Peggie Hartwell




Peggie Hartwell




Peggie Hartwell


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


Summerville, South Carolina


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Peggie Hartwell. Today's date is May 29, 2009. It is now 4:14 in the afternoon. Peggie is in Summerville, South Carolina, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Peggie thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Restoration."

Peggie Hartwell (PH): "Restoration" was really an honor to work on it. When I got the call from Dr. [Carolyn.] Mazloomi about the exhibition ["Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebration of our 44th President" at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.] that was going to be in Washington, D.C. honoring our newly elect president, Barack Obama, I first thought, 'Oh God, how can I do this? How could I make a quilt to portray this man?' That was the beginning of a decision that took me back to my mother getting an education at a school that was started by an ex-slave, it took me back to my father being a sharecropper in South Carolina and it took me back to the three-room schoolhouse I started school in. To arrive to the day, I would make a quilt about the first African American president was such an honor. It was a privilege to do that. So, I did and it took all of two weeks, rushing, rushing, and rushing. My techniques varied from appliquéd fabrics, pen and ink and use of symbols. Barack Obama as a child in the far left of the design. In most of work, I use images of children. I did the same thing with this quilt. I put names on the steps in back of him, the names of people who helped pave the way/helped him to get to the place where he is. I think that is about it.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

PH: I have donated this quilt to the quilt collection of the Women of Color Quilters Network.

KM: What will they do with it?

PH: Dr. Mazloomi will donate the collection to the Smithsonian Museum.

KM: Tell me about your involvement in the Women of Color Quilters Network.

PH: I met Dr. Mazloomi [in 1985.]. She had placed a letter in Quilter's [Newsletter.] Magazine asking for 'other African American quilters to correspond with her.' Myself and eight other people connected with her and that was the beginning of Women of Color Quilters Network. It was so amazing. We all did not meet each other until a year or two later, but when we did, we - were like long lost friends. We were able to share with each other quilt techniques, family stories, hopes and dreams, etc. It was a wonderful experience to meet her and the quilters. She collected through this one letter placed in Quilter's Newsletter.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilt making.

PH: My interest in quilt making goes back to my growing up on a farm. I lived in a house without heat [we did have fireplaces though.] or electricity. For warmth, we slept beneath quilts that were made by the women in our family. These quilts had pieces of fabric from everyone's old clothing family. Good pieces of fabric were cut away to make the quilts. The women quilted during the winter months. They would get together to make quilts and go from house to house - making a quilt for that house. They used a big frame which would get pulled up towards the ceiling when it was time to cook and eat. When dinner was over, the quilting frame came down and the women would continue sewing on it. I remember playing beneath quilts and/or just being around quilt making. What came first? I believe for me, it was not learning how to thread a needle, sewing or watching the women sew, I discovered that I could draw which I did in the sand in front of my grandmother's house. That was the beginning of what I now know as my marriage of work. That was the beginning combined with the stories that I heard my grandfather tell of the form of art I would later on nurture. But it went through many stages from drawing, painting, costume design and working on theater set design. Later, it all came together in what I do now. It was a collection of my life.

KM: What age did you start making quilts?

PH: I really can't even remember. The first quilt I made was something like a doll quilt. I also made pre-quilted ice-skating skirt when I was in what was called Home Economics at that time. I image that was middle school. I think in my late teens or early twenties before I made the first quilt for myself, or for my mother. I made the doll quilt and then I made a quilt for my mother.

KM: Tell me about the quilt you made for your mom.

PH: It wasn't a story quilt. It was strip pieced. Actually, it was more or less like a Log Cabin. I just cut out strips and sewed them together. I tried to keep to certain measurements, but it was very primitive looking. She loved it because it was what was. The women in our family worked like that - although they also did very fine needle work, but sometimes when they had just patches, they would sit and sew them together. So that is what I remembered and that is what I did. I have that quilt somewhere in storage. I need to pull it out and look at where I came from. I would not compare that first quilt to what I do now because that first quilt has a lot of family passion in it. I worked with a lot of colors, the stitches were big in some places, they were small in other places, but still it told its own story. Even though it wasn't exactly patchwork, it said something. It spoke to the soul, to the heart. That was the first major quilt I made, and I did for it my mother.

