Nancy Crow


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Nancy Crow




Nancy Crow


Gayle Pritchard

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

The Nat'l Quilting Assn


Baltimore, Ohio


Kim Greene


Note: This interview was not conducted as a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview. However, we felt that the spirit of the interview and the valuable information shared warranted inclusion into the project.

Nancy Crow (NC): [tape starts in middle of a conversation.] And what happened is, she was an editor at Quilt Digest Press, which got purchased out by a conglomerate, and she said basically their little company was just pushed to the end. Nobody cared about them.

Haley Pritchard (HP): That will happen so often with this line.

NC: Blue something. It is right on the main drag. It is a big gallery. It is right down near a really good deli where they make their own bagels and breads.

HP: I don't--

NC: You do live in Asheville, don't you?

HP: I have only lived there since October, so I'm still--

Gayle Prichard (GP): The chocolate shop, we know where that is.

HP: Chocolate Fetish.

GP: If you like chocolate you have to go there.

NC: I also remember there is a shop, I don't know if I can get to it that had incredibly expensive art to wear.

GP: Hmm. It is a great town. It's a great art town, too. You knew Jane Reeves moved down there. Did you know she retired? Well, she is in Black Mountain.

NC: I don't know what she ever did. What did she do? I always thought she was a stay-at-home mom.

GP: Well, probably for a time period she was. She is still doing stuff down there, but they retired down there. I assumed that you had known her.

NC: I don't keep in contact with her, and the other person who I really haven't kept in contact with at all is Murray.

GP: Oh, Clare?

NC: Yes, until I saw her that time, we did that symposium.

GP: At the symposium? Yes.

NC: Someone told me, I don't know if you know Marla Hattabaugh?

GP: Sure.

NC: She is my hand quilter. She said that they invited her out. She is going to teach for their group in Arizona this winter.

GP: Good. She [Murray.] went back to, she went back and got her MFA. She went to Kent and did a BA, and then she finished her MFA, then her husband passed away very suddenly, which was really sad.

NC: Like from an aneurysm or something?

GP: Yes, like two years ago. He was fine one day and the next day he had, it wasn't even an aneurysm, but he had brain cancer. He couldn't move, he couldn't walk, and you know it took about four months for him to die. So, she is just now kind of getting back--

NC: Wow, so that happened after I would have seen her?

GP: Yes.

NC: That must have been a shock.

GP: Yes. But you know, she is working. She teaches at a little Catholic college in Canton in the art, you know, kind of is the art department there. One of those kinds of things.

NC: Sounds good. Did she have children?

GP: No. Never had kids.

NC: I remember when I first met her. She is really a self-made person, really a self-made person from what I remember.

GP: Yes, from what, from the conversations I had with her and with Jane, that they remembered coming early on and taking a class from you in the early '80s.

NC: Very early on. Yes, before I actually worked in that studio, I held workshops to generate income just so I could finish the studio. Yes, that is where I remember. Also, they went to AQN [Art Quilt Network.] at the beginning. In the very beginning.

GP: Yes, they were talking about early on, and this is, of course, one thing I want to ask you about, too, in terms of all the--what I look at as all the giving you have done through the years. I want to have you talk about how you have balanced that with your own work time. Because it seems like--I mean I was talking with David Walker, I've talked to Deb Anderson, I've talked to a lot of people and your name always comes up. You know, if it hadn't been for Nancy this, if it hadn't been for Nancy this. You just gave so much; you are setting up and organizing people, and getting people to network and to meet from almost the beginning it seems like.

NC: Probably it grew out of as much as my own need I think, because I have a very active mind, and you know, here I am, I'm living on this farm in an isolated situation and desperate. I always was desperate to be around people who were serious about their work. I think that probably under--that feeds everything, you know? Those first Art Quilt Network meetings, they were fabulous. They really were. They were so stimulating. David [Walker.] was a wonderful contributor. So many people were wonderful contributors. I don't have the opportunity to go; I practically don't go at all anymore, because it always seems to fall when I'm away teaching. You know I don't have a sense of what it really is like anymore.

GP: Well even early on, it sounds like, I think you were probably living in Athens at the time, you know, when Quilt National, when you guys started working on that, and you had a network of people there, Virginia [Randles.] and Françoise [Barnes.]; Were you friends before that or--

NC: I actually met them. We moved to Athens in 1974. We had been living in Cambridge, Ohio for two years, and then John got repositioned by Ohio State University down in that region of Ohio, so we moved to Athens. What I remember, because I was really a weaver. We moved to Athens, having lived in Cambridge where there was not a group of textile artists, I was so anxious to be around people who were interested in the arts. There was a very strong fiber group there in Athens, because at one time Ohio University had a really good fibers department, which actually got closed while I lived there in Athens during those five years. Both Virginia and Françoise were in that group because they were weaving. So that is how I met them. At some point along the line, I got involved with organizing workshops for that group, so that wouldn't have been quiltmaking; that would have been other areas of fibers. You know everyone asks me that question, I could never, I couldn't even begin to understand why we started making quilts. We all wanted to do it. I think there were five or six of us initially. Did you ever meet Sue Hoyt? She was one of them.

GP: No, I know the name, but I have never met her.

NC: Well, Sue never really went on to develop as a quiltmaker. Actually, she has been working on her PhD at Ohio State right now in art history. Then there was another woman who still lives in Athens who came, but she was fully employed by Ohio University in administration work, and she never went on to develop. But I would say Françoise, Virginia and I were the three that were serious about developing, once, once we plowed our way through all the traditional beginnings. You know what I mean, teaching ourselves how to make quilts.

GP: Right, right. And at that time, did you--were you aware of this, any other activity around the country? I mean, were you seeing things in magazines, or hearing about people?

NC: You know what, I have the very first--I'm almost sure I have the very first Quilter's Newsletter [Magazine.]. I think it was done on newspaper print. It was a big newsprint. It was a big format.

GP: Like the early Fiber Arts? Tabloid style?

NC: Yes, I think I had the early Fiber Arts, too. I just think it was in the air. I just think it was in the air. There was a whole group of us. Don't you think that it kind of came into being somewhere earlier than we were definitely? I mean Michael James, Nancy Halpern, that bunch were in the '70s. I mean in the late '60s.

GP: '60s, right.

