Judy Busby




Judy Busby




Judy Busby


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



Clifton, Virginia


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Judy Busby. Judy is in Clifton, Virginia and I'm in Naperville, Illinois so we are conducting this interview over the telephone. Today's date is March 24, 2009. It is now 9:09 a.m. Judy, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me. Please tell me about your quilt "Indigofera Tinctoria."

Judy Busby (JB): My quilt "Indigofera Tinctoria" is created for the Healing Quilts in Medicine. The leaflets and branches of the Indigo plant have a beautiful dye and people have used it all over the world to color textiles and clothing for many, many years and centuries. Years ago, in traditional medicine in India and China, it was used in the treatments that we would call epilepsy, liver disease, and psychiatric illnesses and because this is for Healing Quilts, I chose this plant. The chemical compound from it is used to treat leukemia and different synthetic derivatives are being used in clinic trials in Europe and the United States. My mom's [Nancy Barbara Grace Cole Weltchek.] godchild [Nancy Amerio.] was very ill with leukemia. I think that leukemia patients now could be helped from the medicine from Indigofera Tinctoria that I depicted in my quilt. I got involved with the Healing Quilts in Medicine because a quilt teacher of mine had a vision and a dream that she would choose her favorite artists- her students. We would together create quilts and donate them to a local hospital. They are all being shown now at the Army--[pause.]

KM: Walter Reed.

JB: Walter Reed [Army Medical Center.]. Even though they are changing the place of the hospital, the quilts will be going to the new location. I got involved because of Judy House and her vision.

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style.

JB: This quilt is a little bit different than my style; however, I created it as I normally create my own quilts. I am a painter. I paint with acrylics and oils. I really thrived in college where I just loved being able to create art. I used that basis to create a canvas and then build upon my canvas. I start with a background and then I build upon it. This [quilt.] is a little bit different because it is about a plant versus something that I discerned out of my mind. This was a specific plant that I wanted to recreate.

KM: It is 21inches by 23 7/8 inches. Is that a typical size for you?

JB: I seem to love 30 [inches.] by 30 [inches.]. I do many of them 30 [inches.] by 30 [inches.], but I do various sizes as well. Because canvases come in different shapes, I get involved with different shapes and different ideas. Also, there are prerequisites if I plan to create something for a show. They may have an example of a size that I should use, therefore that would direct me to the different size.

KM: Did Healing Quilts in Medicine have a size requirement?

JB: They had a small, medium, and large requirement. I chose the smallest [size.].

KM: Is the quilt permanently, be permanently with the Walter Reed Army Hospital?

JB: That is correct. It is presented in a Lucite cover that is very easy to clean in a hospital environment. Our group put together the covers. We sewed the quilt to a black background and put it into the Lucite covering. It was quite involved, but delightful as a group.

KM: Do Artist Statements go along with the quilt?

JB: Yes, they do.

KM: There is an Artist Statement. What was the purpose for creating, or beginning the project Healing Quilts in Medicine?

JB: Judy House had the vision of this. She was battling breast and ovarian cancer at the time when she started this project. She had always wanted to do something special [for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.]. Judy gathered us all together and said, 'Would you like to be a part of this?' Because we love her so much, we said, 'Of course, we would love to do this.'

KM: When did this occur?

JB: This was in the summer of 2005.

KM: What other projects have you done with the group?

JB: From this group I started a new group. After Judy's death, I wanted to go forward with her ideas and her visions. I founded a new group called Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends. Most of us belong to the Judy House's Healing Quilts in Medicine group. We do have a few people who were not involved. As time went on a few other people joined our group. We are going forward with her vision and with her passion. We inspire and nurture creativity in each other.

KM: What have you done with Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends?

JB: I am very excited about the group. We have really grown. We have shown our quilts nationally. We've become known as a wonderful fiber artist group. We women have shown our quilts as a group in the Mancuso Shows. We have exhibited at Hampton [and other venues across the country.]. It is just so exciting. I'm just thrilled with the fact that we are growing together, and we are inspiring each other as we go along. We have the essence of Judy House at our core which makes us really excited.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

JB: As a little girl my grandmother and mother sat me down and said, 'As a New England young lady, you must learn how to quilt.' Of course, I loved it from the first stitch I took. I have been quilting, sewing and creating art my whole life. I've found that I've grown and incorporated my love of painting into the quilt world. A lot of times I paint, dye fabric and include those painted items in my artwork, which is exciting to me. I've been doing this for many, many years and it is part of who I am. One of my friends said, 'Judy, you live your life as an artist,' and that was the most wonderful compliment she could have given me.

KM: You think of yourself as an artist then, not a quiltmaker?