KM: Tell me about your creative process.

PH: My creative process sometimes can be very, very stressful but in a beautiful way. I have all of these images within me because I work with a lot of children it is not always easy for me do my own work. When I do, it is really sacred. I pick up the thread and the material like it is - holy. All of these images are in my head; I gather them and sketch them out. First, I make a mental picture, and then I make a sketch on paper. Sometimes I have it blown up and sometimes I work free form. Then it is a matter of getting the correct fabric together. Sometimes it is very, very difficult because I wait for the fabric to speak to me. That might sound very funny, but it has to speak to me, to my soul. I remember giving a class telling the children how to use colors as their own voice. Actually, I didn't have to tell them that because that is what they do anyway. I told them, 'Red is very passionate. You've heard people say, 'I was so angry I saw red,' or I was so cool like a green color, or I was mellow yellow. All of those colors have voices; they speak to one another.' So, my creative process is to listen to these fabrics and the colors and try to put them together so that they will complement each other and say what I want to be said. I've gotten all the way to the end of a design, almost finished with the top and gone to bed and before falling asleep, I heard all of this commotion coming from the quilt and the colors. They were saying, 'This is not going to work. I don't want to be next to this color.' Of course, I would than rip something out. The funny thing is that you know it, the minute you have it. And it is because it is right. You feel it. You feel it deep within. 'Yes, this will work,' and that is what you say to the quilt or to yourself. 'This works.'

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

PH: Not enough. In my mind, I quilt every single day. I'm always looking for fabrics. I gather fabric together two or three times a week. However, with children's programs, I must quilt through them. I teach them to have their voice on quilts like I do. To answer your question, I don't quilt physically the way I would like to, but in my mind, I quilt about ten hours a week. That is not enough. However, if I have a piece to do, I will do twenty-four hours. I will just stay up for two days and finish it. Maybe I will lie down and "catch a nap." I did that with the Obama quilt. I will stay up and finished it because it will demand that you did.

KM: Since we've come back to "Restoration," tell me more about the exhibit.

PH: I didn't get a chance to go to the exhibit. Unfortunately, the week prior, I was on residency in Columbia, South Carolina. I had back-to-back residencies this year and late last year. When the exhibition took place, I just could not go because I had just come off a residency. I did not get a chance to see it as a whole. However, I heard many people say how wonderful it was to see the expression of one thought, one image through all those artists. For me it was a wonderful thing. I was there spiritually even though I didn't get a chance to go physically.

KM: Why do you think Barack Obama inspired so many quiltmakers to make quilts?

PH: I think it was a surprise, but it wasn't a surprise. I think it was so long hoping for, so long wishing for, it was like one single dream became energy. Not just here in America, but all over the world. He inspired people. I remember listening to a world news program and the commentator asked this man from India, 'Well, suppose all the things that you wish for through this one man doesn't come to be.' He [the man.] said, 'But it has come to be, because he has inspired the world! He has inspired people to hope, to dream, and yes, dreams can come true.' I think it was more than that. It was bigger than all of us. It was a restoration of hope and dreams and yes, you can dream out loud and quite often people will understand and follow you.

KM: Very nice. You mentioned belonging to the Women of Color Quilters Network. Do you belong to any other art or quilt groups?

PH: I recently joined the South Carolina State Guild. They have yearly wonderful quilt retreats in October. I will not be unable to attend this year. I am working on developing a children program here in South Carolina through Women of Color Quilters Network. My dedication is with this project.

KM: Tell me more about your children's programs.

