Joan Lintault




Joan Lintault




Joan Lintault


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

National Quilting Association


New Paltz, New York


Jeremiah Stephan


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave, I am conducting this interview over the telephone, and I would like to thank Joan for giving me her time to do this. And Joan, I just need to ask you, you have agreed to do this over the phone.

Joan Lintault (JL): Yes, I have.

KM: Great. I am conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Joan Lintault on July 13, 2005. We are going to start today by talking about your quilt, "Give Us This Day." So, tell me about "Give Us This Day."

JL: Well, "Give Us This Day" was a challenge. Mostly in response to…I wanted to be able to do lace making on my sewing machine. I had found a book that was reprinted I guess it was 1993. Maybe, I'm not quite sure of the date. It was a reprint of a Singer sewing machine book from 1919, I think. I'm not very good with dates. I loved it. It was a book that was made to sell sewing machines to people so that you would replicate lace-making techniques. I wanted to do something with those techniques. Usually when I make a quilt, the reason why I do it is extremely varied. Actually, the main basis for my quilts, since I studied art for many years, and I have an MFA in art. My basis is that I'm very concerned with the visual aspects of what I am doing. Underlying that would be some kind of scene, not really a scene, but some kind of subject matter that would allow me to place myself in a part of history. Not only in terms of being a textiles person, but also an artist and a designer. The art, the visual part of it is the most important. So that why the sewing machine lace, needed to go along with all the other aspects of that quilt. The subject matter is a still life.

Starting from the time I was extremely young my father took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in those days when it wasn't very crowded. I thought that I owned that museum. All the paintings in there were very important to me, and over the years still life paintings have jumped out at me at the various times that I have been to that museum or other museums. In museums I fall in love with some aspect of the collection. When I started this quilt, still life painting was, to me, representations of actual fragments of time of particular objects, and finding out the history of the still life became very important to me. So that is why I chose that particular theme.

KM: Can you describe the quilt a little?

JL: Okay, the quilt is a still life of a tabletop. On top of the table are various vegetables and fruit and fish. I also found out that I had an affinity to some still life painters from the eighteenth century. Rachael Ruysch and her father painted and assembled incredible still life's. The still life painting on the walls of Roman buildings, Pompeii and Herculaneum, also inspired me. Still life's have a long, long history and I wanted to have the same feeling in my work. I don't know whether I do, but I hope I do. So, the things on the table are on top of a lace tablecloth that kind of juts out from the, what we call the picture plane, which is a flat plane in space. So, I always like my work to have some kind of three-dimensional quality, but the three-dimensional quality is usually just the way I paint the surface with shadows and relief. Is that enough?

KM: Yah, when did you make this piece?

JL: Oh, I don't remember. I can go look; I think it was something like ninety-six?

KM: Yes, I think it is ninety-six.

JL: Okay, yah. At that time, I had just finished a huge commission, so I had time to be able to do a lot of quilts in a very short time. Why I mean quilt in a very short time, I was able to do three in one year. To me that is an incredible output, I'm always possessed to nit-pick on my quilts. I am very obsessed about color and where I put colors close together, taking hours to plan things.

I start out with white fabric, so I dye my fabric, and then over dye it. Then sometimes over dye it again, and then I screen print on it. Then I hand paint on top of everything because I love to color. All my life I have loved to color, even when I was a little girl, I loved coloring books. So, what in fact I have done, is to make a huge giant coloring book for myself that I hand paint. Then I sew them all together.

KM: And how big is this quilt?

JL: Gosh, it's--I can go look. I don't remember. I have to write everything down.

KM: Oh, me too. It's seventy by sixty-five.

JL: Okay, thank you. I'm glad you know.

KM: I looked it up.

JL: Okay.

KM: And how do you use this quilt?

JL: There are mostly for the wall. I can't imagine they are made for beds. I started out making them for beds. At that time, beds were my first inspiration. I worried where the pillow would go and how the quilt went over the sides of the bed, Later I called them wall hangings, now I don't even call them quilts anymore, I just call them textiles. They are not quilts, just because they are made of fabric that is sandwiched with, you know, polyester or whatever fiberfill or whatever filling you use doesn't mean that they are quilts. It's always been hard for me to accept that word art quilt. It's always been hard for me to accept the word quilt. So recently…I would say recently I decided I wasn't going to use those words anymore, art quilt, because it is misused. I can't use the word quilt, because it's not used for a bed. I don't know what to call it. It's just fibers work, or textile.

