Ona Porterfield




Ona Porterfield




Ona Porterfield


Evelyn Salinger

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Adonna Richardson


Albuquerque, New Mexico


Evelyn Salinger


Evelyn Salinger (ES): Today, our interviewee is Ona Porterfield, #87111.002, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, November 6, 2007. Hi, Ona.

Ona Porterfield (OP): Hi.

ES: It is nice of you to do this today. I met you through the Bear Canyon Quilters over at the Senior Center in Albuquerque, and I have enjoyed knowing you and seeing your work. So, I would like to start with discussing the quilt that you brought to look at today. Will you tell us the name of this and when you made it, approximately?

OP: "The Posey Quilt."

ES: And you named it "Posey" because--

OP: I don't even recall, but at the time I had a friend who was a quilter, had been a quilter for many years and she probably was the one that named it.

ES: Will you describe it for us?

OP: Well, it's part appliqué and part pieced. I did it all by the hand. I did the piecing and the appliqué during the illness while I was taking care of a granddaughter who was terminally ill. I made all the blocks and then I quilted it on a hoop, rather than a frame. And then I gave it to her. She used it on the foot of her hospital bed until she passed away in 1991.

ES: How old was she?

OP: She had just barely turned thirteen--less than a month when she passed away.

ES: Would you like to put her name here so that we have her recorded?

OP: Her name was Crystal Kay Porterfield.

ES: She's your granddaughter by--

OP: My son.

ES: It's lovely. Let's describe the colors. It looks to me like a scrap quilt in that each square is a different fabric.

OP: Everything is scrap except the--and neighbor's scraps, also. Some people gave me some of the solid colors.

ES: And the border is bright green matching the leaves. It's a lovely quilt. Do you use it to sleep under yourself?

OP: No. After my granddaughter died, I gave it to her father, my son. And he died in January of '03 and then I gave it to his widow, so it belongs to Beverly, where I live at.

ES: Okay. Nicely quilted. You have very nice small stitches. You do a good job.

OP: I'm not a good quilter because I quilt one stitch at a time.

ES: You do, really? That's interesting.

OP: I only know one other person. That was Maye--remember speaking of Maye Daniel? She quilted good. She was a good quilter. I don't consider myself a good quilter, because of the fact that I do quilt--[one stitch at a time.]

ES: But you are so careful that every stitch looks equal and the puff between the parts that are not quilted are very even and nice. It's a very puffy quilt. It's lovely. Congratulations on that.

Would you like to tell us of your earliest contacts with quilts or quilters?

OP: Well, I was raised on a ranch.

ES: Where was that?

OP: In Texas, north of Fort Worth about sixty miles. And when I was in second grade, my father sold a portion of our ranch to--it was called--the Fort Worth Water Board and they built a lake on it for water for the city. They had people from Mexico, and I don't know if they had permission to come or not, but they brought whole families and they lived in tents and they cleared the salt cedar--that's something that's very profuse around water--and burned it and cleared off the land to make the lake.

We did not quilt or do any handwork of any kind in the summertime, because we raised most of our own food and we had lots and lots of animals that had to be taken care of. That was in addition to the range animals. But in the wintertime was when we, my mother, would make quilts. And some of the neighbors that lived close by at that time, they probably did not have a car, because that was in the late '20's, and they would ride a horse to our house, and they would come early in the morning, and they'd stay all day.

In the bedroom that our parents used, they had eyehooks, I think they were called. And they were screwed into the ceiling and the quilt frame was four equal sides and you'd put that up when you were not quilting on it. You just rolled it up on the ends of those frames. And when you would go to quilt you would let it down to the proper height. At that age, when I was first aware of it, it was mostly like a little tent that we'd play under. My sisters and I would play under while they quilted--and probably listened to a lot of stories.

ES: I'm sure. Was there room in the bedroom for this to drop down and be quilted right there? There was not a bed under it?

OP: No, there was not a bed under it. It was in the middle of the room. It was a built-on house. The dining room and kitchen had been built around 1890 and then the rest of the house and the upstairs had been built around the turn of the century, around 1900.

ES: Was this in your family's ownership all that time?

OP: No, my father bought it. It was not in the family.

ES: Where did your family come from before that?

OP: My mother came from Texas. She was born and raised in Texas. My father came from Mississippi. Initially, my grandmother, my father's mother, came from England.

ES: On the ranch, what sort of thing did you have--cattle?

OP: Yes.

ES: Did all the children in the family have to help with the chores?

OP: At a young age. I can remember one thing, very distinct. And that was, my father took me to the bank when I was twelve years old, and I signed a signature card so I could give checks on him because that was part of my job was to buy groceries and feed for the animals that we fed at the house.