PH: What a joy! It is such a joy because with them I get a glimpse into the future. I feel honored to enter their little hearts. They are so, so wise. They are like elder people in a mystical sense in these little bodies. They come here with a clean slate of the mind, so it is quite easy to teach them. We begin to write on it and tell them what they can do and can't do. 'You can't put these two colors together.' But they do it. That is why one can recognize children's art right away. They will put orange and red together and it will look fine. But when we try to do it, I guess, if you don't have the right shades, we are always saying we can't do this. But children can. Before the exhibition opened in Washington [D.C.], for Barack Obama, I was working with third graders. I introduced them to Pigma .001 pens. I had no doubt that I could show them only once and they would do it. That is exactly what they did. I showed them how to hold the pen, how to draw lines and they did wonderful work. They made Barack Obama fabric books. Also, sometimes you work with children, and you become their confessor. They tell you all sorts of things. This little boy I worked with in Charleston S C, leaned across the table and asked: 'Are you 100 years old yet?' and I said, 'No. Do I look that bad?' [Both laugh.] Then I said, 'No, I'm not,' and he said, 'Do you have any sisters or brothers?' I told him 'I have two.' He said to me, 'I am a twin.' Really, I said. Your twin is it a boy or girl?' He said, 'I don't know. My twin died at birth, and I asked my mother and at first, she said, 'I don't know. They didn't tell me.' The next time I asked her she said, 'Don't ask me that again and she became angry.' Then he looked at me and he said, 'I need to know because I feel like a part of me is missing.' This was said while we were working on a quilt that dealt with children, with young people. For this little boy, art became a medium. The quilt became a medium. The fabric was alive and speaking and he was trying to run his hands over the fabric while telling me his heart. It was like his mystic heart poured out what he felt. Most of the children that I work with have all of these things they say on fabric. They say it with color, they say with it design. I also volunteer at a high school in a Special Needs class. The students are extremely creative. We are working on six panels about planting a garden. We have finished two. We traced their hands - such beautiful long hands and fingers that will never do the things we think they should do, but they will do what they need to do in order to function in this world. These students see colors in a different way. They put these colors and designs together as they see in them in their "own" designed surroundings. It is absolutely wonderful working with them, I am the permanent artist in residency so I can watch their growth. Mid-June I will give a quilt workshop at Holling's Cancer Center in Charleston, South Carolina, for people coming out of chemotherapy. I would also like to develop a Healing Arts program because art is so therapeutic. Art puts you in a place where you are not and, in that place, you are free of everything. The fabric talks to you and in that place, you find peace. It is quite possible to lose yourself in whatever you think and feel. With the children they become that place: with adults the place comes to them. It is a communion of feelings, the communion of the threads and the colors that you work with. The children programs [and adult healing art program.] are so important. I would sacrifice everything to do those projects with children, [and adults mentioned.]. It is a passion of mine.

KM: You have found your calling.

PH: It is a calling of mine. I'm going to Beaufort, South Carolina in July to work in a summer camp. [Sea Island School for the Arts & Academics.] I can't wait! We are making a fabric wall mural that is six feet by four and a half feet. I will be able to give each child a whole figure to work on. I know that it is going to be beautiful. I see it already finished; they will see that too once they start working on it. It will be like being in an oasis of peace. It will be really wonderful. If I had to say one thing about my quilts, it would be this: I quilt through the children that I work with. I don't make many physical quilts for myself because the quilting that I do with them surpasses any quilts that I would ever make.

KM: You can't see it but I'm smiling.

PH: That is good.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

PH: My favorite technique is hand appliqué. I love machine appliqué also, but hand appliqué is like mediation. It is like prayer. You become one with the needle and it is just very peaceful. When I work with children, they do not always use needle and thread. If they are very young, they use glue. I would like to develop a program where they are using hand appliqué because it is just wonderful technique. Another technique which I had forgotten about, but I'm now doing is using pen and ink on fabric. In high school, I was taught pen and ink technique. I even participated in couple of exhibitions and sold 2-3 pieces of work when I got out of high school. I was a pen and ink artist once and now I would like to bring this over to fabric. I have done so in the Obama quilt. So, in a way even though "Restoration" is about Barack Obama, it is also about me restoring old techniques again to my work. I feel good about that. Actually, Appliqué and pen and ink are two techniques that go hand in hand because the appliqué is with just one single needle, one single thread and the pen and ink is one single fine line. I try to work with .001, which is about the finest you could get.