NC: And then we would have been mid to late '70s. But you know, we didn't have that kind of--you just don't have the kind of cross current thing that is going on now. I mean, there are so many magazines. We didn't have that. So, I don't know why, and I don't even know at what point I was aware of Michael James, if you want to know the truth. Wasn't he the first juror for Quilt National?

GP: I believe so. [The first Quilt National had three jurors, Michael James, Gary Schwindler and Renee Steidle.]

NC: So, I knew him by then. All I know, because, probably because of Penny McMorris.

GP: I was just going to say that when I spoke to Penny, she recalled putting a show together in '86. She is up in Bowling Green feeling isolated, wanting to connect with other people, and she recalls getting--

NC: '76.

GP: Its was'76--getting a grant to put this exhibition on and I can't recall right now how she even found everybody, if she sent notices out or heard or however, but you were in that show and some of the other people early on. I don't know if you went to the exhibition or not, or if that even would have been your first exhibition.

NC: I'm sure we did. Wasn't it at Bowling Green?

GP: And then it traveled around the state.

NC: I can't visualize it. I just cannot get it into my brain.

GP: No that's fine.

NC: Who was in the show, I can't even remember that. Isn't that awful?

GP: Well, she told me some names and I haven't listened to that interview. I interviewed her in May, but, so my guess is probably you guys started meeting a larger group than the Athens group at that point.

NC: That could be.

GP: Probably.

NC: You may be absolutely right, and I will tell you something else. I have all of my official correspondence with Michael James from the first time we wrote to each other, back when we were still writing by hand or with typewriters. I kept all of that. I have all, any of those important people, I have all the correspondence.

GP: That is great. It is important.

NC: Actually, the Smithsonian would like all of my archives, but I don't want to hand any of that over yet. I probably won't do anything about it until later. When I'm dead. [laughs.] I don't know, I sort of sense that Nathaniel will take care of it.

GP: Take care of business.

NC: And see about everything.

GP: As I told you earlier, I have your extensive Smithsonian interview, so I'm not even going to bother asking you, there is no point.

NC: There is no point.

GP: It was a wonderful interview and there is no point in recreating the wheel here. One thing I wondered about is what your goals were at the start, once you decided. I remember reading an article somewhere where you had talked about coming to the point where you had to decide, okay, I'm going to focus on this now. I'm going to start doing this, probably, whatever, in the late '70s, full time. I just wonder what your goals were at the beginning, and how you feel like it has changed and evolved for you over the years.

NC: Well, I don't think I had any kind of concept of what quiltmaking could become for me. I certainly didn't then. I will tell you that, because I have grown up in a family of artists, that I had always an incredibly strong drive. I knew I had to be successful. Successful didn't have anything to do with money. It had to be, that I had to be as good as I could be with what I was given to work with. But, even when I was in undergraduate school, I wasn't convinced I was ever going to be a great potter. I mean that was my major, even though I went into graduate school with that as my major, some something inside me knew that that really wasn't it. Even as I started on getting more and more serious about weaving, that didn't fit right. I knew there was something wrong and I didn't know what it was. So, I wish I could have been introduced to quiltmaking as a much younger person. Not that I was that old, but if I had been introduced to it as an undergraduate. I just knew I wanted to get better at quiltmaking, and that was probably going to be my medium. I knew that. But it wasn't until the early '90s that I started to be able to turn around my brain and understand how I had to go with it in order to become really good.

GP: It went in. I think it might have even been in the Smithsonian interview, you talk about '90 being a pivotal year for you. You talk about almost being done with quiltmaking, like, 'I've had it!'

NC: Yes.

GP: And then you talked about kind of rediscovering through this, what do you call it, the intuitive, improvisional cutting.

NC: Right.

GP: Did that kind of save you your motivation or something?

NC: I will tell you what harped back in my brain also. Let's go back to pottery when I was in school, because I had never been introduced to ceramics until I was in college. I worked on a potter's wheel. Well, a potter's wheel is always going around, around, around, around, around, and so it is very easy to make what I would call a symmetrical pot. And at the same time that you make a symmetrical pot, you are being constantly, it is being thrown at you, but, you know, not on a daily basis, but it is hanging in the air, that symmetry is not good enough. So, and that basically, anybody who can do asymmetrical work is somehow, is more profound, they're more intelligent and the work will have, it will garner fame, but symmetry will never. So, that was always hanging over my head as a quiltmaker, because so many quilts, especially when you are self-taught and you go start looking at pictures, symmetry is such an important principal of quiltmaking. By nature, I am symmetrical. Well, I thought I was. Or at least it took me a long time, because I know in my teaching, I could see some people from day one can't do something symmetrical. I mean, it is just who they are. So, I felt if I didn't figure out a way to approach my work in a more asymmetrical and more abstract manner, that my work would always be held down, held back, and I wasn't willing to spend my life making work that was going to be held back, and not, even by myself, to be well thought of. It wasn't challenging me; I was just so bored. So, I know after I started to change, a lot of people actually verbalized to me, 'Oh, I don't like what you are doing anymore.'

GP: They turned on you. [laughs.]

NC: Yes, because 'I thought what you were doing with prints, commercial fabrics that was spectacular.' But I didn't care. I mean I think that is part of the armor of being an artist. If you don't have the armor to withstand all the criticism--

GP: Forget it.

NC: Yes, really, do something else.

GP: Yes. To follow your way through that, too, I mean, I think that takes a lot of courage. I have talked to an awful lot of people who worked for many, many years, and who are really no longer making quilts. I wonder if they, you know, get to that point like you are talking about where they are kind of ready for the next step, and maybe they turn to another media, or found their voice somewhere else, or did they hit that wall and not be able to find their way over it?

NC: What would be your conclusion? I think that is an absolutely important question.

GP: I'm not sure yet. I have to kind of synthesize these conversations with people to find the answer.

NC: I would say to you, when you write this book that is something you should flush out, because I think, I would love to hear what other people have to say, but some people think people only have so much talent and they have used it up. I also think that the artist themselves may say, have I used it up, and they have such self-doubt they can't even go forward. Then the other question is, well, I have been extremely successful with what I'm doing, I have sold a lot of work, etc.

GP: Why not just keep doing it?

NC: And it is hard work coming up with new ideas. Well, I have to say that my philosophy is, the talent is there, it is the lack of courage to develop the new ideas, because you have to become, you have to truly get yourself into a place of--no, what is the right word? You just cannot be thinking anything about what anybody cares about your work. You have to be so centered and understand that you are in this process of discovery. It is hard work.

