Jane Burch Cochran




Jane Burch Cochran




Jane Burch Cochran


Kate Kleinart

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Carolyn Mazloomi


Rabbit Hash, Kentucky


Kate Kleinart


Kate Kleinert (KK): [inaudible.] [This is Kate.] Kleinert and I'm interviewing Jane Burch Cochran for Quilters' S.O.S. Save Our Stories Project in Kentucky. It is 11:14 [a.m.] on January 3rd 2006. Ok so first if you want to tell me about the quilt we're going to talk about today, the materials, and the date and just anything else you want to tell me about it.

Jane Burch Cochran: (JBC): Okay. This quilt is titled "Looking for God."

KK: Okay.

JBC: It was completed September 1996. It is 64 inches wide and 74 inches long.

KK: Okay.

JBC: The materials are a variety of fabrics, painted canvas, beads, buttons, sequins, cloth flowers, gloves, a baby dress, a pot holder.

KK: Alright do you want to talk about how you made it?

JBC: On the process the patchwork is all machine pieced.

KK: Okay.

JBC: Then the pieces are added to the background. They are appliqu├ęd by hand using beads [inaudible.]. There is a method on the canvas that I occasionally use which is called wet chalk where you can draw with artist chalk while the canvas is still wet with acrylic paint and it stays. It's one of those mysteries from childhood when you drew on wet paper with chalk. The head of the dog in this case is solid beadwork which is the kind of beadwork that takes the longest. It's a name quilt. The names includes all of dog names which I have collected. They are stamped on strips of fabric using a rubber stamp alphabet and acrylic paint. Or in some cases fabric paint. And it is quilted--partly quilted with I think some embroidery thread maybe two to three strands or some other little heavier thread. I use a large quilting stitch and incorporate the cross stitch with it. Mostly it is held to the background with buttons which are sewn through with full strength embroidery thread once and then tied on the back.

KK: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

JBC: Well first of all this is the only large quilt that I have decided to keep for myself in my own collection. So, I guess that means it's one of my favorites. It's about dogs and since I have dogs--actually just to throw in as an aside one of our black labs is currently the mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.

KK: Well alright. [laughs.]

JBC: Yes. But this was done before, and this is actually his mother. But it's three ideas that I brought together that I had been pondering for a long time. When you work on things that take a very long time to do--and a lot of my work is handwork--you often think of other ideas, and you ponder them in your head so that when you're done with this piece then you can reject or move on with them. And I had wanted to do something about my dogs. So first of all, it incorporates this idea of names. I had been collecting dog names. I had already done the background which is two long gloves one black or brown and one white holding up kind of an arch of--they call them silk flowers but they're fabric flowers that you buy commercially-- that I bead onto (the quilt). And that quilt was going to be called "Looking for God" that background but I could never as I say find the central image. So, it was going to be tokens and offerings that people brought to celebrate their God, but I couldn't figure out how to do that. So, I had this background. I had these names of dogs. And then I decided to bead this dog head. So somehow the three ideas came together to form this. Let's see. First of all, here's a little history of why I did this piece and the timing of it. I had just done a piece ["Lost Childhood."] for a show [Sewing Comfort Out of Grief.] that was about the 20 children--or was it 19--who were killed in the Oklahoma bombing. It was a wonderful show that this woman in California put together and it opened on the one-year anniversary of the bombing in Oklahoma City. And then it traveled for several years. It was a show that she had a hard time getting people to take at first and then it kind of wouldn't stop. While working on that quilt --I knew that it was a very tough subject, but I didn't realize how much it was affecting me until I finished--as I'm sure it affected everyone. So, after that I felt like well, I want to do something lighter I want to do something for fun just for me. So, like I said I thought of doing this name quilt--the dogs. I had used the children's names in the Oklahoma quilt. I'd also done a name quilt that is owned by the Kentucky History Museum in Frankfort that lists over 200 names of Kentucky women and what they did.

KK: That's fine.

JBC: I've always enjoyed the idea of name quilts. I like--I love the history of quilts. And even though my quilts aren't really conventional they do come from the history of quilts. The only thing is when I did a name quilt, I wanted it to stand on its own as a quilt as a piece of art. And then when you got up closer you could see the names. Because all the name quilts just concentrate on the name and the people who embroidered and etcetera. So, this idea of collecting dog names I had been doing for a while and since I have four dogs, I would probably go to the vet more often than some and I would even do things like kind of check the list at the vet and see what dogs had been in for the day. I got a few good names from that. One I especially like from that was Fella. And then I just started writing down dogs I had known. Another well-known art quilter Wendy Huhn in Oregon sent me the names of some dogs. She's also a Labrador person. Such as--now these are good for lab names: Great Kahuna, Large Marge things like that. So anyway, I just enjoyed that, and I stamped those.