KM: So, does this piece hang in your house?

JL: No.

KM: No, okay?

JL: I don't have any room for it. No, it doesn't, I roll them up and store them in my studio.

KM: And, and I guess we should explain that this quilt was selected to be used in a calendar with "The Alliance for American Quilts" with Pomegranate. How did you feel, when you were approached about using this quilt in the calendar?

JL: I was terribly flattered, and not only flattered but honored to be selected to be in the calendar. I've been working for a long time, and because my output is very slow, and the process I use to make my work is extremely time consuming and tedious, I don't really turn out that much work. So, I can't say that I have turned out hundreds and hundreds of quilts because I haven't. But I have been working a long time, and I made my first quilt in 1965. Started in '65 and finished it two years later, in '67. So, I don't have that many. At one point I kind of branched off into another direction, which were quilted pieces. They were purely for the wall, and I never thought of them being for anywhere but for the wall. They were a series of many, many quilted pieces, which were based on the technique of quilting and what the fabric could do when it was quilted in certain places. Now, I forgot the question.

KM: It's okay.

JL: Did I answer it?

KM: Yes, you did. You did great. So, how did you learn to do quilt making?

JL: I didn't learn it. It was something that I've done for a long time. It was really, at that time, more important for me to go on a quest to work with, to find dyes that didn't fade.

KM: Uh-huh.

JL: When I started working, the only dye that was available was Rit dye, and some other dyes that weren't made for cotton. And then in nineteen, something like nineteen sixty-nine, fiber reactive dyes became available for studio use. But I, all my life I've been looking for ways to print and dye on fabric. And as the years have passed, and as the dyes have become more sophisticated, I did more and more experiments. At the beginning there was a lot of confusion about what to do, but now people have worked extensively, there are many instructions all over the place.

Sewing is a something that I have always done since I was a little girl. My grandmother made clothes and it is just something that I have always done. So, there was nothing to learn. The learning part was the printing and dyeing on fabric. I don't know a lot of the what people who are quilt makers; call a lot of these different techniques that are floating around today. I've invented things myself, how to put work together as the need arose. I've never taken a workshop. Everything I've invented by myself. I'm very, I work in, and I do things as the need arises. I lot of the things that I do arise out of serendipity. So, usually it is a mistake that I think a-hah that looks really good. I would go ahead and do it.

KM: How many hours a week do you work?

JL: In the summer it is less than the winter. So, I would say I work about four hours a day, in the summer at night. And in the winter, it's starts, soon after I walk my dog in the afternoon. And I work until sometimes one or two o'clock in the morning. A lot of my work recently is done on the computer.

KM: Oh, interesting.

JL: Yah. I plan all my screen prints. For years I have been planning my screen-printing on the computer. I print out my images that I use for screen-printing, on transparencies. Working with the computer has been such a very, very steep learning curve. I've been doing that for a long time so now it gets easier and easier. Recently, I've been designing things on the computer that I've been sending to my sewing machine, and my sewing machine been doing the embroidery. Then I paint on top of the machine embroidery, so I like to work with many, many layers, as I mentioned there are a lot of layers underlying the subject matter. There are layers of image, colors, and texture.

KM: So how has this all impacted on your family?

JL: My kids are all grown up. My older son, every time he calls up, he says, I hope you're still working, do I hear that sewing machine going? I always involved my children in printing and dyeing my fabric. They had badges they wore, Chief Assistant Dyer. I used to do my dyeing outside in the summer and I still do it, a lot of it outside because some of it makes a big mess. They used to help me. When I had big commissions, my younger son used to help me, because I needed an extra arm. And not only him, but his girlfriend and other people used to help me too. Usually it was students of mine, which I'm very grateful for, because some of the work was so time consuming. When I had to cut out five thousand leaves, even my mother helped me also.

KM: Do they all love your work?

JL: Who my kids?

KM: Yah.

JL: I think so. I always send them copies of things. Books that I have been in, and I think they are very proud of me.