GP: And go where it is taking you.

NC: And knowing that probably eighty percent of the time you are going to fail. At some point that will start to reverse if you are willing to keep cracking at it. But, you know, how about just how about getting through this world and not letting the telephone, television, the computer, everything hack away at your time? I mean, I see that all the time when I'm teaching.

GP: How do you balance that out for yourself, because you do teach a lot, you know, you do other things?

NC: Teaching to me is a chance for me to go out and be vocal, because I'm here by myself all the time. My husband is very, very quiet, and I need intellectual activity. It gives me a chance to go out and interact. I guess part and parcel of my life's work has been that I really have believed that quiltmaking is an important art form and it should be taught that way. We have so few teachers in the world that are willing to do that.

GP: David Walker was talking about how he stumbled upon quiltmaking and this class he took from you, I think in Miami Craftsummer.

NC: He was a very challenging student. He gave me a hard time every time I turned around.

GP: [laughs.] But he talked about what changed his life essentially was, you're sitting down with the students at the beginning and talking. You had brought all of these books. You were showing art work, you were talking, and educating about this. He said it just blew him away. Again, when I look at you, and try to assimilate, you know, because there are tons of information written, printed, stories. I mean, I have all of these little files, but I just think it is--I'm trying to understand what this part of you is, and maybe this is it, that you are also getting needs fulfilled, but you have given so much because of your dedication to your own work it seems to me. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth.

NC: Yes.

GP: But it seems to me, you know, you believe so strongly it should be taught as an art form, so you approach it that way. You believe so strongly in making these connections, so you create these environments for people to do that. I just think it's--

NC: Well, what if I said to you, the opposite thing I could not do? I could never encourage people to come and take a class from me knowing that what I really wanted to do was to sell product. That to me is so dishonest. I don't care if I have fabrics in that room that I designed and I would like to sell them. It has nothing to do with why I'm teaching.

GP: Right, right.

NC: And I have to be able to live with myself. But I also grew up in a family where teaching is considered with high regard in our family. It's a very creative--it is probably one of the most creative things you can do outside from being an artist.

GP: Right, but it does take time.

NC: It's a very pure thing to do when it is done well.

GP: So, I guess the legacy ends up being a gift to the rest of us, because you did it.

NC: I'm also, basically I'm also, Gayle, a really high energy person. I mean, I think in order to develop, besides the fact that I go out and teach, but in order to develop, you still have to knock out tons of work. You can't knock out a quilt a year. You can't knock out a quilt hoping, it's the only quilt you make that year, hoping it is going to get into Quilt National. You're not learning anything, but a heck of a lot of people do things like that.

GP: What do you do with your pieces that you feel are failed pieces? Do you show them, do you finish them?

NC: Anymore, I don't even finish them. I mean I know when they are failing, and I just take them off the wall. I haven't been working now in my studio for a couple of months, so when I get back in again, after I get this book off to the publisher, it is going to be hard. I know it. It is going to be like two months of just practically being in tears, because I have to get everything practiced again. My arm, my thinking processes, everything. I have to get efficient with my body. I'm not afraid of failure. That is one thing that I'm not afraid of, because I now totally own my work. I don't care what anybody thinks of it.

GP: Talk a little bit about this concept of derivative work, which seems to be a buzz word that really bothers some people and doesn't bother others. Because you teach so much, because you have developed a large body of work, because you are energetic, and you are out there. You've certainly taught multitudes since you started teaching. Does that bother you? Do you feel like that is something that--

NC: Ultimately, I don't think anybody can really be derivative of a good artist. I think a lot of people show their work way before they should ever have shown it. The work has actually come out of a workshop or right after a workshop, and they haven't developed. So, I think that is what happens, but I think that you see that in all art schools. You see it every where. It is a normal way to learn. Elizabeth Busch and I just had this discussion again at Quilting by the Lake, because her students produce work that looks like stuff she has been teaching in the class, then they show it. Well, why are they showing it? Why is it getting into shows? There is another question. But to me, that is a bit of a form of laziness on the part of the student. Maybe it is because teachers, maybe I haven't done a good enough job emphasizing, you have no business showing your work until you go home and work for two solid years. Keep working, changing, until your work becomes your own, and it doesn't look derivative. I actually never will teach what I really do, I never will. That will die with me. That I feel firmly. People don't have a clue as to all the things that I do. I mean they look at my work and might think they have figured it out, but they don't know how I got there. I don't know how to answer that, other then I know that when I was in graduate school, I was doing work that looked derivative. We had a visiting Japanese professor, and we were all making pots that looked like his for awhile. But I knew I didn't want to make pots that looked like his. I mean, I understood that this is just something that I am going through to learn.

GP: I wonder if that maybe is the difference in understanding that, versus not knowing enough about the creative process that you don't, that these people don't realize that they aren't there yet maybe.

NC: Yes. Well, like at Arrowmont, I was just sort of watching what the other teachers were teaching, particularly the metals people. The students were all making work that looked just like what the teacher makes herself. But she was teaching, both of these were women. They were two enamels classes, but they were teaching very specific areas of enameling. But I figured they wouldn't go home and, well some of them would--

GP: Some of them will.

NC: The potter was the same way. She was teaching painting on low fire pottery, red pottery, and when I walked in there, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, those pots all look like Linda's.

GP: [laughs.]

NC: I mean she and I had that discussion. She said, 'It is nothing I worry about, because it is part of how you learn.' So, I don't know why it is such a big to do out there in the world. What do you think?

GP: I think it is, I think some people are bothered by it based on, based on either being--not threatened is not the right word, but in terms of just kind of feeling ripped off. Like, you know, just you see something in a magazine and a whole article maybe that doesn't even mention the real person's name. I mean it is just, you know, why is the magazine publishing it and all this stuff, but, you know, it tends to be more in that group of people who are the crafty/arty people.

NC: Wannabes--

GP: Yes. The dilettantes, I guess.

NC: Yes.

GP: And then they will take a class from somebody, and you know, get it. So there seems to be some of that. Like, just--it's unethical. It's just not right. There seems to be some bothersome part there.