KK: That's fine. Okay. Let's see.

JBC: You want me to talk a little bit about the dog in a dress?

KK: Okay. Yes.

JBC: Okay. A dog in the dress. We do Christmas cards where we actually put outfits--usually headgear on our dogs and take pictures. It's just something we started it's certainly not original. There is something in my life--and my brother is this way too where we think dogs in clothes are hysterical.

KK: Okay. [laughs.]

JBC: Always liked the little dog in the circus with the little pink tutu that walked on its hind legs. But the reason my dog has on a dress is because I didn't want to bead the body.

KK: Okay.

JBC: I started using clothes in quilts--oh a number of years ago. So then once you decide you're going to use something in a quilt--other than really nice fabric people send you things. So, people send me buttons constantly. And they actually send me [clothes.] although I think I bought this little dress. Often my dresses don't have heads. I haven't done human heads. I have done a devil's head. I have dog's heads. And now up to this date I have used skulls as heads, but I have never beaded a human head but [inaudible.] I realized--I don't know why it took me a while to realize this but my obvious inspiration for doing this is Alma Lesch who is a very well-known Kentucky--they would call her a quilter, but I call her more of an art--she is an art quilter and an artist, and she taught at the University of Louisville.

KK: Okay.

JBC: She's well known and the first piece of hers that I saw was in Objects USA which was a traveling show oh probably back in the 70s and she had a piece in it.

KK: Alright. So, we can go on to talk about just general quilt making now. Tell me about when you first became interested in quilt making.

JBC: Okay. I met Terrie Hancock Mangat who is from Northern Kentucky--now she lives in New Mexico. She is well known in the field. I was a painter. I had a loft in Cincinnati--downtown Cincinnati. Terrie moved to town. We had a lot of friends in common but we didn't know each other. We were introduced. I went to her home one time and saw this quilt on the wall and compared to the work she does now it's very conservative but I had never seen an art quilt or knew about them. So that's the first I saw them [art quilts.]. And I really didn't think about being a quilter. I had at one time in my life had a costume jewelry business so I love beads and I've always felt very comfortable with beads. Like I say I was a painter so painted canvas felt very at home with me. I had a studio in Cincinnati and yet I lived out in Big Bone, Kentucky in a little house. So it was good to have something that I could bring home and work on. So even though I still painted I started doing some small pieces that I never thought of as quilts. This was probably about '79 where I used beads, painted canvas and often a Xerox transfer. Then I did a number of those small pieces--they were framed. And I was having a one person show in Cincinnati. And I think often when you do a one person show you need a real zinger. So I had made like seven pineapple squares from my father's neckties at one point that I was going to use. I had made some quilt type things on my own some baby quilts and stuff like that but I never could figure out what to do with these. So I brought these seven squares out and ended up making a pretty large piece--I don't know the dimensions at the moment called "Crazy Quilt for a Half-breed."

KK: Okay.

JBC: And it was in blocks so to speak but it was--the background became painted canvas. It's kind of what started me on that road. I had no idea I was going to do a large quilt.

KK: What year was that? That you made your first large one do you remember? [telephone ringing tape paused and then restarted.] Okay go ahead.

JBC: The quilt "Crazy Quilt for a Half-breed" was done in 1985. It was--it is 79 inches wide and 93 inches long. And it's owned privately by someone in Louisville.

KK: So that quilt is what started the--when you started making the rest. Like that was the first one.

JBC: When I really started being a quilter. Yes. At that time to me small pieces were not considered quilts. And I used to say that I did fiber collage which actually does not mean anything when you think about it. So using the hat as quiltmaker--even though at times I feel I have to explain a little more--and now I do it less and less-- is really a plus. But that quilt I guess it was just different enough. I did enter it into Quilt National and it got in there. I guess that would be Quilt National '87. Which to me is the only show--juried show that I consider--I really always want to enter it that and Visions out in California. But Quilt National has been very good to me. So it was accepted there and then that was the only Quilt National that went to the American Craft Museum in New York. So that was pretty exciting to go up there. I also find since they do a catalog--a color catalog--and this happens with a lot of shows I guess is that the art quilt world has kind of an underground. If you want to find out what's going on in it you can [look.] through magazines and publications-- you can see it [art quilt world.]. You don't really have to go to a gallery. And of course now you can often go to a website. So when people would want to put together a quilt show and even a museum show they will look at those catalogs. From that time too--I don't know how it happened because I had been doing painting and other art work for a long time and I never thought that would happen--but I have pretty much been working on a deadline for invitational shows etcetera since then.