ES: Were you close to a store?

OP: No, we were not close to a store.

ES: How did you get there?

OP: We were about seven miles from a store. We went in the wagon pulled by two horses.

ES: So, you knew already how to deal with horses.

OP: And all the animals.

ES: Did you ride horseback by yourself?

OP: Oh, yes. All of us did.

ES: When you say, 'Us,' how many were there?

OP: Nine, total. I was the oldest.

ES: Oh. You had the responsibility first.

OP: By that time, I was quilting with my mother and her friends--by the time I was twelve. And then when I was an adult, I worked jobs that were very time consuming.

ES: So, you learned business pretty young. What field were you in when you were working?

OP: When I was working, I worked a short time for the insurance commissioner of Texas, two years, in fact. And then I took a job with a young man about my age, a little bit older than I was, and at the time I went to work for him, he had three stores. And I worked for him for fifteen years and we had fifty-two stores when I left.

ES: And that was in Texas as well?

OP: That was in Texas.

ES: Were you married then and doing this job?

OP: Yes, I was married in both jobs. During World War Two, that's when my children were born. I had two children. The oldest one's a girl and then my son that passed away. And I sewed for a store and made infants' clothes. Then I moved back to Texas, and I made young boys'--from like three up to maybe ten--shirts, cotton shirts.

ES: Were these custom-made? Or like a whole line of shirts that you sell to the store?

OP: They furnished the material. And I made the shirts. They requested so many, you know, a dozen of this item. And I did that while my children were younger. And then I worked for Mister McLean who was the insurance commissioner. And we had an IBM. And it took up a whole room and it made enough racket; you could hear it a half a mile.

ES: Was that one of those early computers?

OP: [nodded, yes.] I trained in New Jersey. I don't even recall. It was where I went to train.

ES: Being a Texan, how did you get to New York and New Jersey, for these--

OP: My husband was in the military, and I lived in Syracuse. So it wasn't that far from there. And that's how I got that work. And then I was back in Texas, it was not too difficult because the work force had been depleted, basically by males. A lot of women were doing work that had originally been produced by males. And it had been depleted to where it was very easy to kind of pick your job--if you were willing to work.

ES: Especially, you had experience on various things.

OP: And then when I moved to Albuquerque, I went to work for K. Kimball, who was a very wealthy man and had lots of different types of businesses, mostly in the food business, though. And directly after I moved here, I divorced my first husband and was single and did not marry for the second time for many years. But, my second husband, we worked together. We even worked together in Texas before we moved to New Mexico. And we expanded from, I believe we had four stores when we came here, but Mr. Kimball was very interested in taking up other markets, so we built buildings and opened new stores in addition to Albuquerque.

ES: Were they located geographically near here?

OP: No, well, we only had two stores and they were in Oklahoma City that we built and operated. But we had planes that traveled.

ES: Would you tell me what you did with the airplanes?

OP: We were both pilots. My husband and I were both pilots. We had very bad luck in hiring pilots. We did finally hire one that we liked, but he tore up a plane for us, so it wasn't very good relation after that because it was a very bad move for him.

ES: How did you learn to be a pilot for a plane? How did that come about?

OP: A necessity.

ES: Because of the distances that you had to come?

OP: Well, my husband was already a pilot. And I piloted but did not have a license at that time. But I learned from him. I took the test and then I got most of the engine [training.] in Phoenix. At that time, they had seminars or small groups that they called different levels. So, you could take a particular--I even took a pinch hitters' course because at the time that I moved here I was not familiar with anything on the plane.

ES: I don't know that word--pinch hitter?

OP: It's called if the pilot has a problem, and you're in the air, how do you get your plane down?

ES: Okay. Pinch hit for him. Oh, boy!

OP: So that was the first course I took.

ES: Because you were with your husband, you needed to know that.

OP: Anybody in a small plane should know that.

ES: That's terrific. Did you enjoy piloting?

OP: No. I didn't mind flying; I didn't particularly enjoy it.

ES: That's pretty special. There were not very many women who could fly at that time.
That would be in the forties/

OP: Early fifties.

ES: Going back to quilts, after you got started in your interest in quilting as a young girl, when did you get started again?

OP: I got started in the early eighties.

ES: That's quite a few years in between. And what got you interested again?

OP: I'd always been wanting to do it. It's something you put off because you were too busy to learn. I had put it off, and put it off, and I had this neighbor, Julia Mode, and we were friends. She was a quilter all of her life. She had been in the military and her husband was also a military and she was a very good quilter, very knowledgeable about any facet of it. And she started showing me different quilts. So, I would pick it up when I could.