NC: Alright, what if I said to you, I find this fascinating; just because I taught myself how to not cut with a ruler, and because I have taught people how to do not cutting with a ruler, then they think I own that cut. Isn't that just the dumbest thing you have ever heard? Because I said okay, then you tell me about drawing. You mean if I taught you drawing, that I own the line? [laughs.] To me it is the same thing, it's nutty.

GP: Well, it seems to go back to the difference between what is technique, you know, a technique, like you are talking about, the cutting or the style of drawing or the way of doing something. Technique versus what the whole work is.

NC: It's the content of the work. It is the motif, it's the composition. That is what identifies a person's body of work with them. You know, I'll tell you something, I'm glad you brought this up, because one of the things I really--I have been working with a group of women for ten years now, and one of the things I hammered in February is, this cut like this, it is mannered. If you're doing it, you better understand why you are doing it. It has to be there for a reason. That's one of the things you see; you see so many of those in quilts, and they are just stuck there, almost like to say, 'See, I can do it.' But it doesn't make sense.

GP: The same thing happened when people started putting embellishments on for the sake of putting embellishments on.

NC: Don't you think it has gone, almost like … it covers up the composition because the composition is so poor?

GP: Right, because when technique and content don't blend--

NC: Yes.

GP: It shows in the end result, is what it seems to me.

NC: I mean, I think one of the hardest things to do, frankly is spare, and do it well. So, it is not trite.

GP: Well, you have always been known for the color in your work. What do you think about the concept of content in your own work? Content, meaning--

NC: My work is not about coming up with an intellectual idea. My work is about beauty. Beauty in either how shape hits shape, or shape hits line, or color and value, and how those work. But underneath that, I'm more interested in the essence of what these shapes are all about, and they have to come from my environment. Either from my environment or wherever I'm traveling, but I don't go look for content. Content will only be there if it profoundly affects me, like Chinese Souls or my mother's death, that kind of thing. It doesn't drive my work. I know, I have been told by my gallery, actually Bruce Hoffman at the Snyderman, that geometric quilts are probably one of the hardest things to sell in the world.

GP: Why?

NC: Because landscape is 'in'.

GP: Is it true in painting as well?

NC: It's true in everything. He said, 'absolutely.' He said, 'landscape is the easiest thing of all things to sell in any medium.'

GP: Isn't that interesting.

NC: Yes. So, I have to be, you know he will tell me. I have to live with that, I have to accept it, because I'm not going to change. I don't care if the world doesn't like geometric quilts.

GP: Yes, you're not going to suddenly start whipping out landscapes. [laughs.]

NC: No, but when you say pictorial landscapes are really the big thing now in quiltmaking.

GP: See, I don't even think of them so much as landscapes. I think more of what they call this narrative work.

NC: Okay, then what is narrative in relationship to pictorial in your mind?

GP: I'm not--I guess I'm not really clear on what the difference is. I've been listening more to what people call their own work, and trying to understand how they speak about their own work, in calling it pictorial versus narrative. Personally, I'm not really clear on what that distinction is yet.

NC: What if I said to you like, that--

GP: Storytelling.

NC: Okay. I could say to you that big red and blue piece there; both of those pieces are narratives about this barn. You could just look up at the roof.

GP: Sure.

NC: So that's my narrative. But I choose to put it in what I call this line and shape. That is how I choose to put it, rather than saying, well, 'These are pieces cut with templates.' You know?

GP: Right. [laughs.]

NC: So. But I think that when he was talking landscape, he was talking more probably closer to as if you had taken a photograph of some landscape and done it again.

GP: Well, maybe that is part of the popularity, too, of these techniques, like image transfer techniques and manipulated photography, and cyanotype and all of that stuff.

NC: Oh, yes. Geez.

GP: Yes. I mean, there seems to be an impact with that stuff, too; the use of technology and how that is going to be incorporated into this work. And your work utilizes technology in terms of the rotary cutters and the fabric dyes and, you know, these kinds of things, but that is not what your work is about.

NC: No. Actually, I want to work from the simplest of means. I want to keep everything simple so that I can concentrate on the beauty of relationships. [at QBL.] We had a teacher there, who is also a very well known quiltmaker, Miriam Nathan Roberts, who had a brand new piece that was done with technology. She actually found some, two women, who had a huge--what would it be, that could print sixty inches across digital photography that she had altered. She calls this a huge print on fabric. That is what the quilt is. It was interesting talking to her, but you know why I will hand it to her, is because she has been working on it for ten years. She is absolutely caught up with all of it, she loves it. I think then to me that becomes legitimate, if the work is good in the end. But just to do it just because it is a fad doesn't interest me.

GP: When did you start dying fabric? You didn't always, did you?

NC: I didn't. You know that first Quilt National, it blew me away, that Deb Lunn had that piece in there, and then the next year Jan Myers. I don't know, I think I was so caught up.

GP: Did you dye when you were weaving?

NC: Yes.

GP: Okay.

NC: But see, I think I was very caught up with commercial prints still. See in my mind, that was what I wanted to work with. You can restructure them. It was more of a goal of going out. You know what we used to do? You will laugh. We drove up to Ashland, Ohio because there was an upholstery shop there that had a, for some reason, had this gigantic selection of drapery fabrics. We used to drive up there trying desperately to find geometric shapes that could be cut up and restructured, because you couldn't find anything like that in the regular fabric shops. Well, there weren't quilt shops then.

GP: Linda Fowler was saying that you guys used to drive up to Charm sometimes and...

NC: Yes. That is where we would go to get our solid colors, because she wasn't allowed to sell prints.

GP: Right. [laughs.]

NC: Because she was Amish. And then the prints that were available--Do you remember JC Penney's used to have their own fabric?

GP: Yes.

NC: And Sears Roebuck? Well, they always were little bitsy prints. So, you could never get anything bold without going to a drapery shop. People today don't have any clue about any of that.

GP: [laughs.] Now there are almost too many choices.

NC: Yes, probably.

GP: Who are your favorite artists? You know, what do you feel like; they may or may not influence your work directly, but just your favorite artists.

NC: I am very impressed by a woman in Australia named Rosalie Gascoigne who died in 1999. Actually, she was a sculptor. But I really absolutely believe in her philosophy which is absorbing your environment and it comes back out as an essence.

GP: Interesting.