JB: I feel I am an artist, and I am using the gift of being an artist as a quiltmaker. I also do stained glass and I still continue my painting on canvases as well. My main focus at this time and my main passion at this time is using the fiber art in creating the art quilts.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about your creative process. Do you sketch things out ahead of time?

JB: What I usually do is I think about something for a while. I may sketch it out or I may just choose a piece of prepared-for-dying fabric and draw it on the fabric. So, it is not really sketched on a piece of paper, it is a drawing on fabric of a quilt that I am already beginning. As things evolve that would become one part of it. Before I put things together, I make a canvas. I have the backing and part of the front design. Then I build upon that design and create the art quilt using fabrics and beads and embellishments and part of the drawings and paintings that I have had on different fabrics. I include that on top and I build it as if I'm using all of these fabrics as paint.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JB: My favorite is using the acrylic paints with textile medium. We are so blessed to have all of the fabrics available to us today, that is just incredible. We have shops full of amazing material that we can use. That makes the pallet available to us, very, very valuable. I also love to put in embellishments and beads on my work. It adds sparkle and pizzazz. I love using the metallic threads because the light catches on the thread and brings a little sheen to the area.

KM: What techniques did you use for "Indigofera Tinctoria"?

JB: I used the metallic thread. I used beading to enhance the different levels of the flower. I also had a little bit of a 3-D effect. I didn't adhere everything flat to the top of the canvas or the art quilt. I had little pieces of the leaves jut out a little bit so that you can see the 3-D effect. This was a landscape so the different fabrics in the landscape just gave you a different look of the hills that are closer and further away. I used the metallic thread for the sheen as well. A little bit of paint was used to just highlight the color of the flowers- just little dabs here and there. It was mostly the fabric; however, I used some paint to enhance it a bit.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JB: [laughs.] I quilt many, many hours a week. So many hours, it is just wonderful. [both laugh.] My husband, Chuck and my son, David are very, very supportive of me. They don't mind when they are talking to me in the evening if I do not always engage their eyes. I will look up every once in a while, when we are talking, however if I am busy sewing, cutting, creating, they are supportive and happy for me. I quilt morning, noon, and night as much as I can, and I just love it. I love it, it is my passion. For instance, one day I turned around and my son was eating something that he had heated up in the microwave. He was holding his plate and eating happily and chatting with me. I asked, 'David, why aren't you sitting down?' and he said, 'Mom, look.' I looked around I realized I was at the process point of this particular art project. I was choosing material and every single part of my home that was visible was covered with different pieces of material. There was no place for him to sit down. There was no place for him to sit and eat comfortably. [KM laughs.] He just laughed and I said, 'Oh my goodness, how did this happen?' [laughs.] That is one of the most fun parts of creating when you have things just everywhere and you are choosing. It is much easier if you have paint because you are sitting, and you can create [colors of.] paint on a pallet. However, with fabrics you must have them draped everywhere in order to see them and feel them and choose. But as I say, my family is very supportive, and they love me through it and encourage me.

KM: That is very nice.

JB: Yes. [laughs.]

KM: Do you work on one thing at a time, or do you have multiple projects going?

JB: I have multiple projects going; however, the passion of one or another will hit me. I will work on the one that I just feel excited about. If I'm stressed because of another reason, the family or if I'm thinking about other things that are going on in different parts of my life, I may work on several different things which would be basic things versus the creativity. However, if I am really in stress, I work vehemently and just really get into it.

KM: Describe your studio.

JB: My studio is a small room. As you walk into the house it is to the right. It is a nice little room. When we first purchased the house, it was a very fancy room with formal wallpaper, formal chairs and a big, beautiful bookcase. When I looked at it I was delighted to think, 'Oh, we will paint the walls white and will have my art supplies in here. All my fabric in here.' It worked wonderfully. There is a great big window that is the whole front part of the studio. I have just enough room to work happily there. However, I also use the rest of the house as my studio when I am in different levels of a project. I bring everything with me all over the place.

KM: Do you have a design wall?

JB: I have a small design wall in my art room; however, I use the family room wall whenever I need it. I place it in the living room area and am able to see it and look at it during family time. That changes quite a bit, because whatever I'm working on, I may put it up to look at it for a while if I have to think about it. I also have several easels throughout the house and sometimes I'll set up a small design area there so as I walk by, I am able to look at it and think about it. There are several works in progress around the house.

KM: Where do you store your fabric?

JB: I have my fabric in the art room.

KM: How do you store it?

JB: At the moment, it is neatly folded in colors on a nice white shelf.

KM: I take it that it doesn't stay that way.

JB: When I drape it all over the house [both laugh.] it gets discombobulated for a while but then I control myself and fold them back up and put them where they belong.

KM: Is there any aspects of quiltmaking that you don't enjoy?