KM: Describe your studio.

PH: My studio. I like to have my studio so that it's almost empty, but not really, I just put up two pictures on the wall. Before that there was nothing on the walls. I have my sewing table, computer desk, bookcase, a quilter's measuring table that opens out and a love seat I can open/ sleep on when I feel the need to absorb what the fabric is saying, what the books are saying etc. I do believe that if you sleep and move around things near bedtime - thinking about those things, those colors etc, you absorb them in your dreams and you might dream about what you are supposed to do. I know that sounds crazy. My studio is sparsely decorated. You wouldn't think a quilter lived or worked in my studio because the only creative things hanging on the wall are a framed Mola, a picture of a tree and a butterfly clock that is very colorful. Actually, you wouldn't think anyone creative live here. When I work, I need to be in empty space mentally.

KM: Do you work on more than one thing at a time or only one thing at a time?

PH: Generally, I work on only one thing at a time, but earlier this year I was forced to work on two pieces at the same time. I had to prepare works for the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska. The museum hosted a reception for the "Memories and Dreams" the quilt component of The Quilted Conscience: Culture-Blend Project by The Sudanese American Children of Grand Island Nebraska. I traveled there to participate in teaching the Sudanese girls to make a quilt about their memories of Sudan and Dreams of America. Nebraska is one of the designated states for refugee in the U.S. The two works I prepared for that program were based upon my earlier residency there. I worked so fast; the pieces were talking to each other. It was amazing! I really try to work on one at a time, this time I had no choice. Some people can work on two and three, but I simply find it better for me to give all my energy to one - to listen to what that one piece has to say. Sometimes I can work on a piece that is so large it is almost like two or three pieces in that one big piece. The last time I worked on a piece that large I couldn't sleep because of all the things that I needed to do for that one piece. So, I tried to have a calm mind and work on one piece at a time.

KM: It is tough to have a calm mind sometimes, isn't it?

PH: Yes.

KM: Tell me more about the Sudanese project.

PH: Joy. I traveled to Grand Island, Nebraska, in September 2008 to meet the Sudanese girls [ages 12 - 18.] mostly of Nuer, Nuba and Dinka tribe backgrounds. We listened to their memories of Sudan [all were all born there.] and their dreams and hopes for America. Later each girl designed two separate panels (memories from of Sudan) and the other one was dream panel (what they hoped to get from America). The memory panels were just unbelievable. There was one family who walked from Sudan to Egypt, I think it was Egypt. They had to walk a country and a half to freedom. The mother was pregnant! One little girl's grandparents were eaten by lions. These were some of the stories for their blocks. It was very painful to hear. The first night I cried my eyes out - I could get no rest because I had to live the images in order to tell this girl how to illustrate her piece. That was a very, very, very powerful experience for me. The Sudanese students did this beautiful quilt. The quilt was displayed at the Edith Abbot Library in Grand Island, Nebraska, in March of this year. Their families, Neighbors and friends came from all over to the opening. It was a wonderful experience. To know that the girls came through such conditions with no bitterness at all and with such laughter was incredible. I felt that I had gone to Africa without leaving the states because around them, they sometimes spoke in their native tongues.

They were just so wonderful to work with. We [local quilters from Grand Island.] and I taught them quilt stitches and how to construct designs on their squares. The local quilters got together joined blocks and had the top quilted.

KM: What happened to the quilt?