NC: She worked with found materials. She didn't start until she was, she didn't actually consider herself an artist until she was fifty-seven and prior to that, she had worked as a--she had worked in Japanese flower arranging, ikebana, for years and years and years, but it taught her eye to the right portions, and so when she finally started as a sculptor, she became famous almost immediately. She worked up until a month or weeks before she died. She died of cancer when she was eighty-three. The other person I absolutely admire for composition and color is Mary Cassatt and Bonnard. Right now, those three, and then I'm very taken by this Lee Bontecou. Do you know that show that's opening in New York City, or is open right now in New York City?

GP: I haven't seen the catalogue, but I have seen reviews.

NC: Write-ups, yes! Because she had the courage to say, 'You know,' to the art world, 'don't tell me what I should do in my work. I don't have to be part of the art world.' And she left it for thirty years, and now she has come back again to show her work. No one's willing to take a stand. I mean, everyone is after the buck, so they sell their souls. Surely in quiltmaking we do.

GP: What about Anna Williams? Is she still alive?

NC: Anna Williams is, um, probably the most important--Yes, she is still alive, and probably the most important thing that I have learned from her is just to see someone who has so little set up such a consistent way of developing. No one told her how to do it. She somehow knew internally how she had to do it, and I admire that.

GP: Trusting your gut, you mean?

NC: She just knew this was something she had to do before she couldn't do it, and she would make time to do it. I use her as an example in my teaching, because I get so sick of all the excuses and reasons why women give as to why they are not working. I mean, honestly, Gayle, the number of highly gifted women that I see in my classes, it is really profound that the bulk of them will never develop because everything gets in the way. Nothing is that important.

GP: Do you have a particular series that you have done that you feel like it has been really, really important, or is it more like what ever you are working on now is the most important?

NC: Well, especially now that I'm going back and reviewing my work over these fifteen years, I can see the place of all the things that I have done, but I realize this Constructions series, this last series that I have been working on now since 19--I did the prototype in 1995 and then stopped. The prototype is right up there.

GP: Okay.

NC: Because at the time, I didn't know, didn't understand what it was all about, and um, when I picked it back up again in 1997, I have been working on it ever since. But the thing is, because I am a person who gets bored very easily, I will work--like I worked that way for a while, and then I scooted off and did something else. So, what I realize now in looking over that series, I have what I call, about six subgroups I can identify. So, what I want to do--

GP: Within the Constructions series?

NC: Yes. Each one is very meaty. So, I want to take each one now and run with it and develop it more.

GP: Each of the six subgroups--

NC: Each of the six subgroups. So, it doesn't look like I, too, am just jumping around. In the Constructions series, let me show you. You can see what I'm talking about. [walks across the room and brings the prototype over.] This is the prototype. You can--this is what I picked up and ran with for about ten more quilts once I went back and picked up. Those were--that's number two and number three right there. Those were about ... I realized when I made this that these were like the boards here in the barn. These were big, flat. But I wanted them, instead of just being straight boards, I wanted them to be beautiful shapes. This was about, you see up there. So, then I went back and picked that up again and worked with it in this group, where I am working with horizontal lines. I did them, either freely cut like that, or like this quilt where they are--I did do this with a ruler, but they are a straighter cut. So then, taking what is here, bringing it back over here again, you see it became part of this. So that is here in this area. But I also have all of these bits and pieces left over from doing these quilts. This one here in particular. This one here, and I restructured those so, to me the subgroups are working with these horizontal lines, working very spare, this type of thing, extremely spare, and very complex. I have always loved to do that, because it has always been there in quiltmaking, the traditional structure. I totally love it, and I probably will never give it up.

GP: I love it, too. I just love this whole series, anyway.

NC: Do you? [laughs.]

GP: Oh yes, I do. I really do.

NC: Well, this would be an example, then, of taking the grid and arbitrarily breaking through it in some way that becomes very obsessive. I haven't done very much with this idea, but I want to do more. That is actually one of the pieces that was in the FAVA show ["The Artist as Quiltmaker."]. That one and this quilt are the two that I have played with that idea. I have to--one of the things you have to do is build a mountain of what I call vocabulary to even make them. I will show you what a mountain of vocabulary looks like. I don't have that mountain left--

GP: [laughs.]

NC: [Nancy walking around room.] I moved my piles around. Here, just tons that I have made up ahead of time so that I can pull out and play with it.

GP: So, you don't have to think about the structure of each unit, you just have it there to pull like you would any other piece of fabric.

NC: Right. And then I can cut through this if I want to. But if I don't have all of this made, it is like I'm just dealing with the air and there is nothing there to work with.

GP: [laughs.]

NC: So, look over here. I am working going back and picking up again on that straighter cut. I kind of think, where I--This is how I work, actually, right there. That is a start of a quilt. Now I have done a little stitch up there, but I don't know if I'm going to do that in the end. I am going to let it take me where it wants to go. I know that the base, that blue will be the base behind everything, but I don't know how I'm going to break into the blue yet. I haven't decided. I have one piece leftover from that huge quilt back there, and I just put it there to reference, to see what it drums up.

GP: Is that the gold piece?

NC: No, well, that one would have been. I made a new one and I used all of that up. But no, I mean that red, blue, black bottom. And then over here I started playing, see the structure in those little hot pads we all made when we were kids? I'm sure you did, too.

GP: Oh, yes! I loved making those.

NC: Well, I'm playing with the idea of how you take that structure over here to the right, that last piece, and take parts that I used in that other quilt and cut through, and what to do with them. I want to play with that. So that is kind of where I'm going, bouncing back between those two, and then I started messing with this, and then I got, look it, I got so uptight, and I don't know why. All of a sudden, my cuts were so rigid. But I kind of think this is an idea that is in my brain, but I don't know where I will take it. This would be another example of cutting through something and putting an odd ball piece through it to force the brain to see what the patterning--

GP: Mmhmm. It also changes the--what I like a lot about this whole series is that the way the colors and the depth, your depth perception changes as you are looking at the piece, too, with the use of colors. On your finished pieces, your eye moves in and out and it wants to follow, it wants to follow the lines, but then, you know, you also have these different color things going on. It's just really incredible.

NC: Part of that also is that you want to tease the viewer. Sometimes you want to make it so close that it is hard for them to separate out what is happening.

GP: Right, what ends where.

NC: I don't always want to make it so easy for the viewer or for myself.

GP: Or for yourself, right.