KM: Do you have a lot of friends who are also artists?

JL: I've moved recently, and I'd been a teacher for twenty-seven years. Of course, teaching printing, dyeing and weaving. I also taught weaving. Right now, since I've moved, I have some friends that are quilt makers. They more traditionally minded, they belong to guilds, and I can't, I can't belong to a guild like that. I'm sorry. Maybe you should erase, what I just said.

KM: That's okay. No, I don't think, I think that's okay. I think group that kind of group is not for everybody.

JL: No, the groups are not for me, because I can't have people impacting my work because I am very suggestive. I need to be able to change my work in response to what I've done before and the goal I have. If people say, well you should do this, you should have done that, they don't know what I have in my head. So, I prefer to work by myself. I don't mind showing people things, that's my great joy, and I have. Twice, two times in the past few years I've had bunches of people come into my house to dye with indigo, and I loved seeing them have such a great time. It's wonderful to watch them do that.

But I do belong to Art Quilt Network/ New York. We meet once a year, that's fine. We show each other our work, and it's a very fine group of women. I don't think I could belong to a guild that meets once a month even. I know some people like that but, I need the time to work. Time has become extremely precious to me. Whatever I do is so time consuming that I have to be very strict with myself.

KM: So, tell me more about Art Quilt New York, and your involvement with Art Quilt New York.

JL: Well, I haven't been a member for very long, only for two years. They are a group of people who belong, mainly from around the East Cost and Northeast. B.J. Adams, Patricia Malarcher, Jeanne Williamson, Sue Pierce, Tafi Brown, and Joy Saville, let me think, and Wendy Huhn, is that right?

KM: Uh-huh.

JL: Yah, she was, although she was on the West Coast she was invited to join. So, there is a quite an impressive group of wonderful people, whose work I really admire.

KM: And once a year you get together and?

JL: And, for a few days we show our work, and we perhaps have a visiting artist who comes and shows their work. We don't really have workshops per say.

KM: And how has this work impacted on your work, or have they?

JL: Not really.

KM: Okay.

JL: Because it is not that type of a group. The most important thing I think are the exhibitions we've been, we've been involved with, oh, Cynthia Nixon is also part of the group, and the exhibition opportunities. I couldn't go to the last meeting because I had knee surgery and had made plans to visit one of my children. During--and that was the year before, but the next meeting I'm going to go to in Philadelphia.

KM: Let's go back to the quilt if we can?

JL: What quilt do you mean?

KM: You're quilt, "Give Us This Day."

JL: Okay.

KM: You talked about wanting to make lace, why did you decide you wanted to make lace?

JL: Because of that book.

KM: Oh, just because, okay.

JL: Because I've always thought lace making was the most intensive thing that I have ever seen in my life. The people that are involved in lace, and as much as I've seen people do it, unless you sit there for a long time, you can hardly understand what is going on. The fact that people can do that, it's really incredible to me. There is no way that I could ever do anything like that, because that is another time-consuming thing. So, I've had a lot of books on old lace making, and I have some lace making bobbins. But, you know, to start doing something like that is too much. I love to learn new techniques, and as I've said before the time has, is starting to press down on me. I've had to learn new techniques so many times over my career, where a fabric was discontinued, or a dye was discontinued, or some kind of material I needed was discontinued, that I thought I can't though this anymore. Because once you learn how a material operates, it takes a long time to be able to get to that point where you can start thinking about the art of it, rather than constantly worrying about the craft. So, I don't want to worry about the craft of anything anymore, so I decided to go really basic. I have basic white fabric, I have basic dye, and I have everything basic. I try not to be--the fabric in fabric stores does not affect me. Because I will not be a slave to fashion. When you go into the fabric stores, fish will be in one year. Then all of the sudden you see a lot of fish quilts, or tiger stripes, and then you have responded accordingly. I won't do that. I want everything from the basic colors of my work, to add to my subject matter. I know it is time consuming, but that is just the way it has to be with me. You know, I went to art school so I could not accept, I can't accept other people's designs. There are, not to say that there aren't incredible quilt makers, who use fabric, what I call preprinted fabric, and they do an excellent job. They're, the way they work totally transforms the fabric so you can't even recognize where it comes from. I can't do that. I've tried, and I can't, I admire anyone who can do that. But I can't, so that's, did I answer your question?

