Carl Johnson




Carl Johnson




Carl Johnson


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Salser Family Foundation


Boonville, California


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Carl Johnson. It is March 8, 2007 and I'm in Boonville, California. Thank you for coming and letting me interview you.

Carl Johnson (CJ): My pleasure.

KM: So tell me about the jacket.

CJ: Well, my daughter has been a real inspiration to me, and when she took on this stuff, project of assisting the Latino ladies with their blanket quilting project. It really caught me by the heart. There she is again trying to apply herself in such a beautiful way. She had a birthday coming and up and I thought, 'well [laughs.] here is, I am going to show her I can do this thing too.' [laughs.] And so I had to use some, a couple of old shirts that had been worn out on the outside and since she is working with people that in my mind I thought maybe they are trying to get long on low budget projects, and it just seemed like a good project to illustrate that beautiful things can be made of cast offs and they can be reused. If I was going to do it again, I don't think I would take that approach, I think I would just buy clean, plain jacket to do a thing like this on, because it's--it really took a lot more time then I thought it would. [laughs.]

KM: How long did it take you to make it?

CJ: Oh, I don't know, a couple of months I guess, just working on it in the evenings and in spare time.

KM: Tell me the story behind the octopus that is on the jacket.

CJ: Well, the octopus has a special thing in my life. When my sweetie and I were first married neither one of us had been out of town and ah, we tried to think of a fun project that we could do, and so we thought of a, doing displays and we got a commission for the Encino County, Encino County Chamber of Commerce, a publicity thing, and offered to do an aquarium. The feature of the aquarium is going to be an octopus. So we spent a lot of time in Steinhart Aquarium looking at octopuses and studying them and everything, and we stood out in front of the aquarium and studied the octopus very carefully and made little molds out of kid's modeling clay to make the suckers and all the different suckers and carefully looked at all the parts. Then we cast these clay pieces in Plaster of Paris and then liquid latex so we were able to get the right, pretty convincing looking set of suckers. I don't know, it probably took us a year and a half or so to do this, and we were, we made a bathysphere shaped aquarium, about eight feet and nine, it had twenty-three portholes around the outside so people could look it. It was really a hit at the state fair, and then the lady came up from the Arizona state fair and saw this thing and asked us if we could bring it down there. Well we took it down there and it was so well received, that we thought that maybe other people would like to see it. We ended up that year going all the way to Memphis, Tennessee and from there. There is a big cargo plane there at that time, for all American shows. The last carnival traveled on railroad, and we made a deal with them and we ended up going all the way up through the United States and picking off the last of the winter fairs and drove into Winnipeg and there we got on the train and went clear across Canada on the back of a flatcar, bolted it down to a flatcar to Calgary and then we did Calgary and on the way back we did all of the small fairs. Then we went onto Detroit and then picked up other little fairs, but we did the major fairs and exhibitions on that first trip. Ended up, we went through the south part when the big mark was on, we were at Selma when there were people on the street and Sheriff Bulconner was running for sheriff, he had these bit posters up. Anyway we ended up about a year later back in Phoenix, and people by then really liked it and we went eight years with that thing.

KM: Eight years with a traveling octopus?

CJ: Yeah.

KM: When did this all start? What year was it?

CJ: Oh, it was back in the sixties. I don't know, I can tell you in a few minutes, I brought some postcards and things that.

KM: Oh cool, all right.

CJ: Anyway, Molly was conceived in the last part of that era, so, and meanwhile my sweetie and I had this honeymoon, no responsibility.

KM: Traveling around with your octopus.

CJ: [laughs.] The octopus.

KM: [laughs.] How big was it?

CJ: The octopus was seventeen feet across.

KM: Wow.

CJ: And it was animated and all the parts are really, it breathed and people would be looking in there and kids would say it looked at me, it moved its eye. We were doing all this stuff. It was unrealistic in one way, and that is, oh, if you had a live octopus under those conditions they would probably huddle down in one corner and die, and but, this really, people could really understand what an octopus looked like. That was before TV really came in and all this stuff, wonderful films that you can see now. So, this, this was kind of a commemoration thing for Molly's birthday. Nice thing about it, I was thinking about it all the time that I was doing these stitches and this is totally out of my character. I'm an equipment operator, I run a big tractor and clear land and all that, and so I've never done a project like that and I didn't know a thing about sewing, which let me do things that a regular seamstress probably won't have done.