NC: I start to feel like if I can just get my book done, I can just clear the decks. I don't know. Just like I did on the other ones. Once that book was behind me, then I was able to go on and really develop my new work. Now I feel like that once this book is done, I can now just take off. I hope. I don't know.

GP: Yes, it's that whole cycle, isn't it?

NC: So, who are you doing your book with?

GP: Ohio University Press is doing a series of six books on Ohio quilts.

NC: Whose idea was that? Or is that yours and you approached them?

GP: No, no. I have been researching Ohio's role in the art quilt movement myself through my work at FAVA and everything else, and then Ricky Clark and Virginia Gunn and I had been invited to do lectures at the Ohio Historical Society during the bicentennial. My lecture was on that topic from my initial research, like a six page paper kind of thing. The editor was there, and talked to me afterwards about doing this, because all the other books are not focused on contemporary times at all. They are historical. Quilts of the Western Reserve, that kind of thing. I was just so excited to do it.

NC: I think it is wonderful. I think you are doing it just in time.

GP: The story's never been told. You know, it really hasn't. Everybody for the most part--except I know Virginia has passed away, and Wenda Von Weise has passed away.

NC: She was so important, and no one knows who she is.

GP: No, they don't, and you know, but one of my questions is to ask you about these people who have passed away, and I have--I know she [von Weise.] taught at CIA. Of course, I didn't know her. I was a little kid then. But I need to find a place to access her work, because I want to get permission to include her work, but I don't know where the images are.

NC: You want to know what happened to her work.

GP: Yes.

NC: She had a lot of work when she died. What happened to it?

GP: Yes, and I don't know, and nobody I've talked to--Penny said, 'Talk to Nancy', and now you are saying you don't know.

NC: I don't know. I would not have a clue. I couldn't even give you a lead.

GP: What about Virginia [Randles.]. Do you know her son?

NC: You didn't come? I can give you a lead there.

GP: For her son?

NC: Did you never hear what had happened at that thing at Ohio State?

GP: I heard about it briefly, so go ahead and tell me your impression.

NC: Well, he just, he gave out revelations that blew me, almost blew me to the ground.

GP: And you had known her all those years.

NC: All those years, I had no idea, and he felt very--he felt that it needed to be out in the open. In a lot of ways, I gave him courage; by the end breaking down and crying in front of the whole group. But I had no idea, I had no idea that alcoholism was the main thing going on in that family while they were there, and that she was fighting through that, and that her husband was verbally abusive about what she was doing, because he was Mr. Charm.

GP: In person.

NC: Yes, I wouldn't have had a clue, in person. Not a clue. It is like her son needed to get up and atone for all that has happened to her. That she struggled so hard to do her quilts. I knew those quilts were major important. She let me know over and over that 'if I can't do these quilts, I'm going to have a major breakdown. I'm going to have a mental breakdown.'

GP: And now you understand.

NC: Now I understand. But she never would tell me what was going on. She kept up the façade. I think she was--I think she did some breakthrough work, too. She was just on the cusp. Well anyways, water over the dam.

GP: She was such a sweet person, too.

NC: But I think, what is important is that she has her place because she thought, you know, to have her own voice.

GP: Yes, and fought hard for it, even being from a generation of women that, that was kind of really not in the cards for a lot of them. Do you feel like because I was talking to Haley about this. I was born in '57 so, you know, I--

NC: Wow, you are a lot younger than I am.

GP: I didn't come of age until the mid-seventies.

NC: You aren't even fifty, are you?

GP: No, I'm forty-seven.

NC: You lucky dog.

GP: So, in learning about those times …

NC: I have to keep this covered, because stuff keeps falling down from the cracks.

GP: Oh, sure. You know, Haley and I both to some extent--you learn about the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the resurgence of the arts and crafts movement, all this stuff you learn about it through reading and through books, not through experience.

NC: Okay, so that goes to show you how much I have to still pay attention to this--

GP: [laughs.]

NC: You know what, I would say to you that definitely in the sixties all of us in art school, all of us women in art school were caught up with … I mean, we were proud that there were women out there being vocal about …

GP: Did you know about Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro?

NC: Oh Yes, yes. I knew all that stuff. You know what, I think, I don't know that I could have verbalized it then, but I felt it really strong, and that was I felt it made us too marginalized to slap on the label. I don't want to do women's art, or whatever, or feminist art or this is a feminist art show, it was too narrow for me. I don't think I could have said that then, but I know that is why now. And I just want to be of the world, period.

GP: But do you feel like that created opportunities or not?

NC: Well, I was never political.

GP: Well, I mean being a woman artist; okay you weren't political.

NC: No. I think in a lot of ways I went on into a medium that was just--it's just at the bottom of the heap practically, to get respect. I mean even this show I'm having in New Zealand now, this is going to probably be a major show for me, I'm aware because people told me that within the museum itself there were curators that just would not agree with this.

GP: With having the exhibition or?

NC: Well, because quilts aren't art.

GP: So, we are still there, we are still there.

NC: Yes. But somehow, I got pushed through. There were enough people who wanted it that it made it, but I'm now aware that if I do go down there in January that I'm going to have some people who are not happy with it.

GP: Susan Shie was telling me, she went to Wooster also, which is actually where I met her before any of us were, before we were doing quilts, but I was speaking with her about Miriam Schapiro and she had the opportunity to work with her at Wooster, which I never knew Miriam had come there, but she was talking about that impacting her in terms of saying 'yup, this is art', you know these textiles, all of this, and part of me thinks that is what they were trying to prove in a way with, especially Miriam with the work she was doing. So, I just, you know, when I came of age, I feel like all of this stuff paved the way so that when I was there, I just assumed I could do anything I wanted. I didn't know if you felt that way.

NC: You know what, I would, it sounds terrible, but today I have no interest in going back and reading any of those books.

GP: They sound really silly when you do. I mean I have been reading them.

NC: I think it's because I'm just not political and even at the time … I know I remember; I will never forget Judy Chicago. Ohio State University put up this humongous exhibition of, I don't know if you ever saw it, the Embroidery Project. This was after she did the Dinner Party.

GP: After the Dinner Party? No, I never saw it.

NC: It was all about having a baby. It wasn't even in the main gallery of the art building. Where did they have that darn thing? The exhibition was so big they had to do it somewhere else, and in my mind, I can't even think where it was, and I just remember feeling such anger, going through the exhibition, about the way she was blatantly telling me what it was like to have a baby. She never had had a baby in her life.