PH: The quilt is stored at the Edith Abbot library. The Abbot Sisters: Grace was an extraordinary leader in the struggles for the rights of America's children and immigrants; her sister Edith was a great pioneer of social work education. So, it was only fitting to have the Dreams and Memories quilt hanging at a library named after Edith Abbott. We hope to take this quilt project to other places/states as well. It simply started in Grand Island, Nebraska. I plan to bring the project, Memories and Dreams, to a school here in Goose Creek, South Carolina. We have many immigrants here so such a program would work well here. Actually, immigrants come to this country bringing with them many memories, dreams, culture techniques and stories.

They are not so much different from ours, except some of them have had very hard lives. However, most arrive here without much bitterness. They come and give whatever they can give to the America culture. Back to the Sudanese girls, they were absolutely wonderful to work with.

KM: How does this path come to you?

PH: I was in New York City hanging an exhibition for the Women of Color Quilters Network at the Donnell Library on 53rd Street. At that same time, there was producer [John Sorensen.] organizing a world-culture series downstairs. I was having a difficult time arranging the quilts and John offered to assist me. As we worked, he told me about a project [Grace and Edith Abbott.], he was organizing in Grand Island Nebraska. [John is originally from Nebraska and has since written a book on the Abbot Sisters.] The more we spoke, the more we realized that the project would work well with a quilt component. We stayed in touch and once we realized that we could include the Sudanese girls the project took form. That was the beginning of the Quilt portion of The Quilted Conscience. That was five years ago perhaps four ago. He had been working on the Abbott project long before we met. It just so happened that the Sudanese children in Nebraska was a God sent. They were the immigrants we needed to work with.

KM: What a change between Sudan and Nebraska.

PH: Yeah. So now I am working on a series of quilts called "Africa on the Prairie" because when I had a week of residency with the Sudanese students in September the quilt workshop took place at Railroad Town at the Stuhr Museum on the Prairie Pioneer [a replica of a prairie homestead in Nebraska.] Actually, the TV movie "Sarah Tall and Plain" was filmed on this location. It was like someone transported us back to 1880's. We were in another world. To have all these Sudanese children in this setting was like having "African on the prairie." I thought, 'I need to do this,' and that is exactly what I am going to do. It is in the sketching stage.

KM: Very good. What advice would you offer someone starting out?

PH: To listen to your heart. To listen to the colors. Listen to nature and to be still sometimes. You can get a lot of energy and a lot of thought from fabric in front of you. Your ideas, your writings: just sit quietly and meditate on what you are going to do. Always listen to your heart and not be afraid to take chances with colors. Be not afraid that this is going to be your voice on cloth. Know that once you put it down you have to own it and say, 'Yes! I made this.' Even if the stitches are big. No matter what, own it! Once you own it, it becomes a part of you, and you would be amazed what you can do once own it. Ownership to work you are doing makes one less afraid to take chances.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

PH: It is hard to say. I guess it is different for each person. I think we are like ambassadors, so I think the biggest challenge would be for people to see us as ambassadors. Ambassadors to the world. Art can open doors. Art can do/say so much where words cannot. Quilt making is just such a wonderful thing. It is a living art form because the fabric breathes, it is alive. To be an ambassador through your art, through your quilt making, would be a great thing.

KM: You mentioned quilt making as an art. Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

PH: I don't even make a distinction. I really don't. I try not to put a label on it. I just do what I do. If some people, see it as art that is good. If some people, see it as an old art form that is fine also. That is the way they see. Children just see it as an extension of themselves and that, I think that is a good way to look at it.

KM: I think it is an excellent way to look at it.

PH: Little children, "little people" as I call them just see things differently. To be able to look through for mind and eyes of a child would bring such freedom. You don't need to think about anything else except for what is. "What is," is exactly what is seen.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

PH: I want to be remembered as someone who tried to make a difference or made a difference through working with children. I love working with them, so I want to be remembered for that. I really do, because the greatest thing in the world is at the end of a residency or somewhere during the middle of a residency these little people come to you, and they give you a big hug around the knees. It just melts you. You know that you have reached this little person. Those hugs around the knees are just wonderful.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

PH: I'm drawn to all artists to tell you the truth. When I go to an exhibition, I simply look at each piece as, as just another extension of that person. There are just too many for me to name; I simply love all works.

