is going to be very touching, because the project is touching and the women are gorgeous. It should be a beautiful piece. It should be colorful and interesting.

KM: The women get all the monies from the sale of selling the quilts?

MJ: They get ninety percent, I am proud of this, because that took a lot of negotiation. The school, the Los Hilos de la Vida, the Thread of Life program gets ten percent, and we use that for more batting or more thread. We always need thread. We need money for machine repairs and childcare. We are lucky to get a lot of fabric donated, so generally we only have to buy a few colors of fabric. We always need greens, blues, and browns, and skin color for Native American and Mexican people is always in high demand. Other than that, we are pretty set on fabric. So the ten percent is for that, and then thankfully people have given us donations, because we have lots of needs. We have run this program on a shoestring. We started the class with $98.00 which helped us complete our first show and run through the summer. All of us volunteer and we are looking for funding sources. We need a computer; we really, really need a computer that is powerful enough to house all of our stories and photos. Three hundred stories were destroyed in a recent computer crash. The one we have just breaks down. So tell your friends and relatives. We depend upon grant funding to keep a roof over our head. The rent for this building is $1,200/ month. If anyone knows a person who needs a large tax deduction we are looking for people to chip in to buy this $70,000 modular. I forget what the question was?

KM: No I actually don't remember what the question was, I should but I don't remember. Is quiltmaking, how has it impact the families? How has this impacting their families?

MJ: Well, it is really great because number one most people didn't think they were artists, so seeing your mom who didn't think she was an artist hanging, you know, her stuff hanging on the wall and people ogling over it. [laughs.] People crying when they read the stories, or laughing or you know poking someone in the shoulder and saying look at this, you will never believe this, or like with their face really close to the piece trying to figure out how they had executed this part of the quilt. That was a beautiful experience. And of course, the money is a really important part of the program because in the winter it is really hard to make a living around this area. In the summer there is a lot of tourists so there are cleaning jobs and picking grapes and apples, but in the winter it comes to a dead, screeching holt, and so there are people that need money for electricity and for food, so it has really helped a lot of people financially. What was the question?

KM: How has it impacted their families?

MJ: Some of the kids are doing art that they wouldn't have. It is bringing more supplies into the families homes so they have more things to play with, so. People didn't have mountains of fabric in their homes and now they do. [laughs.] It has given the kids new experiences, either seeing their mom with a machine or helping their mom. A lot of moms put their kids to work, and actually the husbands too will contribute by making a meal or by cutting out little pieces for the ladies. So I think it is joining, unifying families a little, and. The women, their number one comment on the documentary, which was mind boggling to me. Apparently there is really a lot of stress between the states of Mexico, and so this has given the women an excuse to associate with each other, normally probably won't have, because if you are from the capital you are such and such way, or if you are from Michoacán you are this or that, and so it has given them kind of a ticket into seeing each others feelings and. People can help each other out, because they are millions of miles from their family, not really millions but thousands from their family that normally would be helping them with their children and little things that come up in life that you need support with. So they are starting to call on each other for support, which I think is really wonderful. I have seen self confidence rising and depression start to drop. I see less isolation and I hear the women talk about having something to do besides watch the T.V. day after day. So those are the main things that I see as far as changes.

KM: So if you were to define your quilts, how would you define the women's work?

MJ: Gorgeous, inspirational.

KM: What kind of techniques do they use?

MJ: They use mostly--I don't know that much about techniques.

KM: That's okay.

MJ: But, they cut, I would say cut and paste, except they tack it down with a machine. They were using tulle over the top of everything, and the women did with that for about three months and then they decided they couldn't stand it because they didn't like how it deadened the colors, and they wanted the work just as bright as you could get. So, now they have raw edges and there are scenes from people's lives or fantasy scenes, there are a lot of pieces about border crossing. That is another benefit I think is that it became like an art therapy group where things have been really hard for women to survive show up in the quilts, or things that were really precious. Like the latest quilt that came in was a woman catching her own baby, because the doctor told the mom to 'get in line.' She is about to give birth, and 'I have got other people, get in line,' so she actually caught her own baby, and she was scared. [laughs.] There are--you will see alcatraces, calla lilies, in a lot of pieces. One woman talks about growing up and always seeing her mom out watering the calla lilies and she thought they were kind of ugly, and as she matured, she saw what a beautiful thing a calla lily was and how it represented so much strength and beauty and sexuality and all that. Now calla lilies have now become her favorite flower. Calla lilies have also represented a connection to Mexican Artists like Rivera and [Frieda.] Kahlo. The little boys have really cool trucks in their pieces. What they want to own when they grow up or. Deanna's piece is about a Jewish bathing ritual, like the right of passage. There is an angel, immigrant angel, somebody who watches over you when you come to this country. There is a lot of Catholic influence, a lot of Virgin Mary's, each one is done with much love. So there is a variety of themes. There is one about a mom who gives up her life to be with her baby. She has a choice of aborting the baby or staying with it and she stays with it and dies. So a lot of really deep wonderful things. The first one started out really quiet, like little bouquets and trees and flowers, and then they get more and more deep and raw, which are the ones I like the best. [laughs.] One about a song, a woman who made her sad.