But our stores, not the whole company, were bought by Winn Dixie which is a large grocery store, and it was an impossibility for me to work for those people. I could not do some of the things that they wanted done. I had done the negotiating because it was a closed shop here. Everything was Union and they came in and they wanted to do away with the Union completely and I couldn't do it because people I had worked with for all those years. So, I resigned. My husband stayed on for a whole year after I did. And then we just bought a job. [laughs.]

We had grocery stores. We had the one in Espanola which is a small town. Then there was a bankruptcy out at Gallop, and it was a hundred and thirty-two acres, so we took it. It had a many [commercial.] spaces, but it had a large grocery store which was basically Navajo customers. The man who had taken bankruptcy was a friend and at that time we were spread out in Carlsbad. We had package store and bar and in Roswell we had the same, package store and bar. And we had the store in Las Vegas. And then we opened the Carriage House Restaurant, which was a supper club, sort of.

ES: Where?

OP: Here, in Albuquerque. We built it, the building.

ES: Wow! You must have had to have a lot of employees. You could not possibly be spreading yourself to all these places.

OP: You know, we had good employees except in Roswell--the only place that we didn't have good employees. And one of the men that worked for us--there was a little restaurant that just catered to the help that basically its customers came from Window Rock which is Navajo country. And then when we built the Carriage House, he came in as second Chef. So, all together, he worked at the Carriage House for thirteen years. That's how long we had it open. And my husband died in '84 and so I would run the restaurant for the rest of that year. He died in August and the following year, the whole year, the twelve months. By that time, I had it sold and left on the 22nd of December.

ES: Was that when you retired or no? [laughs.]

OP: I had enough time. I could do either way. I had time. Then I volunteered at Manzano Del Sol which is a retirement--it's apartment and health care, also, combined but they are separate buildings.

ES: What did you do there for volunteering?

OP: A little of everything. I did office work mostly and then we had a large thrift shop that never made money and that's foolish. You have a lot of volunteers help you're not paying, why can you not make money? And I think the first month I was there made twenty-three hundred dollars profit. So, we had this big meeting with some of the owners--it's Christian--So they were there for a meeting, and I had three offers for jobs at the meeting. And I said, 'I'm not looking for a job anymore.' [Laughs.]

I bought the Carriage House and that was a big mistake, not from a financial standpoint, but from the work standpoint.

ES: Does that still exist?

OP: Oh, yes. It's the corner of Carlisle and Montgomery.

ES: And is it called the same thing?

OP: No, it's called the Fiesta's, I think. But the same man who bought it from me in '85 still owns it. Dennis Carpenter bought it at that time. And he and his partner had Little Anita's at that time and because I had a liquor license and a bar, his partner did not approve of the liquor part of it, so it caused a break-up between them, because Dennis was going to do it regardless. So Little Anita's now, while they're still all the same name, they're owned by two different people here in town.

ES: You've been around in Albuquerque for how long?

OP: Long time. I moved here in '49, the end of '49.

ES: How did you get started going to Bear Canyon Quilters?

OP: This is kind of embarrassing. It was about five of us that had been quilting at Highland Senior Center, but we had like three people there that were very difficult, very difficult to face on a Monday morning. And so, when Bear Canyon opened, we just gravitated up there and started our own. It was about, at that time, all of them did not come from Highland. There were two or three others, like Madge [Lundy.] who never were to Highland.

ES: Well, so were you one of the founders?

OP: I was one of the original ones that came, and Beverly Garcia worked for the elderly, with the city, I don't know what you call it, but she was the one who organized the quilting group. And she did help to get that organized. But she spent very little time there. She came in, looked and left.

ES: And did you have the same format that you have now at the Bear Canyon--in which people work on each other's quilts?

OP: Yes.

ES: You started right out with that?

OP: But we had done that at Highland, also.

ES: How many quilts over the years have you done there as a group?

OP: I have no idea.

ES: It is an interesting format, because I had not run into that before, where people work--

OP: Some of the senior centers don't do it that way. They work on their own quilts. If you would be working on them four hours a week, it would take forever.

ES: That's right. It still takes forever with 2, 3 or 4 people working.

OP: Well, it's social thing.

ES: It is. I noticed today there were seven quilts out being worked on.

OP: And that's about the maximum we put out.

ES: And that is really nice when people work on each other's quilts.

OP: We've had a larger group than now. I have taken off two different times because of family, basically illness and so there's been periods when I haven't been there. We have had several deaths. Some of them were the original [members.].