KM: How has your worked evolved? How has it changed?

PH: It has changed because of the way I am now working. I think it has changed because of my involvement with Elementary and Special Needs students. It has changed because I try to look through the eyes all students, especially students with special needs. I look at shapes differently, I look at colors differently. I'm unafraid now. Before I was not rigid, but I was not very free. I did a piece many years ago of myself walking with my mother and my grandmother in the woods. I used a lot of colors, and it was structured. If I had to do it again, today I probably would do the same thing. However, I would use different colors, but it would be the same brightness. It has evolved I think in that I might use pen and ink; I might use pastels on it, fabric paints on it. When I work on Crazy quilts, which I love because they make you want to touch them, I allow myself to add other pieces of fabric that normally I would not have. I have become unafraid, I think. I've become free in using various fabrics, buttons, beads, and things like that.

KM: Tell me about your love of Crazy quilts.

PH: I love them because they are just so rich looking. The textures of Crazy Quilts - the silks satins and even if you use cotton, allows you to be not only crazy, but also encouraging you to take all of these fabrics, objects, shapes, and manipulate them or don't manipulate them and just sew them as they are. Quite often, in the back of the psychic one knows what should be done. You know what you want a certain color to say, how you want to red to sort of run through as design - or you might work in all browns and all of a sudden you see a blue streak some place. I think when I work on a Crazy quilt is when I am getting ready to do, something that is very structured. I am not saying that Crazy quilts are not structure. Working on a Crazy quilt is like sweeping the yard so I can walk on the sand and leave my footprints. If that makes any sense.

KM: Oh, it does. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

PH: Colors. Color makes it speak. Walk into a gallery, color will say, 'Come over here and look at me. I'm over here.' It talks to you. It says to, 'Come closer. Can't you see me?' Color - also design. I did a workshop--actually it was a residency at an elementary school. The students were I think fourth graders. The theme was on color. There was one student who took only black and white fabric. I had black and white polka dot, stripes, geometric shapes etc. I said, 'You are only working with only black and white?' She said, 'Yes, can't you see how colorful this is? I know this is a color class but look at all these colors.' I said, 'Okay.' So, she worked on it and when she finished, I went over to look at her piece. I saw the color! I saw it in black and white. But it was so colorful! I would have never ever thought to think of black and white as being colorful, but she did it. I couldn't believe it - how she arranged those blocks and those stripes and other shapes to have all that color in black and white. I know that sounds really, really strange, but it happened with this student.

KM: What a wonderful testament that you did not try to control her.

PH: No, no, no, I never ever, ever do that. I had a workshop, not a workshop, I keep saying workshop, and I had a residency with these high school students. They were so rowdy. I don't particularly care for working in high schools. These students had to illustrate three books they had read and two of them were Edgar Allen Poe works; it was on madness. I felt like I was in madness because these students were like wild. [KM laughs.] They were screaming across the room throwing things. For the first time in my life, I found myself raising my voice and I couldn't believe that was me! I said, 'Oh my goodness I'm screaming, not screaming, but I'm yelling at these students.' I didn't yell at them about the design but did so because of their behavior. I said, 'Listen I know you don't want to be here, but I have something to say, give me respect. That is all I'm asking.' They got so quiet. They were like football players and here I am, five two telling these students to be quiet. Even the teacher looked at me as if to say, 'Oh my goodness this artist is going crazy.' I told them, 'You are the artist and when I leave here, what your block is going to look like is exactly how you acted out these next five days. I will not tell you what to design or control your use of color. This is the theme and I want you to design it.' It was some of the most magnificent panels. They couldn't believe their own work. This quilt [wall hanging.] was just so wonderful. It looked like madness, but it was still wonderful. [KM laughs.] It was wonderful madness. [PH laughs.] It was so incredible. I told them at the end, 'Poe would be very proud of you.' I wasn't being sarcastic or anything like that, but they did wonderful work. I never try to control a student design because that is what they are feeling. In the end, you always learn that yes you can put yellow and yellow, or yellow and dark yellow together and you can do this etc, because that is what they [young students.] do. They are still looking at things from a new level. They are new here, so they are seeing things with an open heart, with the eyes of an open heart and they put these things together. I learn. After each residency, I've learned something. It never fails. I always learn. They become the teachers.