JB: When I send my artwork off to be in a show, I tend to get a little bit nervous. I'm wondering if I will ever see it again, so I just have to steal myself and think I have a photograph of this artwork and [say] goodbye. That is slightly nervous time, just seeing it go off in the mail.

KM: I know that you belong to Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends; do you belong to any other art or quilt groups?

JB: Yes, I do. I'm very excited to share that I was just approved as a Professional Artist Member of the Studio Art Quilt Associates. I sent in my resume and a CD of ten of my quilts and all of the documentation that was needed, and they just accepted me as a professional artist member.

KM: Congratulations.

JB: Thank you, I was just accepted this week. I'm delighted. I sent a quilt called "Thanks Miracle Grow" to the Studio Art Quilt Associates' "A Sense of Humor." They accepted it this last week as well. I am very thankful that was accepted as a quilt to be shown in their exhibition.

KM: You've had a good week.

JB: I know, this is wonderful. [laughs.] Yes, God has blessed me with this wonderful week. [laughs.]

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JB: The first artist I can always think of is [Pierre-Auguste.] Renoir. As a child my mother and I would go to the Boston Museum of Arts about once a month. We would go right in to see the Renoir exhibit and then we would sigh together. Then we could see anything else that they might have. I feel drawn to Renoir's work because of the gentleness and because of the exquisite way he uses color. I love drawing people. Once I discovered I could draw people in my art class in college, it just set me on fire for working and delving into the art world. I'm just thrilled. I think of my mom, and I think of Renoir and that just makes me smile.

KM: Anyone else?

JB: Strangely enough I think of Paul Klee and [Pablo.] Picasso with his Cubism and strange views. I just love artists. I love art. My husband and I have a book that we look at every single day. It is called "A Year in Art" which has a painting for] each day. Every morning, he turns the page, and we discuss the artist. We see what [the] art is for that particular day. We try to incorporate new art in our life, rather than just going to our old favorites. That is just kind of an exciting way.

KM: Do you have other people's art in your home?

JB: I do. I have a beautiful piece of artwork from Donna Desoto. She is a fellow artist who is in Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends. She gave me a piece of her artwork that is very abstract. When she showed it to me it reminded me of metallurgy. My father was a metallurgist and I just loved it so much. The following Christmas, she gave it to me which was just incredible. I have Monet in the house and my son is an artist as well. He is a songwriter and [radio.] producer. David also does paintings. I have a lot of David's paintings here. My husband is a photographer. We have the house full of amazing photography that Chuck has created. I have lots of my own work on the walls. When we first moved into this home, there were many, many white walls and many windows. The windows are now full of stained glass, which makes me thrilled. It was my passion to get the windows full of them. The walls have many of my quilts on them.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

JB: My advice would stem from my professor, Mr. [Frank.] Machek at Albion College in Michigan. He looked at us as new students and said, 'Just go for it. Have faith in yourself. Don't worry about anything. Just go for it. Push yourself and enjoy!' He used to tell us that we could all be artists if we wanted to. I truly believe him. I was blessed because I heard this message from my grandfather, my father and my mother. I felt as if I were an artist my whole entire life. However, some people have to have other people tell them that as well. This professor seemed to set us all on fire with a passion. He has helped so many young people grow and have faith in themselves. If we view a blank canvas, all we have to do is just relax and begin.

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

JB: I think overcoming the fear is the biggest challenge. I think so many people feel afraid of sending their artwork in, seeing if people will have them included in an exhibition. I think that a lot of fantastic artists have beautiful art works in their homes. It would be wonderful if the artist would have faith in themselves and make the next step having their artwork shown somewhere so other people can see them as well.

KM: What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JB: I think a quilt should have many dimensions to it. When a person walks closer and closer and closer to the quilt, he can see more and more details and more and more items that will be of interest. If you are pulled right up to the quilt, you can notice the fine beading and the subtleties that will draw a person in to take a little bit more time to be involved with your artwork.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

JB: I would love to be remembered as an artist who tried to share her thoughts and dreams and passions with others.

KM: Why is it important for you to keep Judy's vision alive?

JB: Judy House is one of the most amazing women I've ever met. She was kind and loving and creative. She touched me as a passionate artist who wanted to share her qualities and her joy of life and joy of creating with her students. She was a teacher and a friend. I wanted to share that and keep her passion alive and ongoing because she is such a gift to our world. She also just encouraged us to grow in our own way. She was not critical. She was kind and inspiring. I wanted our group to incorporate her ideas and her visions. We wanted to share our work and express our passion for the textile medium and get it out in the world so we would be seen and so we would continue what she started.

KM: Why was becoming a professional member of SAQA important to you?