KM: So how has their work influenced your work, or has it?

MJ: Well. [laughs.] It has influenced my life. I think my life work is healing. I am interested in healing. I started as a massage therapist. I used art to resolve issues in my own life since at least age 7. This work promotes healing on a spiritual level, physical level, an emotional level, perhaps on a political level. We promote building community. This group of women, with their openness, hope, vulnerability and strength influence me daily. My daughter is bicultural. What is she? [laughs.] Gringa - so she is English, French, German, that is from me and her dad is Native American Indian from Mexico, Native American Indian from the United States and Jewish, because a lot of Jewish people fled to Mexico when they were persecuted in their countries. So, I really have an interest in her feeling proud about herself and her life, and seeing her strength. Los hilos is made up of strong women, and a lot of them. The thing I love about this project is that everyone surprises themselves. Like, I didn't make a lot of quilts before we started this. I made little square bed quilts which are pretty out of corduroy so they would last. Like my Grandmother had, all the scrapes we had. But, I didn't really think of doing art with quilts before, I did art with paper, so this really works well for me because I love cutting out paper, so fabric is the same way. I never imagined myself as someone that would enjoy promotion of exhibits, but I am good at it because I just visualize the faces of the quilters who mean so much to me. But, mostly they are an influence in my life, and I don't have time for my art now, because I'm so excited about promoting their work, and see what a difference it makes in their lives. I really think they are good enough that they can be world class, world renown, and I am really working hard to have that happen because it will help them. I think it helps the world too. I think that every time there is some excuse to see people as other than their box that they are put in, it really helps the world. So, they are artists, they are moms, you get to see the real person. I don't know, it is kind of pathetic, everywhere you go I guess we are so busy we just walk by all these people and we all have so much in us. You can pass ten people, and each one of those people have incredible stories, incredible depth. We get too busy to see it, and so this project is an excuse, a bridge, a way to start appreciating each other and healing. After we have shows, of course, people have more reasons to talk to each other as they pass in the streets. 'Oh I saw your art,' and then 'wow thanks,' and then they talk about it. We have been on TV. [laughs.] One of the quilters here said, 'I can't believe it, now I have been in two books and I have been on three TV stations, and you know I just didn't think this would happen.' Honestly I guess I didn't think that either but it has been good timing and it has been good, good work.

KM: So, let's talk about the Jewish connection, because you had a show that was very unique.

MJ: Oh yeah, I didn't think about that in relation to my daughter, but it was a great tribute to her. Quilts from Art and Remembrance, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz made a lot of pieces beautiful fabric art pieces depicting scenes from the Polish Holocaust. I'm not sure how many, but she did wonderful hand needle, hand, what do you call that? It is like needlepoint. Huge pieces, I have no idea how she did it, and we saw their book. We were at a show in San Francisco at California Institute of Integral Studies and that was our first big Bay area. We met a woman named Benita Klein who came up to us and showed us this book of gorgeous fabric art [Memories of Survival.]. Esther was depicting scenes from her childhood. She was one of two survivors of the Polish Holocaust in her family and it just gave me chills to see this book. It was very inspiring because we want to make a book too, so they are a very well established organization. Anyway Esther's daughters donated these pieces, they got them all fixed up and send them all over the world. Exhibitions all over the world, and they are just gorgeous, so it was very inspiring to meet Benita (Benita is a childhood friend of Bernice, the daughter of Esther). Later Benita came through town with Bernice, one of the daughters, and we just hit it off. [laughs.] She was really great and she came and looked at the Hilos art and the quilters' art, and we were talking about how we should do something together. So anyway I found out they had a show in Berkeley, (they were suppose to have it in two years) and the Magnus called them because they had a cancellation and they need. So I had two months to try to find a venue in the Bay area, so that we could show at the same time. So, they were so nice because they paid for childcare for us, and they paid for the postcards to send. So it was great. The Magnus sent out advertisements for us and the Women's Cancer Resource Center in Oakland sponsored us, and we had shows in separate venues, but a lot of people went to the two shows and they compared and contrasted the artwork, which was great.