KK: Wow. Ok. Did you teach yourself or did someone help you help you learn how to?

JBC: To quilt?

KK: Yes.

JBC: Well when we say quilt for me I guess you kind of use quotes--or I use quotes. Although I do follow the tradition of that it is a sandwich. I got one of those McCall's books or something like this. I had made some baby quilts for friends and so--and I also have--Michael James did a couple of books on making a quilt and I did it more that way. I wasn't real aware of a lot of workshops and I live out--first of all I live very rurally. I live 30 miles from Cincinnati so I didn't really want to go in to take a class [and.] I didn't know where.

KK: Ok. Alright how many hours a week would say you quilt?

JBC: Well I like to work in my studio five days a week. And often I'll work ten to five. And one day a week usually I have someone who works who works for me and does some of the work.

KK: Okay.

JBC: So whatever ten to five.

KK: That's fine. Let's see. What is your first quilt memory? Can you think of one?

JBC: Yes. My first quilt memory is at my grandmother's in Louisville and sleeping under a quilt that I was told was made from fabric from my mother's dresses as a little girl. I guess when I said I didn't have quilters in my family a couple of my great aunts made tops. So this was made by my aunt Julia.

KK: Alright let's see. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

JBC: I love getting to hold the work and be such a part of the work. Once I was able to work full time in my artwork instead of doing more artwork I did artwork that took a longer time. Perhaps coming from a background of painting--and it was abstract expressionist-- I got a lot of doing fast work out of my system. So sitting down and spending you know several months--I think--well I think I've spent up to a year maybe on a piece that was a commission for the [ National Underground Railroad.] Freedom Center. I just find that doesn't bother me. I get so obsessed with the detail I want to keep going on and on. The other part about it is that you can take it with you. It's not messy [laughs.] except when you paint maybe. I don't know I guess that's mostly it.

KK: Are there any parts of quilt making that you don't especially enjoy?

JBC: I don't enjoy having to put--when you get to the where you have to put the backing on. I'm one of these kind of unconventional people and then you have to square it up. As you know fabric is not like wood or something and so you measure and you measure and you measure and then still when you lay it out you're off. But that's the part I don't enjoy.

KK: What do you think makes a great quilt?

JBC: Well there are a lot of--there are a lot of things. When I look at older quilts--well it just--it just has to get me. It has to get my heart or my soul or something and those are hard to explain what those things are. Sometimes in older quilts or even in new quilts just the element of time that was spent. Well I mean you know that shouldn't count at what makes good art. But there is often something about that [amount of time.] that will get me if I like it. You know quilts made up of tiny little squares of fabric just--just do it for me. And I also I like--I like it to have an edge to it or something sort of magic about it or something that I don't expect. You have to kind of see it and then you go, 'Oh my gosh.'

KK: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

JBC: Well first of all I think it needs to be an outstanding piece based on whatever you-- people think about that. Then one thing I've learned more and more because actually I do have a man that collects my work--I have found that if it's for a museum or something like that it should be someone who has a reputation of some sort. Now there are some quilts that might just be so astounding that it's the only piece the person ever made. And there are always exceptions to anything. But I think that it's good when a person has kind of a track record.

KK: Alright let's see. What do you think makes a great quilter?

JBC: Well you understand when I talk about--you know to me there's a big separation not in whether it's worthy or not but just because when you say the word quilt it covers so much. So I come more from the art quilt world. But maybe for both I would say innovation, creativity, a sense of color and form--a person who has that.

KK: Okay.

JBC: Or also to throw in there because I love folk art very much--just getting an idea and deciding you're going to do it. Some of those pieces and people who work like that-- to me--are the most natural.

KK: Alright do you feel one way or the other about machine quilting or hand quilting does it make a difference to you or anything?

JBC: No, in fact I don't machine quilt because I don't know how.

KK: Okay.

JBC: And the way I work I don't use lots of quilting. But I don't--I don't like those old kinds of rules. And also machine quilting it is astounding what people are able to do with that. It is hard. It's difficult. You have to have a certain discipline. So I think--this is kind of jumping around on your question--but I think it's what you find is--what you learn is what maybe you're best at. And then you push it as far as you can. Randy she's taping this [talking to her husband, Randy says something inaudible.]

KK: It's fine. [laughs.]

JBC: I'll watch it [Randy says something inaudible.] Well, that'll be good on the tape. [KK laughs.] And so, you know whatever you kind of become obsessive about--so if it's hand quilting there's nothing more beautiful than just incredible hand quilting. But if you're a machine quilter if you work very rigidly and everything has to be. People talk to me about loosening up and I say hey if you can work the other way [KK laughs.] go for it because you have got--that's what interests you.

