Linda Pumphrey

Photos

NE68138-002PumphreyA.jpg

Title

Linda Pumphrey

Identifier

NE68138-001

Interviewee

Linda Pumphrey

Interviewer

Merikay Waldvogel

Interview Date

August 3, 2012

Interview sponsor

Empty Spools Seminars

Location

Omaha, Nebraska

Transcriber

Merikay Waldvogel

Transcription

Merikay Waldvogel (MKW): My name is Merikay Waldvogel and I am interviewing Linda Pumphrey at the headquarters of ACCUQUILT in Omaha, Nebraska on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm. This interview is part of Quilters Save Our Stories, a project of the Alliance for American Quilts. Linda, we are good friends and I am glad to have been chosen to do this interview.

Linda Pumphrey (LP): I am too.

MKW: Would you like first to talk about the quilt you brought?

LP: I can’t pronounce the name of it because I named it French words. In English – I don’t speak French—but it’s a French design and this is inspired from a trip I took to France based on a Marseilles quilt that I saw in England. The name is “Facets, French Flowers, and Birds.” That’s what is on it. I love whole cloth quilts and I love hand quilting. This quilt kind of shows all the things I love about quilts especially hand quilting. This quilt was really really really made on many airport floors. I would sit on the airport floor and a delay wouldn’t bother me because I got to quilt some more on the quilt. It was made for the purpose of entering it in IQA in Houston. I got it done and I didn’t like it. It needed something else. It actually sat in a box in the closet, probably the binding just had a few more stitches to put on it, for months. I was really disappointed because the middle basket did not pop for me. So one day on the way to Quilt Market in Portland I grabbed it out and said I’m going to work on it. I’d embroidery it and if I don’t like it, it’s okay because I didn’t like it before the plane trip so it went on the plane trip and I stitched for five hours on the way to Portand and Cincinnati and I got the middle done and I thought this is kind of working for me. I had several consultants at Quilt Market who said, “You should do more more borders and then at some point they said I should just stop. And actually the first needle and thread I started with was an embroidery pillow case. So the embroidery part goes back to my very first stitchery.

MKW: Do you think it’s a little odd that here you are at a company of patterns of pieced quilts and I know you love collecting pieced quilts and that here you made a whole cloth quilt and several other whole cloth quilts?

LP: Yes, it’s kind of our secret and now we’ve let it out.
[Laughter]

LP: We just blew that, but you can cut the strips with our cutter! But actually the other quilt behind it has 4500 half-squares and when I made that quilt it was before GO existed and I made the half-squares larger and then fussy-cut them down. I had to cut them all down so they were precise so all the corners matched. I would love to reproduce that now using the GO product line. So I wouldn’t have to cut them down because I really don’t like all that cutting.

MKW: You just mentioned that the first needle and thread you had in your hand was embroidery.

LP: Yes.

MKW: Do you remember how old you were?

LP: I was probably seven, eight, nine. I was really young. I still have those pillow cases.

MKW: They were pillowcases. What do you remember about quilts growing up.

LP: I slept underneath them. My mom and I disagree on this. [Mom laughs. Audience laughs] My mom and I have arguments about whether we slept under them, but I remember sleeping under quilts. My Grandma Pumphrey had quite a quilt collection of her mother-in-law like grandpa’s mother made them. So when they closed up the farm house, mom got eight of them. There’s one I really remember sleeping under. I did not get that one. It went to my sister-in-law because I felt she’d really appreciate that one. I have two of the Pumphrey quilts in my collection.

MKW: Where were you born?

LP: I was born in Scotts Bluff Nebraska. I’m a Nebraskan.

MKW: Where were you raised?

LP: Mostly in Nebraska. We did move to Colorado. My dad worked for Great Western Sugar so we would transfer to different plants as he got promotions and that type thing.

MKW: That’s beet sugar.

LP: Beet sugar, yes.

MKW: Where did you go to high school?

LP: I went to high school for three years inn Mitchell, Nebraska. Then I was an exchange student to Denmark for six months? [looking at her mother in the audience for confirmation}

Mother: Three

LP: For 3 months? It seemed longer!
[Laughter]

LP: When I came back, my family had moved to Chicago, Illinois and it seemed like a foreign country. Because I grew up in a school. 50, 30, 40 students were in my class. Where in Chicago, I was in a class of 500 so I felt completely lost.

MKW: So you weren’t a cheerleader, Student Council President or anything like that?

LP: No.

MKW: How would you describe . . .

LP: My high school?

MKW: No, you, as a senior, as a leader. Had you developed leadership skills?