JB: This was so important to me because it has always been a dream of mine to be a professional artist and this was a validation and I couldn't help but think that my professor, Mr. Machek would be proud of me. I can just feel my parents, Joe and Nancy Weltchek beaming down at me. [laughs.] They always had faith that I would be a professional artist and they knew I could do it if I tried. I am thoroughly delighted with this honor.

KM: What are you working on right now?

JB: Right now, I'm working on a project for BioArtography which is through the Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends for the University of Michigan in the Brehm Center. This is using scientific photographs that researches have taken. We have permission to use their scientific photographs and to reproduce them in our artistic way as an art quilt. They are just wild and wonderful photographs. I'm inspired and excited by the difference of the photographs versus something that I would never think of myself.

KM: How did this come about?

JB: Lisa Ellis introduced us to this opportunity. The Brehm Center is in Michigan [connected.] with the University of Michigan. She is involved with the center with her father. They gave us the opportunity to create the art quilts for them.

KM: Will these quilts become a permanent part of their collection?

JB: Yes, they will.

KM: Is it difficult to give these quilts away? You talked about how you were fearful when you put them in the mail. So is it difficult to give them away?

JB: In a way it is difficult because my favorite quilt that I had ever made was one of the BioArtography quilts called "Fire in Her Eyes." The photographer [and researcher.] was Rebecca Bernados, a graduate student of the Neuroscience Program at the University of Michigan [Center for Organogenesis.]. It is truly a dynamic photograph and creating it was just wonderful. After hundreds of hours, I just truly loved the vision of this quilt and the pizzazz of this quilt with the bright blues and sparkles and bright red [colors.]. It was difficult at first to think about giving it away; however, I am so thankful that it is there as a part of their permanent exhibit. I feel very passionate about the opportunity of showing my quilts there and having them there. I am not at all sad to have them there. I'm truly honored.

KM: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the exhibits that you have donated, like to the Walter Reed and the University of Michigan?

JB: We have gotten very positive feedback. It has been wonderful. Our quilts have been received in a positive manner. We know that we are helping people feel confident. The Healing Quilts in Medicine quilts are right in the hospital where people can see them. It is just incredible. When people are ill and when family members are in stress, looking up at an art quilt can just take your mind away for a moment and make you feel a little bit better. Knowing that has been wonderful. We've gotten positive feedback from many different people.

KM: What are your plans for the future?

JB: For the Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends, our plans are to continue to create quilts for the BioArtography, for the Cancer Ward and for the Brehm Center. All are parts of the University of Michigan Hospital. We will continue to create art quilts for them.

KM: How many members are in Fiber Arts @ Loose Ends?

JB: There is a dozen of us.

KM: Where are they located?

JB: We are located in northern Virginia and Maryland-mostly northern Virginia. We meet one time a month. We work together. We support one another. We are always thinking about what our next venue may be. There is a lot of encouragement, and we are a very close-knit group. We care about each other very much and we help each other grow.

KM: Why is quiltmaking important to you?

JB: Quiltmaking is vital to me because it is using my artistic talents in such a gentle way. When I'm creating stained glass, it is a totally different medium with sharp edges, sharp glass, lots of chemicals and a lot of time dealing with various parts of the process. With art quilting, you have soft fabrics. [laughs.] It is just much easier on your body creating art quilts. That is one very big positive thing about the fiber artist. I like the fact that you can incorporate the painting which I love with the art quilts. It is such a wonderful way to really use the ideas in your mind and in your heart and have them turn into something that looks pizzazzy.

KM: What is your first quilt memory?

JB: My first quilt memory is sitting on the couch next to my grandmother and she was teaching me how to appliqué, turning the edges under and taking neat stitches. She was very proud of me and that made me very, very happy.

KM: How old were you?

JB: I think I was about five years old.

KM: What do you find the most pleasing about quiltmaking?

JB: I think I really love the fact that you can start with a blank canvas and after hundreds of hours you have something that you've put so much of yourself into that it actually works. The artwork is actually there, and it evolves as you first start. It evolves into something that you can really love. I love the whole creative process of it.

KM: Is there anything that you would like to share that we haven't touched upon before we conclude?

JB: I would like to share the fact that people should just reach out and start being an artist if they have that thought in their heart, because we can all do it. Every single person can be an artist if they want to be. I taught Kindergarten for years and as I spoke to my children I would say, 'You are artists. You can start now.' Once you tell these children, 'Believe in yourself,' the little children look up and believe in themselves. They create amazing art works. I think adults sometimes don't have as much faith in themselves. If a person just has a desire, even a tiny bit of desire, all he needs to do is give himself permission to create. Just give yourself permission to use the time and your energy and you can be an artist.

KM: I think that is a nice way to conclude our time together, don't you?

JB: Thank you very much.

KM: I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to talk to me and we are going to conclude our interview at 9:50.


“Judy Busby,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2017.