KK: Okay. [laughs.] No, it's good.

JBC: Sorry.

KK: When you start a quilt do you start with an idea or do you just like do you have a pretty good plan laid out or how does that work?

JBC: I work all different ways. In general, I guess the most fun way to work is to have an idea but it's an idea I've mulled over quite a bit. Then what I will do is have parts of it made. Maybe I will just work on patchwork for a while. You have to have elements if you're going to work by pinning stuff up. You have to start with something to pin up. So, I'll work on making patchwork for a while. Also, the most important thing you have to have for me though is like a central image or a main image something that is going to grab you. So maybe I will just be working along, and I will find this pair of--I'm thinking of a specific quilt when I say this. I had like this net blouse that I had painted and put on canvas and then I mount these red--bright red gloves and then I was thinking about her holding it was a white--made out of satin--circle ball and it was kind of like a fortune telling ball. So, I had that up and it turned out she was holding the moon. But it was an image that was strong.

KK: Do you work in a series sometimes or often or?

JBC: Yeah, I have a couple of ongoing series I'd say. One is called "Food for Thought." And that--I think there are some other people doing that--have a series like that. But it contains food-- food in fabric. I guess that's the main one that I've done.

KK: Do you--are you commissioned to do a lot of your pieces, or do you just start them and then find where they're going to go after they are made?

JBC: I prefer to just do a piece and then have someone like it.

KK: Okay.

JBC: But I have had several big commissions. And what I was going to say earlier about doing a commission is you really need to work--that's one place where I work out what I'm going to do.

KK: Okay.

JBC: Pretty much before. And I did just have a--Junior [talking to her dog Junior.] I did just do a really big commission which I had to apply for and work hard for the [National.] Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

KK: Okay.

JBC: And so that was--that was really exciting. I've done another three-piece commission that was really fun. Junior [talking to her dog.].

KK: No that's fine. [tape paused to situate the dogs and then restarted.] Go ahead.

JBC: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was being built in Cincinnati. And actually, I just heard about it from--I still have a studio there [Cincinnati.] one of the guys who's in the studio works at a gallery and said, 'Oh I think,' these were site specific commissions he said, 'there's one place they're looking for quilts.' It was difficult to find the information they wanted online, but I did and then there was a lot to prepare to do it. I had no idea what they were looking for. So, you also had to have pretty much of a track record to apply. And I think that was ok because you know it's a big deal. So, they were looking for a series --and the money was 100 thousand dollars for a series of three or four quilts. So, I designed these quilts and I found also when I did the piece for the Retirement Center in Cleveland was that it's very difficult to draw a quilt, so I make collages usually using parts of color Xerox from some of [my.] quilt[s.]. So, I did that on these and worked very hard at designing them. Followed the rules. Thought about where it was going to be. Had no idea that I would do one. In the back of my head though I thought--if they were smart instead of getting one person to do three or four quilts, they will pick different artists which is what they did. So, I did one quilt.

KK: Okay.

JBC: So, I didn't get a hundred thousand. [KK laughs.] So, I got a third of that.

KK: Alright why would say quilt making is important to your life?

JBC: Well, I'd say in many ways it is my life. Art is my life as far as what I want to do with it. And it's my form of art.

KK: Do you think that your quilts ever reflect your community or region?

JBC: [8 second pause.] Well, I don't exactly know what my community or region is [laughs.].

KK: Okay.

JBC: No, I would say not. But I will say this. If you think of my community as living out in nature which I do--I see no other houses except in the winter, I see some in Indiana--from my home. And when I first started working out here in the country as opposed to working in the city--basically I'm a city person even though I've lived out here forever. I thought--oh I should be doing oil paintings of the trees. When you're surrounded by nature you receive a different kind of imagery, and you receive a different not imagery--energy which is very calming and meditating. But I believe a lot of birds and things like that have appeared in my quilts and more symbols of nature. I use moons and stars and flowers and things like that. So, I think that you know that has affected my work.

KK: That makes sense. In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

JBC: Well, I think they have great meaning. I'm not very good at summing things up. [KK laughs.] Immediately--I mean the history of quilts is just so wonderful and it's in general a woman's history. I think about early patchwork women sitting around working together. I know living out in the country--even today the men all get together or work together and the women are very much alone. You know as an artist I work at home but still whatever your housework is at home I don't see that many people. So, the idea of getting together and community is really important. But I also especially think of the Victorian era. Victorian Crazy Quilts have really influenced me. Everyone thinks of those as such prim and proper ladies sitting around doing this very fine needle work--which they did--but also, they snuck in a lot of wonderful ideas. And you know that's from that era is when the right to vote many, many important ideas for women and you know people think about them sitting around on the fainting couch where they weren't --you know women have always had lots of ideas churning in their heads and have done lots of things.