LP: Well, yes in the first three years, but when I went to the bigger school, I really was lost. I actually am a high school dropout. Did you know that?

MKW: No.

LP: I dropped out for less than twelve hours because they told me I wouldn’t be able to graduate because I didn’t have Illinois State History. I only went to the school for three months at that point in Illinois and I thought if I can’t finish, I’d just go to college. I came home and my dad marched me back to high school and said, “You are going to finish high school.” So I finished high school. Yes, I was a high school drop out for just a short time.

MKW: And then what school did you go to?

LP: Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. It’s a fine art women’s college and that’s where my art really started to blossom a little bit and I did weaving.

MKW: Weaving.

LP: Yes, so the fibers continued on and then I graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with Art Education. Then I went to work for a collection agency.

MKW: A collection agency?

[Audience laughs]

LP: Because art was being taken out of the school system. Later I went back to get my MBA and my study partner was the daughter of the owner of Mountain Mist [Stearns & Foster Co. ?]. That’s how I got to Mountain Mist. One of the projects we had to do was do a marketing plan for a real live company so we decided to do a bank, work with a bank. It was United Bank out of Denver, Colorado and dang it if the guy didn’t have a heart attack the day before we started our semester. He said, “I can’t help you out” so Mountain Mist approached us. Stearns and Foster had approached us but they wanted us to do a marketing program for an incontinent product. We couldn’t get really excited about it.
[Audience laughs] So we said, “Is there any other product we can do for you?” Ensure Quilt Wash was the product we chose.

MKW: Quilt wash?

LP: Yes, quilt wash.
MKW: The Ensure product?

LP: Yes. We did a whole plan about the Ensure product line and then Mountain Mist flew me out to present the project. He said, “I have a job for you.” I said, “No, I want to live in Denver and I’m not interested.” I flew back. But he said, “Don’t take any other job. I’m flying through Denver.” That’s when you could get through security and he said, “Come talk to me.” He promised me I’d only have to travel for two years. And I’m still travelling.
[Audience laughs]

MKW: How old were you when you got that offer? You had an MBA and then

LP: Yes, I was 29.

MKW: You were 29 years old. What was it like working at this Stearns & Foster Co.?

LP: Well, when I worked at Stearns and Mountain Mist and joined the quilt industry, it was very much suits. It was all men especially in the textile side of it: the fabric, the thread and the batting because of the history of textiles in the United States. It really was just men so it was really interesting being a young lady trying to break through what we call that “glass ceiling” at that time, but I had some really strong mentors.
In fact, when I became national sales manager, one of my co-workers on the management team said, “You won’t work. This won’t last because we’ve never had a successful female manager in the company. I’m like, “Thanks for the support. I’m going to prove you wrong.
[Audience laughs]

MKW: Wow! What were your duties in the beginning?

LP: I was a sales person and had a certain territory and that lasted for a year and a half. Then I moved into national sales for Mountain Mist. Then basically it was my division to run throughout the company.

MKW: What was your proudest accomplishment there?

LP: Actually, as I look back on my tenure with Mountain Mist, I probably stayed with the company too long, but they had 200 quilts in the quilt collection and through Merikay [Waldvogel] I actually learned the value of that collection. We learned a lot of stories and found a lot of ephemera. Those quilts were my responsibility and why I worked for that company. They became part of why I loved working for Mountain Mist besides the customers and the people in the industry. I love this industry. They [the quilts] were part of the sexiness, the passion why I worked for that company. As long as I knew I could help move those quilts and protect those quilts, I stayed with the company. When there came a point where I knew I would not be able to rescue those quilts or save them, then I decided to leave the company.

MKW: Do you remember the story about Phoebe Edwards [1930s quilt spokesperson for Mountain Mist] and how you put that together?

LP: Merikay came and we were talking about Phoebe Edwards. We didn’t know if she was really a person or a mythical like “Betty Crocker.” We kind of suspected she was real, but we really didn’t know. We didn’t know if that was a pseudonym for Fritz Hook [the sales manager at the time] or what. We had vaults all over the building. It was built at the turn of the [20th] century and it had sub-basements. It was a great haunted house on Halloween. We didn’t have to do anything. The cobwebs were natural.
[Audience laughs] So Merikay kind of . . . I don’t think you [looking at Merikay, the interviewer] know the background story. Vicki [Paulus] said, “Merikay Waldvogel . . .” I said, “Who is she?” Vicki said, “She’s a quilt historian.” I’m like “Great.” Vicki said, “She’s coming to see us today.” It was a crazy busy day. I was in my bad mood that day and I said, “She gets fifteen minutes and she’s out of here!”
[Audience laughs] Isn’t that really nice? So then Merikay came and she started laying out these letters with Stearns & Foster letterhead and she asked us what this meant. And she piqued our interest. I think you [Merikay] were th
ere two hours?