KM: Yes, you did great. So how is your work different now from this piece, "Give Us This Day."?

JL: Well, it is basically the same. I put things together the same way, but my subject matter will change and perhaps the all over color will change. As I said that there is usually something that affects me very much and it might have something to do with a theatrical performance I see, or music I've heard, or things that I wonder about in my life. Or it will be a cumulation of images I've seen at various museums. I'm very, very affected by art history and archeology and I, I like to have events of history in my work. There is lots of symbolism, for instance in "Give Us This Day," as I've said, I was influenced by early Roman wall paintings, and a lot of painters who painted in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The symbolism in their work was almost the same symbolism that appeared in early Roman wall paintings, so I took that under consideration when I put together the vegetables on the table. And I, I just, I mean it's not apparent to other people so, I know it's just there so I hope that looking at the work will have a deep meaning. At least for me, I don't know about other people.

KM: I noticed there is a snake or here?

JL: A snake, oh yes. That is a very powerful symbol in a lot of early still life's especially from Spain and Holland. If people would go back and look at paintings, they will see it has things like snails, snakes and moths, and all those have meanings from early art history. Obviously, the snake comes from the idea of paradise. Because, I had a one man show that traveled around, and the quilts I made over a period of ten years I called metaphors of paradise or symbols of paradise. And I wanted to use everything I could possibly find from anywhere that had meanings of paradise in it.

KM: Very interesting. Here you have a slice of bread, and there's a butterfly, cherries, corn, grapes.

JL: Yes, all those, every one of those you'll find in all the paintings that I'm talking about. The only thing that I didn't put in there were eggs.

KM: And why didn't you put eggs in here?

JL: Eggs are not going in there, but eggs are coming in future pieces.

KM: We'll be seeing eggs in your future?

JL: Yah, there are eggs in my future. No eggs are obviously symbols of fertility, and I didn't put it in there because, I don't know why. Bird's nests are another thing that are used in these paintings.

KM: I like the napkin ring with the fork and the knife.

JL: Oh, around the outside?

KM: Yes, around the outside.

JL: I also, one of the superficial reasons is that I decided that I needed to eat more vegetables too.

KM: Oh, that's funny.

JL: On top of all that other stuff I'm talking about.

KM: And have you been eating more vegetables?

JL: Not really. I should eat more vegetables.

KM: I think we all should eat more vegetables. Is it a real tablecloth, or did you make the tablecloth?

JL: It's just I made an entire tablecloth out of lace. And then when I laid it out, I cut most of it out. And so, everybody said, well what did you do that for could you just have made it to fit? And I said no, 'cause I didn't know where things were going to go.

KM: So, you work intuitively?

JL: Yes and no. As I said I do a lot of images on the computer and I actually plan my work on graph paper, and chart out exactly where everything has to go. And then I make all my images that go on the quilt. And then as I put it together, sometimes they don't go where I think they are going to go, and then I move them around because sometimes I start from one corner, sometimes I start from the middle of the quilt out. So, I work very much, I probably work more like a painter than a quilt maker. So, in other words, I don't have a pattern that I'm following that needs to be put together in a certain way.

KM: It is a wonderful quilt.

JL: Oh, thank you.

KM: I mean you don't get tired of looking at it, because the more you look at it the more you see.

JL: Well, that is important to me too. I like the minutia of it all, and I have some work by, for instance, I lived in India for a year. I wanted to study some textile processes, and to find out where all the images came from. I went to visit an artist, who used natural dyes, and hand painted fabrics called kalamkari. I was so struck by the history of this family, and how he began to paint. I bought several of his pieces, and I had one hanging over my bed. I never tired of looking at the little, tiny things on that fabric. And I could just stare at one section of it, for a long time, and then look at the whole thing. I want for my work to have the same, what I call approachability. So, you can look at it from twenty feet away, or fifty feet away you see the whole thing. But as you get closer and closer and closer there's more minutia involved. And even if you get really close, there are more extraordinary things, I hope that you will see that you will find more and more interesting things to see.

KM: So, when did you go to India?