The postcard was beyond my dreams, it was so--I was so proud of it. It had one of Carmela Valdivia's pieces about crossing to the United States and crossing the Rio Grande, and it is about how a lot of people died crossing, and about how a lot of people just want to come here for work and to survive, and to keep themselves and their culture alive. And then it had a piece from Poland a Nazi piece, and it had the Nazis pushing the Polish people over to another side of the river. They had to cross this river and go to work in a work camp. It was so powerful because one piece was done in the '90s by Esther and this other piece had just been done by Carmela. We didn't really know about other quilting groups.

Art and Remembrance adopted us. The whole point of them showing the Holocaust art is, they wanted to say that this happened, and we need to stop treating each other so terribly. This is one of the points of my group too. I want to say, 'Look we are all human and we all need to be on this planet, and we should be fair to each other and be fair to each other and get to know each other instead of persecuting each other.' So I was very proud of that show. We had a lot of sales from that show. It was wonderful, because it helped the Cancer Resource Center, it helped, it helped the Art Remembrance Group and it really, really helped us, it was a huge favor of them.

When we arrived at our opening event at the Cancer Resource Center Nina [filmmaker from Art and Remembrance.] had her video equipment and she treated the women like queens, the artists like queens. We were interviewed at our show and then we were interviewed at their show; they followed us around with cameras and recording equipment to hear the women's commentaries, and we all were crying. It was so hard to be interviewed because the work was so touching. I had seen it in a book, but when you see these pieces that are four feet across, they are big pieces and there are many, many of them, and the stories were just, you know, they rip your heart apart. So I was so honored that they had chosen to adopt us, and also that they saw the beauty in our work. I was honored to stand beside them say we don't want this to happen to people.

KM: I notice that you have postcards of Gee's Bend quilts.

MJ: Yes. We didn't know was that Gee's Bend existed and that had beautiful quilts, and so once again, I had to take the women on one of the days we went to the Cancer Resource Center, so went to the museum on the way down there. I booked it on a good day, it was the day that the Gee's Bend was there and there was a Latino or Chicano exhibit. That was the last day of the Chicano exhibit. The women were really touched by the Gee's Bend work. At first they said, these are kind of, why do they have these hanging here, they are made out of old blue jeans and then they got it. Oh, they are made out of blue jeans because that was what people had, wow, and they got to see the places where the people lived, and you know, it is pretty similar, so it was really kind of a reality check, and sometimes it was worse as far as the conditions that those women lived were worse than here sometimes. It was a good awakening I think. It is not just the immigrant situation in the United States, it is other things. Once again, look at the creativity and beauty we all have in us and the things we can make if we just sit down and do that. Use our energy for many different things, to create beautiful things, beautiful art pieces. Shirley, a faithful volunteer, went down to the exhibit, and she bought a bunch of postcards to share with Los hilos, so those are in our room, and we had, we have our little signs from our different events.

KM: It is a nice space.

MJ: Yeah. I feel really good about it. And it is the healing center that I wanted. I had a vision of healing center about 8 years ago. It had hardwood floors, nice lighting, you know, some yoga. Now we have florescent lighting, we have wall to wall carpet, but we have a place for the kids to go that is safe and clean and you know, it gives the moms a break and we do offer yoga, we just have to move all of the tables, and this room is a hilarious room. It is, transforms every three hours into something completely different. It is a women's support group and then it is a literacy place, and then we clear out the tables and it is time for a baby shower party, [laughs.] and then it is time to remove the tables and have yoga. So, it is really a great little center that where people can come.

KM: What kind of advice would you give someone who would want to start something like this?

MJ: Oh, call us. [laughs.]

KM: [laughs.]