MKW: Yes.

LP: So fifteen minutes turned into two hours and it has turned into 20+ years. So you’ve gotten your fifteen minutes’ worth.

MKW: Yes!
[Audience laughs]

MKW: I couldn’t believe the access you gave me, but I felt like you had gotten hooked on it [the history] and it was those quilts that you really . . .

LP: Yeah. Yeah. It was fun and we do that today. We put up a quilt in our collection at ACCUQUILT. You forget, I mean when they’re away in the cupboards, and then you bring them back out and you forget how fun and really beautiful that quilt is. But the Mountain Mist quilts, most of them were made in the 1930s and 1940s. We had some that went back earlier. The earliest one was 1846 which now are in Lincoln [at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum]. I get to see them in a couple weeks when they get out of quarantine, but . . . so it was fun when you would mount an exhibit to see those quilts and say “Man! They’re timeless.” To see how people reacted to them that many years later, seventy years later. It was really really fun, but we see that at the current quilts when we bring them out—how fun it is to see them again.

MKW: Finish the story about Phoebe Edwards.

LP: So Phoebe Edwards we didn’t know. So then I was in the vault and Merikay has this happen all the time so it really was Merikay’s “kahisma.” There were insurance books [ledgers] all over the vault where we kept the quilts. I was climbing up and I knocked a book on my head. That happens to you [Merikay] all the time. So it was really meant to be your “kahisma.”
I opened it up and I could see it was life insurance records from the 1930s and 20s. Sure enough there was a Phoebe Edwards Lloyd and Tom Lloyd. Tom Lloyd was one of the senior managements of the production side of the business. I kind of started asking. Charlie Mason had worked for the company over fifty years at that time [1995] so I went to him and I asked, “Who are these people?” He replied, “Who would know about this is the Personnel Manager. They know everything. Personnel knows everything about everybody in any company.” So if you ever want to know about a co-worker in your company, you can go to Personnel, HR [Human Resources]. So anyway, I called the HR person who had retired about twenty years before and she said, “Oh yes, Phoebe was allowed in the 1928, 29 era to come to work for Mountain mist because there was a cousin that worked there Tom Lloyd and she would be protected.”
So she came from a very up-scale family in Cincinnati. And then she then moved on to New York City. She was quite a creative person and never got married, but had a beau for all those years. She would do really fun things like tape record Merry Christmas greetings to her family and send out a record of that recording because tape recording hadn’t really started at that point.

MKW: In the photo [shown earlier on a Powerpoint slide show], we just showed Phoebe’s head, but there were two or three other people who were posed like some colonial look and she’s smiling broadly.

LP: Yes.

MKW: Smiling away! So there really was a Phoebe Edwards and once we identified her, we could see her in the advertisements. Like she’s the one working on a Dogwood quilt. You see the back of her head.

MKW: You did it!

LP: Then we also discovered Fritz [Hooker’s] daughter.

MKW: Oh yes.

LP: You called the daughter and got more information. I think she has a Mountain Mist quilt.

MKW: She has the Double Wedding Ring, I think. We should get it for [IQSCM]. Yes. Each one of those quilts was in a bag. Right?

LP: A plastic bag.

MKW: Plastic? Really?

LP: Yes, which was always really controversial, but yes, they would travel in plastic bags which, in a way, it was good because it kept the moisture out if a box was in the environment [the rain].

MKW: Moving onto something else. You have been involved in several non-profit organizations that support and promote quilt history, quilt making. How do you see non-profit organizations complementing, working with the business world?

LP: That’s a great question. Let me think about that.

MKW: It was AQSG [American Quilt Study Group], IQA [International Quilting Association] and AAQ [Alliance for American Quilts].

LP: Yes, I have a problem saying “No” to non-profit organizations, but I really feel . . . I love this industry. I’ve been in this industry for twenty-three years and I’ve gotten to see, especially with ACCUQUILT, the world. I get to see really fun things and meet wonderful wonderful people. I hear wonderful stories and by being on the non-profit Boards, it’s one way for me to give back to the industry (and to the quiltmakers) in which I’ve made by living. So that’s why I’m on the Boards. We talk about it in our meetings at work that every quilt does have a story and people do this not always because they want the end product, not always because they want the quilt. It’s the process, or the meaning, or the person they’re going to give the quilt to that’s more important. The story behind the quilt, you know, ” I made this because XYZ” and the non-profit organizations especially the historical ones are digging up and researching why quilting has been a mainstay of American art for so many years. Or why for contemporary quilters it is important to us today as contemporary quilters.