GP: [laughs.]

NC: I didn't like it. I didn't like her interpretation of what she thought. I think by then I was also starting to struggle with my own strong opinions about how do I feel that she went and had other women do all this work. I don't know why that was bothering me. Probably because of the fact that she was the so-called artist. I don't like that hierarchy. She is the so-called artist and the rest of them are the ones who do the work. I don't know, that bothered me at the time, so I dismissed. And then the other thing is I had heard, I know I went to Chicago, to Chicago actually to hear her speak and see, I wanted to hear her speak about the Dinner Party and see it. And who was I with? I remember that we rushed to get there and for whatever reason the doors had closed, and we couldn't get in, and then someone said they heard the speech afterwards and they said that she was so foul mouthed, and I thought you know, I don't want to go near people who have to support art and be--

GP: Foul mouthed.

NC: Foul mouthed the whole way through the lecture. That turns me off. I don't think art has to be treated that way. So, I don't know, I have all my petty emotions about why.

GP: I just was curious. I wanted to ask the question because I didn't want it to be a cliché of oh well you know.

NC: Here is my bottom line feeling. If some person, some woman in the history of the world has made an apron for herself and it is an extraordinary apron, to me it's art because that is--I don't need to put that apron in my work to make it art. But I'm very pro females having all the opportunities. You know, I was lucky to have had a father like I had. Because he wanted us all to do well, he wanted us to be creative people.

GP: He got that right. [laughs.] It worked. You talked a little bit about these techniques, hand dying, strip piecing. I think you were one of the earliest people utilizing that, and this improvisional cutting. It doesn't seem to me, though, that technique in and of itself is particularly important in your work, either; that the technique is the tools.

NC: Just to say what I want to say. I agree with that statement.

GP: Let's talk a little bit about the changing scene. I have been interviewing some younger artists as well, trying to get a sense of what's happening. We talked about landscapes and photo transfers, and obviously, there have been some different trends that have come and gone or that have arrived, and that people are exploring. Is there anything that concerns you about what I guess now is considered the field of art quilts. Is there anything that concerns you?

NC: In what way?

GP: Well, I will give you an example. When I spoke with Linda [Fowler.] the other day, she was concerned that there weren't enough young people coming into the field perhaps. That was her concern. Other people have been concerned I guess in general about where things are going. Some people are concerned about exhibits like Quilt National and wondering if it has run its course. I mean everybody had different concerns and some people didn't have any.

NC: I don't like that kind of, like saying it has run its course. I don't like, I think it is crazy when people say that it is the same old people. I think what people have to understand is it's only a small handful of people who are consistently working and who are good, and that's what that exhibition is going to represent. That is all there is to it. They could have three more of them, and they are all going to probably look similar, because there aren't, in the overall world of quiltmaking, there simply are not that many people working that hard. So that is what they have to draw from. I think that Quilt National has been so important to so many people. For some reason, just to be able to get into a show of that magnitude and it, for those who want to be serious, whatever it is, it just helps them go around that corner so they can really believe in themselves. Maybe that is sad to say that, but in terms of what is happening in the quilt world, I guess I'm a fatalist in the sense that is whatever is going to happen is going to happen. If the whole quilt world slowly becomes nothing but money making ventures, well that is what it is going to be, because no one had the courage to carry on and take it anywhere. But I am probably, to tell you the truth, I want to just straighten out my own work the last twenty years. I mean I like to think I've got twenty solid years in front of me, and now it is my time to really concentrate on my work, so. You know my sister, Martha used to say to me, why do you care so much, or why do you get so upset that you have students in your class who are not working? She said that is the way it is in painting. That is how it filters out. The good people will always be good, and they will work hard. And those who are just as gifted or talented, they are going to fall by the wayside because they don't have what it takes to develop it. It was probably good for me to hear, because I used to just come home from my teaching jobs and just make myself sick over the fact that I couldn't get through to students. I guess, you know, I'm willing to help the ones who still want help and feedback, but I'm not going to kill myself anymore over people who are just not--who are lazy basically. You look at Anna; I mean Anna Williams couldn't have had a harder life, but she still produced her work, and she didn't complain about her hard life.

GP: She just did it.

NC: She just did the work.

GP: Who would I be remiss if I didn't interview?

NC: Tell me who you have interviewed for Ohio.

GP: I have interviewed everyone on my list. You, I have talked to Linda Fowler and Deb Anderson, I've talked to David, I've talked to Petra Soesemann, I've talked to Penny, I've talked to Susie.

NC: Judi Warren.

GP: She is on my list, but she is out of town. I haven't spoken with her yet.

NC: She's got a great memory, honestly. She can remember more things than I can. That is not my--.

GP: I am planning to speak with Elaine Plogman and Terrie Mangat, if I can reach Terrie.

NC: Terrie is awfully hard to get a hold of.

GP: I have a P.O. Box for her, but when I contacted her about the symposium, I never got a response, so hopefully I will send her a note.

NC: The other thing is to go through her sister.

GP: At the store?

NC: To see if she can help.

GP: What is her name? What is her sister's name?

NC: Her sister's name is Becky Hancock. What was her married name--Mangat? That was her married name, so Hancock has to be their family name.

GP: That is a good lead. Who else?

NC: I don't know. Are you trying to cover, you are covering the contemporary, aren't you?

GP: Primarily, but its kinds of leads into another question that I have. Early on, I have made a list.

NC: You know I'm telling you; Sue Hoyt is a reservoir. Someone should interview her, even though she is not a quiltmaker. She is another one of those people. What do you call it, she is almost obsessively [inaudible.]. I bet she has been feeling stuff that none of us could feel.

GP: If you have contact information for her.

NC: I will see if I can hunt it down, and she is a very good writer.

GP: I have interviewed Hilary [Fletcher.]. There are a lot of people--

NC: You have got to interview Sue Hoyt. I think it is important to get more fill in around those early days in Athens, and she would be the one who would remember it.

GP: What I was going to say is that one thing that has happened. I mean early on you see a lot of people, I mean, there are just so many names and, where do I draw the line? I can't talk to everybody; I mean I have deadlines and all of that, so I'm trying to go through the list. But things seem to have evolved kind into tiers in a way, too, for a lack of a better way to describe it.

NC: What do you see as the tiers? What do you mean by that?