KM: What a blessing you are.

PH: Oh, what a blessing these children are. They are just magnificent. Sometimes I come away and I just cried like a baby because they have given me those hugs around my knees. [I call it their "approval stamp."] They are so wonderful and when I look at their designs, I see math. I see English, I see history and I see a parts of their culture. That little [Sudanese.] girl whose grandparents were eaten by lions; I felt her pain. I learned from a child's sadness. I want to say one thing going back to the Sudanese students. We took them to the Omaha Zoo [Omaha Nebraska.]. A man [outside one of the exhibition houses.] had this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful unfortunately skin of a tiger. I never realized how large these animals were. He was telling people and the students who had now gathered around him [because they saw something from home.] 'This is an endangered species. Look at these colors look at this skin and look at this,' etc. One of little Sudanese girls said--I think she was 12. 'Yeah, he was so endangered that you took his skin!' I almost fainted. She asked, 'How did he die?' Of course, the man was taken back, he said, 'Of natural causes. We didn't kill him.' However, the disgust was still on the little girl's face. I was thinking, 'Goodness, gracious, out of the mouths of babes.' From children you can learn about the world. You can learn about yourself through art, through quilt making; is just a blessing. I am honored to be in their presence through quilt making.

KM: We have almost been talking 45 minutes, is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

PH: No, I think we touched on everything.

KM: You have been very good.

PH: Oh goodness, I'm always so worried about interviews because I tend to get too excited.
I just want to say everything all at once. So, I'm always talking and there are all of these other thoughts inside. Like colors, fabrics, all of these other thoughts are saying, 'Talk about me, talk about me.' Sometimes I talk about one thing, and I just run off and say something else.

KM: You are wonderful. You have to feel good about this. You did a great, great job. Seriously. I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it.

PH: I am just so excited; it is so wonderful. May I say one thing?

KM: Sure.

PH: When I first met the Sudanese girls, we were at the Edith Abbot Library.
KM: That is fine, you can do that.

PH: I walked in front of each one and I gave each one a good handshake and I said, 'I am pleased to meet you. Welcome to the program.' We started out with 19 and then we ended up with 13. I met them again in the schoolhouse, in that 1800 century village. If you could image, looking at Ethiopian art, all the eyes are looking to one side, but their heads are facing forward. The eyes are not looking straight out at you, all the always to the side. I think there is a reason. It is part of the culture. These students were not Ethiopian, but that is how they sat in front of me. They didn't look at me; all eyes were looking in the same directions to the side - heads facing me. I talked them from the platform in the old schoolhouse and as they were all looking to the side. I thought to myself, 'We are going to have such a wonderful time. I will see what those eyes are seeing. You will touch fabric that will excite you, you are going to explore all of these colors in your mind, and you will be able to say exactly what you want to say with your heart. It will be wonderful.' I need to say that to myself because it was so strange to stand in front of a people who were looking out of the corners of their eyes while their faces were forward, but it was okay. They were looking and I was looking at something that they were yet to do. A week later when we said goodbye, they were looking straight at me full face. We hugged and we kissed, and they told me they had a good time and I wanted to believe that they did, and I have pictures of that quilt that says so. I will find it online to share.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day and sharing with me. You were wonderful.

PH: Thank you.

KM: We are going to conclude our interview at 5:00.


“Peggie Hartwell,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 19, 2024,