MJ: Call us. Part of the program we offer too is conflict resolution, and I think that is very important for a lot of people. I think that in which ever culture I look at, it seems like it is really easy to get hurt feelings or hurt, you know, it is easy to have a hurt, but it is not easy to come back bouncing back from it, and especially if you have had a lot of hurt in your life, and so we have had different things. I think that the art and story writing really open us up and we need ways of dealing with the raw emotions. We have had nonviolent communication classes, and we had a support group, and so anyway that is the hidden part of this program that you probably won't see, we don't really talk about it. Anyway I would just say good luck and if you need help call us. [laughs.]

KM: Where is the group going?

MJ: Well, I would like them to go worldwide. I would like to join with other women's groups that are doing this like Art and Remembrance did with us. I would like to talk to people once we get our feet on the ground. We are really new and we started with ninety-eight dollars and that lasted us for about a year, and then we got more donations and that lasted about six months, and then we started getting our ten percent. That is not true, our first, we didn't take percentages out of our first couple of shows, and then we decided we should because to renew our supplies it would cost the school money. Well then of course I met Karen Musgrave and that's great, we just hit it off wonderfully and so of course I want to change the world, I want to make it better for our children. Karen is the kind of person I like to work with. She and I don't say 'no,' we say, 'that sounds interesting, how can we do it?' It gets kind of confusing because you know here we are in a small town and we have these big conflicts between states, or conflicts between women, you know, there are four men in the town and twenty women. [laughs.] Whose got them when is a conflict. [laughs.] There is a mirage of things that can come up in this little fish bowl and yet we want peace in the world. I think we really have to try to get peaceful within ourselves, but I think projects like this help too. So I want to support Karen in whatever she is doing. No really, because she has the same vision as I do; that through art or through people seeing people as people everyone is has a connection with each other, and the world can become a better place. That is very important to me, for myself and for my kid.

KM: Do you think their art will change as they are exposed to more and more things?

MJ: I think it will. That is what I loved about the teaching that Susan and I did together. We anti-taught. We brought a bunch of things and put them on the table. We talked about the fabric colors and prints. Like, of this would be kind of a cute little flowerpot, this would be like that reminds me of the sidewalk or that reminds me of the ocean, and I love it because I think that the women here have a lot of freedom that most quilters I don't see that. We did not teach a How To course. It was a dare to experiment course. So, now when new people come in we say, well okay do you want to be a slave to your quilt or do you want the quilt to talk to you? [laughs.] And so they say what they want, and you know if they want it I have quilting books. We had a lot of things donated, but I try to steer people away from that and just let them see the visions they have and hack away at them. Have the fabric just talk to them, because if you just give it space, it will say, oh yes a sky, I'm a red sky. Well you can't be a red sky, people don't put red skies, but you just give yourself some space and open your mind up and then there comes a form. So, yes I am sad to say that I do think that they are going to be influenced and I am happy to say that I think they are indestructible, like houses with a good foundation. I love their art the way it is. And, it will always be good no matter what happens.

KM: That is pretty raw and honest.

MJ: Yes, I like that and I hope that doesn't go away.

KM: You can improve your skills.

MJ: Right. But you, yourself need to improve them; you need to go through each art developmental step if you have never had a chance. You don't need someone telling you what to do. You need someone to hold the space and believe in you.

KM: I think it is great.

MJ: I think the message is about human potential. People are crossing the border everyday to try to make a better life for their family. Government is spending so much money on strange things like refrigeration systems for dead bodies found on the border. What are we thinking? Okay this is something I want to talk about. So I don't know if this is just in women crossing the border, but I know that a lot of people and my students talk about it, a lot of people, once they got over here they were shell shocked. They have post traumatic stress from crossing. Many people come over and work really hard, others stay in their house their entire life, traumatized, watching their telenovelas –soap operas. They are out for the rest of their life, and these are all beautiful women. I read in an article about post traumatic stress in crossing the border, and no wonder, they have been raped, they are getting robbed, crossing five times and practically starving or dying of thirst, and then they come into the country. If we just had more programs like this and more people could come out and feel good about themselves. One of my students has a cousin by Salinas, and she asks, 'Why isn't there one of these classes down here because we want to go and all there is English class once a week and how can you learn English once a week.' [laughs.] There is nothing like something creative where you can make money and friends. I am really proud that we started this program where humans explore their potential and share their talents. A safe place where we can all create and learn.


“Molly Johnson Martinez,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 23, 2024,