KK: How do you think quilts can be used? I know that when we talk in this interview it's difficult like there's traditional quilts and then there's art quilts, but you can talk about either one.

JBC: As I get older too, I think of art with a message [but.] the message is not the only part of it [that.] is important. I think the AIDS Quilt is fantastic. You know look what that has done. And there's something so warm so human about a quilt. And also, the way people men and women relate to a quilt. So, I think that it is a wonderful way to get a lot of messages across.

KK: Yeah. No. That works. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future? What steps do you go about to preserve your quilts?

JBC: I don't own many of my quilts. I think ten at this point are sold to a collector. And then a number are in some corporate collections and then private collections. So, I don't have a lot of say about that.

KK: Okay.

JBC: You have to hope if you are selling to a collection or even to a corporation that they will be more the authority on how to preserve your quilt. I think the main way to preserve quilts is to keep them out of direct light. And that when they're in storage--for me most of mine have to be rolled anyway as opposed to folded.

KK: Do you keep documentation of the quilts that you've made or a timeline or anything like that?

JBC: Yes. Do you want me to expand a little?

KK: Yes.

JBC: I keep cards on each quilt that give the title, when it was made, materials, etcetera. A lot of people might keep all of that information on the computer, and I have some of that on there. But it's very handy to have--to me to have index cards that you can immediately look at and find it. I also have a book for my own purposes that has photographs--chronologically--of the quilts I've done. And then I also--I never consider a quilt finished until I've had it photographed. So, I think professional photographs--especially on major pieces--and if you can on smaller pieces--if you can do it yourself that's good. I have slides. I have four by five transparencies done. And now I'm going to have some digital [inaudible.]. I think the most important thing is good photography and keeping it there-- you know having it ready.

KK: Alright. Have you given quilts as gifts?

JBC: I have a long time ago before I was really into the quilt world, I made some baby quilts. More recently I have done two small pieces--I've done for wedding gifts for very close friends. I have done a couple of small quilts to be auctioned--one for the San Jose Quilt Museum. One for Studio Art Quilts Association they had a [inaudible.] I don't do that very often because my quilts take so much time [dog barking.].

KK: Okay. [dog barking tape paused and restarted.] Okay.

JBC: As far as giving quilts to a museum at this stage of the game I have a lot of questions about that. And I've talked with Martha Connell who owned Connell Gallery in Atlanta and has always been very interested in art quilts and she does not think that you should necessarily do that. Since I really don't have many quilts (that aren't sold) I haven't done that.

KK: Alright well I think that those are pretty much all of my questions. Is there anything else you'd like to say about your work or quilts in general?

JBC: I think there are a couple of things--that you don't have to--of things [that.] really surprise me. First of all, the people that I have met in the art quilt field. I have been lucky to meet a lot of people even out of state--that's where I know more--are just the most wonderful, sharing people, interesting people. It's all about helping each other supporting each other. There's not that crazy competitiveness that goes on in a lot of art fields. I think it's also--even though there are a number of men in the field which I like--that's fine--I think it's still the fact that it's probably the only art field or fiber is that is predominantly women. It is very exciting and important in working in that field because you just have more of a chance. The art world in general even though women show their work a lot more than they used to etcetera it is still very much--you know the big commissions, the big purchases for museums are still primarily men. So, I think working together as art quilters and quilters that's changing. The other thing that I think is so wonderful is that here we are in general a group of middle-aged older women. Everyone--that I know that works a lot--whether traditional or whether art quilts--many people have websites. People have professional slides. They have their resume together. One of the pluses of the field is we can often be published--there are a lot of magazines and books that people do. People attend quilt shows whether in museums or whether like the Huston show [The International Quilt Festival.]. They have a huge fan base. You've got to stay on top of it as far the business aspect-- having all those things together. And no one would ever think that about a bunch of old ladies so to speak--that everyone knows the computers all that kind of thing. It's also a great field to me to work in because it has a strong past that as a woman you can relate to. I am not one of those who relates a lot to steel and welding and things like that. But using fabric and sewing I do. And there is so much that can be done in that field--it is so open that it's really exciting.

KK: Well, thank you very much this concludes our interview it is 12 o'clock [p.m.].



“Jane Burch Cochran,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1761.