GP: Let me give you an example. Early on, when we go back to the early Quilt Nationals and see who was in there. Take someone like Fran Soika, for example, who I think is unable to work. I don't think she is working at all anymore. Do you feel like your own work is understood?

NC: No.

GP: Does that bother you?

NC: That is just the way it is. I would also say to you is what's hard for me is not to hear of many artists who are working and changing and growing so that you can't dialogue about it. I just don't even go there that much of the time.

GP: Well, is there--you have already written several books yourself, but I will ask you this anyway. Is there something you want the world, the world, the readers of this book, to know about you? How do you want to be, well, I will leave it at that. Good ahead.

NC: Well, before I forget, I will just throw this in. I do think that if you have a chance you should talk to Ora Anderson. Straight from his mouth, so you understand why his wife--you know the story of how Quilt National got going.

GP: Yes.

NC: She [Harriet Anderson.] had asked me to do a workshop and she was going to get a grant. And I said we don't have a place to exhibit; that is what we need. Then she said, 'Then I'll go and get a grant to have an exhibition.' I think it is important to get down on paper why she cared. She wasn't a quiltmaker. Why did she care enough to do that? She is the one who had the expertise to go up. Her husband had been a lobbyist, so he knew how to go back to Columbus and get the money.

GP: Find the money and make--

NC: Well, they basically gave him the barn. That was the key thing, how to get that barn, because there was no money. So, I think that is really key information to get down, and he is still very much, his brain's still very, very sharp. But, you know, he is in his early nineties.

GP: I was thinking about when I was driving here today, that, you know, if you hadn't been living in Athens at that time.

NC: Everything fell into place. That's how I've always felt.

GP: Exactly.

NC: I always have felt that way that things happen, if you want them to happen. Just like I feel like, I know I'm digressing here a bit, but for instance this barn. This is something I always wanted. My studio was something I always wanted. To me, if you are positive and put your energies in that direction, it is going to happen, somehow it will happen, because that is where you are putting all the force. You know, I think about it, if we had never had Quilt National, I don't know if I would have had that much impact because Visions got started out in San Diego and Visions has been very spotty as an exhibition, I think.

GP: I think so, too.

NC: I don't know, I totally agree with you.

GP: Part of my going into writing this book, one of the questions that I had and have is why did this happen in Ohio? Why did this happen in Ohio? You know, there were things going on in other places but, you know, as Hilary called it in my interview, then the 'big bang happened' and all this happened. It is such a unique thing and I'm starting to understand how it happened and why.

NC: How about the fact that we were all just born in this state.

GP: Well, exactly. Exactly, and how that fits into the research I have done on the history of--I was born here, too, the history of the state, and the kind of people and families who came.

NC: So, let's take you, why did it happen with you? Why did you even get interested? In the end, how can you answer those questions?

GP: The more I research, the more it is starting to make sense, so it is kind of exciting. We will see how it all comes out at the end.

NC: From my own point of view, you can never, for me personally, you can never say it is because we had an Amish territory.

GP: [laughs.] No.

NC: People say that to me over and over. 'Oh, Yes, you are really making quilts because of the Amish.' No. [laughs.] Because I didn't even know about them.

GP: I didn't either. [laughs.]

NC: So that has nothing to do with it.

GP: No and did you--and the other cliché is, 'well, but the Whitney Exhibition.' Well, how many people--no one that I have talked to yet ever saw it when it opened or knew about it.

NC: I didn't know about it.

GP: Everybody is like, 'oh well, that started this.'

NC: I think people who knew about that would have been Michael James and Nancy Halpern. There's is a perfect example, how about Nancy Halpern? Such a strong force at the beginning, and as far as I'm concerned, we lost track of Nancy somewhere probably in the early to mid '80s. But she was important in the beginning, but Michael kept going.

GP: A lot of people have switched to other media, too. I mean, Françoise has if I'm understanding that correctly.

NC: That could be.

GP: That can be a legitimate change. too. In the same way people change from weaving to pottery or whatever. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. That is another person, if you do … I don't know Françoise, but I would like to speak with her or contact her if you have contact information.

NC: I will see if I can. I will tell you, the way you can get a hold of her. She actually sent me back all my letters I'd ever written to her.

GP: How nice.

NC: So, I, you, do you have a way to contact Katie Pasquini?

GP: Katie Pasquini?

NC: Katie Pasquini is going to be lead to both Terrie [Hancock Mangat.] and Françoise [Barnes.], because she's friends with both of them.

GP: That is important to know.

NC: She would tell you how to maneuver to get them to answer.

GP: Katie might have a website and I might be able to contact her through that.

NC: If you can't, then write me and tell me and I will see what I can hunt down and get a telephone number or something for her.

GP: And Wenda [von Weise.], my only choice for her is to go to the Institute [Cleveland Institute of Art.] and see if there is a repository of images that--

NC: She had children. What happened to her kids?

GP: I don't know, I don't know.

NC: I heard also that she--

GP: Nobody that I talked to knew her well enough. They knew her, but didn't know her well enough to kind of--

NC: Well, Penny [McMorris.] What did Penny say to you about it?

GP: She said the same thing you did, like you must include her, and I have no idea how to find her family. She believes she passed away from chemical exposure to, because of the dyes and things she was working with. Several people have told me that. I have no way of knowing that.

NC: Did anybody tell you that she had a companion that she lived with?

GP: No.

NC: This is what I heard, and I have no way to verify it, and I couldn't even tell you who told me that, it has been too long ago, that upon her death, this man took all of her work and got rid of it. See, I don't know if that is true.

GP: I hope not. Got rid of how?

NC: Sold it off.

GP: At a garage sale or at?

NC: I don't know see that's it. If he sold it off without documentation, then you don't have a clue where it went. So that's why to me if you could find out if she had children, then where are the children? They have to know what happened to her work.

GP: There was a show, I know that this Ohio's Pioneer Show that was last year, I got the CD for it, and I know they had some of her work in that show. So, I'm trying to find out how they got it. I also know that there was a show with her work and Molly Upton's work about two years ago in New England somewhere. So, somebody, somewhere--

NC: Wow, then go back to Nancy Halpern. Nancy Halpern is the one who knew all about Molly Upton.

GP: Well, right. She was quoted in the review that I saw.

NC: She is the one who knows Molly Upton's family and is the one who is able to get them to show the quilts periodically. The other thing I was


“Nancy Crow,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,