MKW: Where do you see the quilt industry going?

LP: I think we’re alive and healthy and will continue to grow. We have the Modern Quilt Movement that’s going onnow which I think is fun and exciting. Bringing in those younger quilts. In the quilt world an average quilter is in their mid 50s so a younger quilter could be a late 40-year-old [in our industry], but we’re seeing that revival even younger in the 30-year-olds and that type thing doing the quilting. So I think we haven’t tipped the end of the industry. Plus what technology is allowing us to do in the industry in making things simpler: quilt faster with the long-arms and that type thing. You know we all have busy lives so now we can get that product finished faster but still the enjoyment of making it for somebody or the process or the finished product itself.

MKW: You travel the world, in this job, promoting ACCUQUILLT products. Do you see quilting spreading wider and wider?

LP: Yes. It’s really interesting. The sewing machine companies tell us the fastest growing business is Russia.

MKW: Russia. Wow!

LP: So we [ACCUQUILT] haven’t quite made it to Russia but we hope to get there. I was in Germany for a trade show earlier this year. It was really interesting being in Germany. If it was a German person, they’d come up and speak German. I was with our German distributor and they were delightful. No problem, but if it was somebody from another country, we would speak English. I had no problem with that whole week because 90% of the conversation was in English because we saw French, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, you name all the Soviet-Union countries and a lot of South American that went into Europe for that show. So it was a really interesting mix to really see how quilting is growing internationally.

MKW: [Long pause] I had a question. Oh my gosh, I forgot it.

LP: That’s alright. I’ll tell you another story.

MKW: [Laughter] . . . another story.

LP: While you think of the question. China has just said that quilting is “an honorable profession.” I’m glad they finally caught up. [Audience laughs] So we’ll see quilting growing in China in the next years. We’ll be in China soon.

MKW: Tell us how you came to ACCUQUILT.

LP: Actually, I knew I was leaving Mountain Mist and when the quilt was made. 2008 was kind of my “pivotal” year in the quilting industry because there were two things I really wanted to do in my quilt life. One was to win an award at Houston. I really wanted the Founders Award. [Audience laughs.] I didn’t quite achieve it so I still have that goal to get, but I did win a prize with that quilt in Hand Merit Quilting. The other thing I really really really wanted to do . . . and I’m not a writer . . . was to put in the story of Mountain Mist in the AQSG’s Uncoverings. So my paper was accepted and my quilt was accepted. So my paper was published and my quilt won an award. 2008 was kind of my “pivotal” year. And at that time I was in conversation with ACCUQUILT. They had flown me out to meet the team. ACCUQUILT is kind of unique as a company. You have to get approval from everyone you interview with the management team. If one person says No, you don’t get to work at ACCUQUILT even if the owner says you’re a great person and he wants you to come work for him. If there is one person who says No, you can’t come. We’re really a team environment. I made it through every interview. They must have all given thumbs up. It’s been a great great move.

MKW: How much travelling do you do in this job?

LP: A lot. I have to reintroduce myself to my teammates every once in a while but we go a lot of places. ACCUQUILT has really grown internationally and so through ACCUQUILT, I’ve gone to Japan. I have gone to Germany. I’m leaving to England next week. This will be my third year. That’s probably one of the really really fun stories I’ve had in the last three years. The first year I was at ACCUQUILT, I was in the stand. They are called “stands” not “booths” in England and I was working like a dog—8 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night and I couldn’t take breaks. I didn’t eat lunch for two days which is okay. All I did was demo demo demo. I had more fun with the English ladies. I even picked up a few words so I could talk a little British there and say everything just right.
So I saw a lady kind of standing over in the corner and she obviously didn’t have the use of one arm. You could tell that it was disabled. She stood there for like forty minutes watching my demo over and over and over and usually it was like two or three people deep all around the stand. A person would leave and she’d inch a little closer, but she didn’t say anything, didn’t ask any questions. She finally made it up to the top. She said, “I’ve been watching you and I’m having a debate with my husband . . we’ve been watching it on YouTube. . . whether I could cut out my quilts using the GO.” She said, “My husband has to do it but he doesn’t do it the way I want him to do it, but you know . . . but that’s the only way I can get my quilt cut out. I love to sew. It’s my passion. We’ve been arguing. I’m trying to figure out if it can actually use the product and if it would help me cut out the product. I said, Well if you want to come around.” And you could tell she was really shy and couldn’t deal with a lot of people in the stand. I asked, “How long are you planning to be here?” She said, “I can stay all day.” And I said, “Why don’t you come right back before the end of the show and the crowd will be less. You and I can kind of have a one-on-one and we’ll try it out and see if it will work for you.” And so she comes back right at 5 o’clock at the end of the show and there’s a couple people, but she really wanted to test it out. So we figured out how she could cut out. She ran through some strips. Cut Out Some Strips was the board we were playing with. Tears just rolled down her face. She said, “I can cut out my own quilts again.