ES: Who else would I know, anybody who is there now who was one of the originals?

OP: Evelyn [Wade.], she did not start in the first week, but she did come in.

ES: Madge? Was she in on the beginning?

OP: Madge, not on the very beginning, but she had a sister in Las Cruces who was terminally ill, so she had about two years that she was taking care of her in Las Cruces. So, she was going back and forth, back and forth. And consequently, for a couple of years there, she wasn't quilting as much but she's quilted when she was in town. And you've heard us speak of Jo Smith? She was one of the original ones and Julia was one of the original ones. And Julia passed away last year.
Julia Mode.

ES: I would just like to ask you, what are your favorite parts of quilting? What do you like to do the most?

OP: I love hand work that I can set in an easy chair and do. So, I love appliqué. [telephone ringing.] So, I think that would be [my favorite.] I have made a Baltimore Album for my daughter. Most of my quilts are given away before I can get them off the frame.

ES: Do you keep many at home?

OP: No, I don't keep many at home.

ES: Where did you learn to sew, originally? Did your mother teach you?

OP: I had a great home economics teacher. She was absolutely fantastic. And she taught me the proper way to make my clothes. I was fortunate that I could go on groups to model the clothes that you had made and mostly those were in Austin, because that was the capital of the state. And most of the time that would be where they would be held. I was one of the fortunate ones at that point because there was so many that would--I went to a one-room schoolhouse my first year when I was in the first grade. It was two miles from my house, and I walked, but I had cousins who lived a half a mile from our house. It was between me and the schoolhouse, so I would go early enough to get there before they left so we walked together.

ES: After that? Did you go to another?

OP: It was called the consolidated school, still the same place, but they had school buses, and we went into this small town. At that time the population probably wasn't over seven or eight hundred people. And that's where I graduated from high school--second grade through high school.

ES: All in the same building?

OP: Yes. We had the same friends. My best friend from the time we went into high school, we were always teasing each other--'I'm going to valedictorian,' you know. We were still great friends, though. We were very competitive. But my father became ill when I was a junior and I missed the whole semester of school because I was taking care of the animals. It was during the depression, of course. I say, 'Depression' because to me there's only been one.

ES: We all know about The Depression. So, you had to do a lot of ranch stuff?

OP: Yes. Not as much as my brothers. I didn't do as much with the animals. I helped with round-up and things like that because all hands did. You rode a horse, and you gathered the cattle in for branding and vaccinating and stuff. My father had rheumatoid arthritis and was bedridden for about six months.

Bless my principal's heart, he was the most fabulous man I've ever met in my whole life. He taught me in summer, so I could catch up. And he graded me. It was something that I never ever would forget.

ES: You have certainly had an interesting life. [laughter.]

OP: I've had a busy life.

ES: Back to the quilting, do you make your own patterns?

OP: Some I do, but not usually. Usually, I follow patterns.

ES: Do you have favorite colors--

OP: I like to work with white and I like to work with blue. Those are two of the colors I like to work with. I've made other colors, of course.

ES: Have you ever entered your quilts into any competition or shows?

OP: This one ["The Posey Quilt."] won second place in the show in the Emmanuel Lutheran building at the Fairgrounds. But it was not any pleasure because it was the first year that my granddaughter had passed away and I had made it for her. And so, I did not get any pleasure at all.

ES: But you did enter it into the show.

OP: Yes, I did enter it. And I did an embroidered quilt on a yellow material with cross stitch. And that was my second quilt. I brought it up, but I am not sure you saw it.

ES: Was that one of those kits that you buy that's printed on there?

OP: Yes. It's printed.

ES: Those take a long time to do--all that cross stitching.

OP: I had knitted all my life, because you could take it in the car if you had a driver. You could take it wherever were at. And if you had fifteen minutes to work, you could work, because you had it in the bag sitting by the side of you. So, I had done that. And I had sewn clothing, lots of clothing.

ES: You were really busy with your hands. You had a lot of crafts that you could do.
Have you sold any of your quilts?

OP: I've only sold four, totally.

ES: That's great--because it takes too long to make one.

OP: I sold them to my next-door neighbor. She had three children, and she wanted each one to have a handmade quilt. And herself to have one. Both of us retired at the same time and of course by then I had been making quilts before I retired. And so, I made lots of quilts and I quilted them at home. I made a Hawaiian quilt that I quilted at home, and I quilted a quarter inch--with a tape.

ES: Oh, my.

OP: I didn't mark it, I quilted with a tape. And I quilted white on white at home.

ES: Do you have any records like an album of the quilts you have done?

OP: No.

ES: You have them in your memories. You remember them.

