Schellen Suttles




Schellen Suttles




Schellen Suttles


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Diane Metts


Chicago, Illinois


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Schellen Suttles. We are at the American Indian Center [Chicago, Illinois.]. Today is February 2, 2009. It is now 2:50 in the afternoon. Thank you for taking time to do this with me. Tell me about your blocks.

Schellen Suttles (SS): The first one I did was a dove, and this represents peace. It was like this area here [pointing to area on block.] is supposed to be like a valley where the dove is sitting in the valley, and he carry with him an olive branch to represent peace which he is bringing to the universe. I made clouds. I made both the dove and the clouds out of felt and leaves from polyester as well as the stems. I made these two little pieces at the bottom which represents the valley out of the same material but different color. My art teacher [Diane Green.] helped me make the border because I wanted help making the borders. We were supposed to have this project completed by December of 2008. We still have a lot to do. [laughs.]

KM: Talk about "Echinacea."

SS: This was another project [the Ancestor Quilt Project began in June 2007 and the group is making three different quilts to honor ancestors, herbs and plants, and animals. the group meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at the American Indian Center.] conducted by Diane [Green, founder of the group.], our teacher. The purpose for me making this was to display the healing properties of the Echinacea. I think Echinacea was supposed to be some type of suppressant for seasonal colds or something like that, but as you can see here, I made the stems in different colors. I put a little embroidery inside the-- [pauses. pointing to the seed head of the flower on the quilt and looking to KM for answer.]

KM: The flowers? [SS shakes head and points to seed head of the flowers.] I can't remember. That is okay, we will think of it.

SS: These are like the center. This is the center which the Echinacea is made, and Echinacea starts--if you see Echinacea, it starts in the early spring all the way to the late fall. The American Indians have a garden out front which grows Echinacea. As you can see, it took me a while to assemble these flowers because they are so tiny and they look more unusual out there then they do on material, so I just decided to make each flower as part of the Native American quilt Ancestry Quilt Project.

KM: Now did you do the embroidery [pointing to the embroidery in the border.]?

SS: I did some of it.

KM: Do you like embroidery?

SS: Yes, I like it very much.

KM: Now your third one, "Sacagawea."

SS: I started on her back in August. [laughs.] I started on her back in August of 2008, and I had to take about twenty hours to complete all of this [pointing to her face.].

KM: Just her face?

SS: This is the here part the face that I make and then her hair. Her hairline and all that because I had to use different kinds of measurements and materials, plus I had to rearrange some of the lining on her face and I had to do the little intricate parts like the eyelashes and the lids and then the brow areas weren't so hard, but it was just the lids and the lips I had to rearrange a little bit. I had to do a little research on her nose and her chin, and I had to do her shoulder line twice and now I'm working on the fringe.

KM: Why did you pick Sacagawea?

SS: Because I felt like it was easier for me to do her portrait than any other Native person and plus all the other artists had the other portraits and she was the only best option that I felt like I could work on. What is her facial expression to you?

KM: She looks happy.

SS: She looks happy? She looks at peace.

KM: Is that what you were going after?

SS: Um-hum.

KM: She looks strong though too.

SS: Yes. If I had a little extra room, I could have drawn her little child behind her on the side that she carried her papoose. It is on her back. Her baby, papoose. Native American word for baby. She carries a child with her during most of her journey with Lewis and Clark traveling to parts of the west and northwest. I read an entire book and that was a long journey. [before the interview SS shared that she had read a 1,000-page book on Sacagawea.] They went halfway across the continental U.S. which isn't anything like the United States of America now.

KM: How did you come to be a part of the Ancestry Quilt Project?

SS: It is funny. It is a fun way of expressing how--[interruption by someone entering room.] When I first met Diana, I thought she was just another teacher. I thought she wasn't into art, but then when I found out about it and began to like it. She told me that she had a class, and she was doing some other things on the side so I kind of admired her. I admired Diane. When I was little, I used to always love creative art like this here but when I got old and started going into my teenage years I stopped. When I met her, it was like that creative spirit came right back out of me. She asked me if I wanted to do the Ancestor Project and I said, 'Yes, I'm willing to do the Ancestor Project,' and I kept coming up here periodically every Monday in the month just to be with her to see how Native Americans were doing art.

KM: That is good. Do you feel you've progressed?

SS: Somewhat.

KM: I think a lot. I can see growth here which is really nice. Do you have any plans to do anymore?

SS: Hum.

KM: Do you plan to do anymore?

SS: I might.

KM: Any ideas?

SS: You know what I plan on putting together a book. I plan on putting some kind of book and just putting one of the portraits on the front cover.

KM: Why is doing artwork important to you?

SS: Why is it important? [KM hums.] For one thing it is therapeutic because it helps calm spirits within and what else, I'm not very articulate about explaining art but when it comes to mind I just, ah, go ahead and use it. Art has been an inspiration for me for the last thirteen years. I think all kinds of art- visual art, holograms. I've seen a lot of moving art, a lot of performing art and then I see abstract art. I heard someone say that abstract art comes from the unconscious, things I might can't explain but yet are evident in our society today. I feel like art is an intricate force in this world because without it we wouldn't know how to express ourselves, we wouldn't be at peace with ourselves. Art, the world wouldn't be nothing without it. If you go outside and look all around, there is art everywhere. It's art.

KM: Did you draw this out ahead of time?

SS: I made sketches of the flowers on my own. These stems that I made came from a synthetic fabric.

KM: What about Sacagawea?

SS: I had some help with this one. I had to make the lines for the arms to separate the chest from the arms and I had to have help with the head measuring it.

KM: What is your favorite part about working in fiber?

SS: Hum?

KM: What is your favorite part about working in fiber?

SS: My favorite part? [KM hums.] The colors.

KM: The colors?

SS: The texture and colors, the texture and colors.

KM: What is your least favorite part?

SS: The changing of the texture [inaudible due to pool game noise in the background.] It is mostly the different textures like if it is in the extreme cold or dry then the feel may change, the color may fade.

KM: [interruption someone entering room and speaking to KM about a meeting and a need for the room.] I guess we will wrap this up at 3:00.

[interview ends.]


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