JL: Oh, a long time ago in nineteen seventy-nine. I went in seventy-nine and came back in nineteen-eighty.

KM: And tell me more about this dyeing?

JL: The kalamkari dyeing?

KM: Yah the kalamkari dyeing.

JL: This is a technique that has been in India, was brought there from Persia a long, long time ago, centuries ago. It wasn't until trade with India that merchant seaman brought back the hand painted fabric to England. This kind of dyeing with natural dyes was the only way you would print and dye on fabric and have it not wash out. Because previous to this, the only way you could get that fabric to have a pattern on it, was to weave it in or hand-paint it with a lot of other bases, like egg white and pigments that would make the fabric really stiff but would also wash out. India is a tropical country, so the dye plants grew there. It was something that would never grow in Western Europe, so when the fabric hit England, it caused people to line up on the docks to buy bolts of this brightly colored fabric. They were known as calico. This was in the seventeenth century, eighteen century, when the ships made passages to India around the Horn. So, people in India have been doing fabrics like this for centuries. Even in the first and second century they found fabrics like these in cities that were on the routes from East to West.

This kalamkari painter was an incredible artist and his father was an incredible artist. In museums there are fabrics by his ancestors and actually it came down to, his father was the last remaining artist that did this kind of work. His family made temple wall hangings of images from the Ramayana and the Mahabhrata. What really fascinated me was the process they used working with a pen called a kalam. A kalam was made with human hair on a stick and wrapped with string. The hair would hold dye as a reservoir, and the dye would flow down the point. What I learned from him, and just from being at his house, was the intensity of working. When I lived in Japan it was also the same intensity of working. I went to visit people who painted kimono. I always wanted to work with the same intensity. Not only of subject matter, but also in the way I work. That intensity and the historical part of your work or placing yourself in some kind of context in history. It's that way with people who paint kimono there. The images on their kimono are so rich with symbolism that most westerners don't even know what they are. It's that kind of thing that I really, really appreciate.

KM: So, when did you live in Japan?

JL: I go back all the time. I went there in nineteen eighty-three for three months. And then I went there on a Fulbright Research Grant from nineteen eighty-four to nineteen-eighty-five. I have gone back almost, well really every other year. And as a matter of fact, my son fell in love with Japan so much that now he lives there. So now I have to go back and visit him there.

KM: Is there any other place you've visited that has influenced you?

JL: Yes. I was in the Peace Corp., and I lived in Latin America, in Peru, for two years. I was working on the Peace Corp craft development. So that's where I became really became involved with working with dyes. While I was there, we had to do a lot of research with dyes and working with indigenous people to help them make their dyes fast. Back then they worked with a lot of dyes that bled and faded. So that's where I was initially involved with dyes that really stayed on the fabric.

KM: Well, you've been wonderful.

JL: Thank you.

KM: You really have, it's been incredible. Is there any else that you would like to share?

JL: No, but you have to ask me questions.

KM: Well, what are you plans for the immediate future?

JL: Well, I have about six quilts floating around in the ceiling of my studio waiting to land. I usually work on about three pieces at the same time and one of them is now ready to be finished. I'm trying to get it together. Every time I think I have enough pieces for it, I go oh no, I don't like that, throw it out, and let me do another one. So that's what I'm doing now at night, I've been programming and digitizing the images so the sewing machine can sew them out.

KM: What kind of sewing machine do you own?

JL: A Bernina. And that was another huge learning curve, learning how to do my own embroidery images. That was really difficult.

KM: I would think so.

JL: Despite the fact that they say it's easy. Because I can't use other people's images, I can't buy a disk and use someone else's images. And say, 'Oh I used so and so image in my quilt.' I can't do that. And you're not allowed to anyway because they're copyrighted.

KM: Right. Well, if you can believe it, we have been talking for almost forty-five minutes. And it's been wonderful; I truly appreciate your taking your time out of your day to do this.

JL: No, it's absolutely my pleasure, and I thank you so much. You are welcome.

KM: I personally think you've made a wonderful interview. I'm going to conclude your interview. But I still want to talk to you, so don't go away. It is now 9:47, and I want to thank you, and I'm going to turn off the tape now.



“Joan Lintault,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,