OP: But I had an ideal room to work in, large room. We used it for a library and a den. But we had floor to ceiling shelves for books. When I sold the house in '97, I sold part of my books. A lot of them went to Pious High School. And a lot of them were donated to the library system.

ES: Were they your collection of books or your husband's or both?

OP: Both.

ES: What sort of things did you have?

OP: We had lots of biographies, lots of biographies--presidents and first ladies and people like that. We had a lot of complete sets of books.

ES: Have you ever taught quilting?

OP: No.

ES: Did you actually learn quilting from any kind of teachers or pretty much through experience?

OP: Just experience. Julia would come over to the house and tell me what I did wrong. 'You have to take this out.'

ES: What are your thoughts about machine quilting and machine piecing as opposed to hand?

OP: I have seen some beautiful machine quilting. I think it's just gorgeous. It does not appeal to me to even learn it. I don't think I will ever--I have some quilt tops that I may have machine quilted because I don't desire to quilt them. I don't like them.

ES: But they will be useful quilts for somebody.

OP: Yeah. Someone else will like them. Like one of them is a top my sister gave me and it's red and that's not my favorite color. And it was really bothering me to quilt it. I would not feel good about quilting it, so I will probably have it [machine quilted.] And then my daughter, who, if she needs something done, she tells her husband. She started a quilt top, and I finished it--or I made it. She bought the material and the pattern and cut out a block or two. I'm going to have it machine quilted, because it doesn't mean anything to me.

ES: Do you have any stories or experiences about quilting or about buying fabrics or collecting or anything like that?

OP: Well, when I first started quilting, I didn't need to buy very much because Julia--her family came from South Carolina. And she went once a year to visit them. And there was a children's [clothing factory.], little girl dress, for small children, like 3, 4, 5, that had the most fantastic, beautiful materials. I think it was in Oklahoma City. She would stop there and bring back big, huge boxes of this fabric. It was just fantastic. It was something you couldn't even buy.

ES: So, these were kind of leftover pieces from the factory?

OP: And then I made three or four quilts out of some of them. And you could always just buy solid colors or whatever you was going to put with it. And I still have a lot of those.

ES: Wow, that's a real find.

OP: But the fabric was fantastic. And that's, when I started piecing quilts, that's where I got a lot of the material. Then we didn't have JoAnn's [craft chain store.], we had something else, and then it was changed over. But that's where I bought the linings and batting.

ES: How has quilting had meaning for the American woman?

OP: For me, it soothes me. It really soothes me. When I am facing a problem or I am just agitated about something else, I can just sit down and piece or quilt, either one and become quite calm and relaxed. And that's the main thing I like about it.

ES: Very nice.
Do you have any advice for new quilters?

OP: I don't know what it would be. It just takes a lot of patience and a lot of work.

ES: It has been a very important part of your life; I can see that. Is there anything else you'd like to tell?

OP: It is just something I've always wanted to do and just never had time for many, many years.
But the desire was there, and when I did get time, I started at a very small pace, because I did not have a lot of time.

ES: Thank you very much for this interview.

OP: Well, I've enjoyed it. And we're sure lucky to have you for a member in our organization.

ES: Thank you. I'm enjoying the group very much.

[A small break.]

ES: We have an afterthought here. You were talking about an antique quilt.

OP: The quilt originally was started by my grandmother, my mother's mother. And then the top was finished by my mother. And after my mother passed away in 1984, none of my sisters wanted it. I only had one sister that worked with quilts and none of them wanted it, so I quilted it and gave it to my daughter. So, she's the one who has it now. But it was different. It was more in the Indian style because my grandmother's father was Cherokee. I'm talking about the pattern and the color.

ES: Was it geometric?

OP: Yes.

ES: And the colors, what were they?

OP: Part of them was a cream color because she collected tobacco sacks and she utilized them and she made the pattern, of course, because you did that unless somebody gave them to you back then. She used it but she had a lot of other colors with it. Red was one of the main colors.
And there was some black in it. After I finished it, the top was finished, I just quilted it.

ES: Is it still in good shape somewhere?

OP: Yes. My daughter had a ladder, a quilt ladder, made. She had it put it on the stairwell, the landing, it has a wide landing. That's where she put it. She had quilts all over.

ES: And mostly made by you?

OP: Yes.

ES: What would you think would be your output of quilts? How many?

OP: I have no idea.

ES: Do you make a couple a year?

OP: I made a lot more then that. And then I've bought a couple of tops.

ES: Well, you certainly have been a prolific quilter. Thank you very much, again.

OP: Thank you.



“Ona Porterfield,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/1873.