KM: I love the eye because it moves. I thought that was fabulous.

CJ: Kind of fun when you are walking.

KM: Yeah.

CJ: That is a piece of black plastic.

KM: I didn't know that, that is cool.

CJ: It is hanging on a fine fiber. The lenses from the watch and I forget what that reflector is, it was some kind of flashlight I think. Something like that. These shells--the shell suckers are in different sizes.

KM: Buttons, lots of buttons.

CJ: I got those off of picture frames. I had to buy these. I couldn't really find the buttons I wanted so I had household buttons in here in some places. And so, I can't, unless there is a grandma situation or a person's time doesn't mean anything to them, I really can't recommend putting the shirts together, because you know you ended up with kind of a patchwork.

KM: It is wonderful.

CJ: I bought a sweatshirt to use for these parts. I don't know what else I can tell you. Oh, oh, the front. The front was a real puzzle for me. I didn't put a zipper in although I couldn't put in a zipper, but I thought these things are kind of fun. Just Velcro. It probably not the best way to fasten it.

KM: You did a great job.

CJ: Well, not being a seamstress.

KM: I think you did great.

CJ: I have adapted.

KM: Oh inside you have 'Happy Birthday Molly from your loving family.' Oh and you put Emily in here, her daughter.

CJ: Yeah. [laughs.]

KM: That's nice.

CJ: So it was just kind of a fun project. I was thinking of all the time I did it, it was kind of a tribute to her.

KM: I think it is wonderful. I think it is great.

CJ: It is something that I could do if I applied myself.

KM: And you did, and you did, and it is wonderful.

CJ: So that is about it.

KM: So tell me about, do you have quiltmaking in your family?

CJ: Well, my mother could do just about anything she set her mind to, and yeah she used to do, not fancy quilts but just quilted quilts using kind of remaking things that were worn out. When I grew up no one thought about wearing bit patches on their pants, and she did a lot of that kind of things, and she was a teacher also. She just had a natural talent for art. My dad was good too. People back in that era studied things that, in their high school classes, that don't appear until college now. I don't know what kind of system they had, but they really had a wonderful system. Probably greater application that the teacher directed the student or something like that. My dad did mechanical drawings and things like that, that my brother didn't pick up until he was in about his second year of college. Different era.

KM: Different era, definitely. So what kind of quilts did she make? Did she make bed quilts?

CJ: Ah yeah. Every time we visited my grandmother's house she would be working on a quilt. Sometimes the ladies would get together and they would sew what they called blocks. Little individual designs that would all be putting into a quilt the ladies would sell at an auction or public fair or something like that, some special cause.

KM: So what came after the octopus?

CJ: One project I had was a whale, a forty-two foot long gray whale and it, it us was pretty successful. I built it on, ah, a diesel truck so it could drive down the street in a parade and it was pretty authentic as far as length and it had eye movement and mouth movement and tongue and I think barnacles on it, and it was pretty well received. I have a couple of pictures of it in the car if you.

KM: Yeah, I would love to see them. When we are done I would love to see them.

CJ: Okay, and then ah, that is about my most recent project. We built our own house. I remember the kids, Molly and her brother on top of the house kneeling down. So it really has been a wonderful life.

KM: How old are you?

CJ: I'm eighty-three.

KM: Good.

CJ: Good. [laughs.] Yeah did pretty good for a kid. I feel well. But, the kids have made it all worthwhile. Now the grandkids. You can see some continuity in the whole thing.

KM: So how do you think all of this has influenced Molly?

CJ: This, probably nothing. She knows I learned.

KM: That is good. Isn't that what it is all about?

CJ: Yeah. I, I don't know, she was making quilts and I wanted to show her what I could do if I put myself into the project and I had the time.

KM: Are you going to do it again?

CJ: No.

KM: No, all done, this is one, one time experience.

CJ: If I do, I might do it by just buy a jacket a nice jacket and do something like that for. I can't think of anyone I would want to make one for right now.

KM: Your granddaughter.

CJ: Maybe.

KM: It's a good story. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

CJ: Okay.

KM: I really do appreciate it.

CJ: I really love being a part of Molly's project.

KM: That is great, yeah, being part of the quilt group, being part of the influence.

CJ: Maybe.

KM: Well you know one thing connects to another. Right.

CJ: I guess.

KM: I think so.

CJ: I wish you luck with your project.

KM: Thank you, thank you for talking to me. I will take your picture now.


“Carl Johnson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,