MKW: Wow!

LP: I was boo-hooing too. Tears were running down my face. Everyone thought we had lost it at that point. She said, “I’ll bring my husband back tomorrow.” So they come up. She’s all smiley. He’s like “Pick out the dies you want. Here’s the product.” He pulled me to the side and he said, “I want to thank you. This is the first evening I’ve had my wife back again since the accident.”

MKW: Wow!

LP: He said, “She hasn’t been the wife I married and last night she was. She had that confidence back and she could do the passion that she loved. She found her “mojo” again.” So they FACEBOOK me every year. I’ve already told them I’m coming to England next week or in a week and a half. I’m sure they’ll stop back to see me again. So she’s my buddy in England.

MKW: You collect quilts, don’t you?

LP: Ummm. A few. They collect me.

[Audience laughs.]

LP: When I worked for Mountain Mist, we had 200 articles in the collection. I always said I already had a collection. I didn’t need to collect, but they kept following me home. I wasn’t sure how that happened, but they just followed me home. Now my collection is larger than the one at Mountain Mist. So we have a few quilts hanging at ACCUQUILT right now. I decided early on . . . I collected a Princess Feather. It was pink and green. I’m not a pink-and-green person, but I love appliqué and it was a 1940s.
First of all, I started collecting tops, orphan tops. And they had to be ugly. The uglier they were . . . and I would not pay more than fifteen dollars for them.Well, then as the salary increased, I was able to buy and get a little more appreciation. So I still love my ugly tops. One went through a fire. It has feedsack with frying eggs on it. It has Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini in the frying egg pan.
MKW: Oh no.

LP: So it’s a really special top. It’s really ugly.
[Audience laughs.]

LP: Then these quilts kept following me home, but the closets were getting full and like I have two nieces that I’m really really close to. They would come for Aunt Linda Camp every summer. They would get to spend two weeks with Aunt Linda. We would travel the world too, but the one niece likes to open doors and she saw the quilts one day. She would say, “We don’t want to inherit all these quilts. You’re spending our inheritance.”
[Audience laughs.]

LP: I’m like it’s my own money now and you will learn to appreciate these quilts because you’re going to have a few of them. But the quilts I collect now are made of really small pieces. The more obsessed the person was, the more I like that quilt.
[Audience laughs.]

MKW: Well I think back to your senior year in high school might . . .although it was hard, you overcame something.

LP: My drop out.

MKW: Your drop out. And that foreign exchange time in Holland.

LP: Denmark

MKW: Yes, Denmark. Although you may not have liked it, you began to travel the world. . . you did like it?

LP: I loved Denmark.

MKW: You loved it.

LP: Yeah. I actually lived with two families when I was in Denmark. One was in town and owned a paper and tobacco shop and sold lottery tickets, race tickets, some kind of gambling. The mother did not speak English so if we wanted to converse, she gave me the Danish-American dictionary and I had to look up the Danish word and convert it to English. So we had really slow conversations. When I first got there I got really really sick from the water so I was bedridden for like two weeks and the doctor would come in and say I was still alive. The first couple days, she sat by my bed and crocheted a bikini for my exchange sister. Now the bikini top each half was about this big. [With her hands she shows how small it was.] Like an equilateral triangle. In Denmark they have nude beaches so she was really well-clothed. Then I got one too in red and white the colors of the Danish flag. I still have it. My mom would never let me wear it once I got back to the United States. [Audience laughs.] You know the song “Itty Bitty Teeny Bikini”? I think we found it.

MKW: Linda, this has been a very interesting interview. I’ve learned a lot about you and I’m glad you agreed to share your stories and your life with Quilters Save Our Stories (QSOS) for the Alliance for American Quilts.
The time now is 8:48. That’s the end. Thank you.
[Applause]

Collection



Citation

“Linda Pumphrey,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 16, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2218.