Cindy Cooksey




Cindy Cooksey




Cindy Cooksey


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date



Irvine, California

Interview indexer

Emily Bianchi


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Cindy Cooksey. She is in Irvine, California and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are doing this interview by telephone. Today's date is March 5, 2008 and it is 1:11 in the afternoon. I am doing a special Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project based on the exhibit "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece" and Cindy has a quilt in the exhibit called "Gaps." Thank you for doing this interview with me, and tell me about your quilt.

Cindy Cooksey (CC): I was kind of sitting on the fence about whether to participate in Ami's project, and what got me going was she said we are going to try to be on Oprah. [laughs.] That is what got me going. I only had a few months. I had some leftover hexagons from a Grandmother's Flower Garden project, not a traditional project, because I'm an art quilter, but anyway I had some hexagons left over. I thought, well, I could do Grandmother's Flower Garden flowers except with gaps in them, to be a metaphor for the gaps in memories of Alzheimer's patients. That is what I did, and I have a little picture of my grandmother in it because she had Alzheimer's, and she had a flower garden, so Grandmother's Flower Garden blocks all kind of ties it together. After I did the quilt I was surprised: it got back to Ami that somebody thought that I was depicting brain cells. These were like brain cells of Alzheimer's patients. I hadn't really thought of that. I was tickled that somebody had that interpretation of the quilt.

KM: I have to agree with that actually.

CC: I do now that I look at it. [laughs.]

KM: Is this typical of your work? If somebody were to look at this, would they think that you made it?

CC: It is typical of my work in that it is colorful. I like bright colors. Most of my work is not really traditional, so I wouldn't want people to think that I do a lot of traditional blocks. I mainly like appliqu. But I did get hooked on making hexagons, so I do have a kind of series of contemporary type hexagon quilts.

KM: There is also stitching on here, was that done by hand?

CC: Yes, that was done with pearl cotton thread. That is something I have in most of my quilts for the past maybe ten years or so, I've been doing that.

KM: Using the quilt--

CC: The buttons too.

KM: It is machine quilted?

CC: Yes it is.

KM: And you have buttons on it too.

CC: Yes, just a few.

KM: Is there any significance to the buttons?

CC: No not really, I put a lot of them in my quilts, just to add a little texture I guess.

KM: Have you seen the exhibit?

CC: Yes, I saw the exhibit in I believe it was 2006 in Ontario, California. I think that is the only time it is scheduled to be in southern California. Even though it is an hour and a half drive from my house, I had to go see it. I actually worked at it for the afternoon. It was a really moving experience, because I talked to a lot of people. I'm kind of shy, but these people felt the need to talk. I noticed some people just kind of whizzed by it like they didn't want to see, just didn't want to face this Alzheimer's topic, but for the ones who did stop, there were tears. We had a box of Kleenex handy. There were people talking about 'my neighbor,''my father,''my sister.' One person in a wheelchair even said, 'gosh, I just found out that I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.' What do you say to somebody like that? It runs in my family too, so I tried to say something sympathetic like 'Oh gosh, I understand. I may be going that way myself.' It was a beautiful exhibit. Beyond the interaction with the people who saw it, the quilts are just beautiful. There is a wide variety of styles, and quilts from all over the country and I'm just so glad that I got to see it.

KM: Any favorites?

CC: Favorites, well the one with the fading photographs of the woman, that is a favorite, and that seemed to be the one that a lot of people commented on. Another one was the bleeding heart.

KM: The beads?

CC: The beads, yeah.

KM: Liz Kettle's.

CC: I'm not sure of the name.

KM: It is Liz Kettle's quilt.

CC: That is a nice one. Beautiful. So many of them are really great.

KM: Have you participated in Priority Quilts? That is the other part of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative.

CC: I did participate in that I bought a quilt near the beginning, at one of the first couple of auctions that she had. I bought a little quilt by Betty Donahue from Talladega, Alabama. I just liked it. In a way it reminds me of what I did for the Alzheimer's project in that it starts out as a traditional star block in miniature, and then it's got a couple of points missing. There are six blocks that steadily are deteriorating so at the end you only have a couple of little triangles left. I just liked it, and I have it hanging on my refrigerator.

KM: What are your plans for your quilt when it comes back?

CC: I hadn't really thought about that. It seems like a long time from now, 2009, 2010. I hadn't thought ahead.

KM: That is okay.

CC: I'll exhibit it locally if anybody wants to see it around here, because it really didn't get shown much in southern California.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

CC: I have been quilting since about 1989. During a trip to Hawaii I kind of got hooked on the Hawaiian quilting. I started with pillows, and then somebody gave me lessons, taught me how to really do it, [laughs.] so I got hooked on the appliqu and the hand quilting. The person who taught me from the outset, she showed me a book of other kinds of quilts besides Hawaiian, and I thought wow, it really excited me. It was like another world out there that I wasn't aware of. And I saw Michael James'quilts; wow, I hadn't seen anything like that before, back in 1991 I think it was. She told me about the local guild, and I practiced my appliqu and my quilting for about six months, because I wanted to be good enough. I was worried they might reject me if I wasn't good enough. Of course it didn't matter, that was not the case, but anyway I did join the guild and I've been a member ever since, and since then I've--sorry to stop and start.

KM: That is okay, that is how we talk.

CC: [laughs.] I started out exploring the different kinds of quilting available, some piecing and some appliqu, and I just figured out I really liked the appliqu. I've always designed my own quilts. I don't really do patterns or too much traditional. I like to do my own designs. I have an artist background so I think I have evolved a lot since I began with the Hawaiian quilting. I do mostly machine quilting now. I like the hand quilting, but it is bad on my joints. I'm getting arthritis. The good thing about machine quilting is you get more done faster. I don't know what else you want to hear.

KM: Whatever you want to tell me. Do you belong to any other groups besides the guild?

CC: Yes, I joined a lot of other groups, there is Quilts on the Wall, that is a southern California art quilt group, and I belong to Cut Loose Quilters: that is a group up in Orange that is a little more local to me; we do a lot of collaborative things. Right now we are working on mixed media collage journals or books, that we are passing around and everybody adds a couple of pages, so that is a lot of fun. I'm enjoying that. It is really different from the quilting, although I'm using some of the same skills. I'm having a lot of fun with that. I belong to SAQA [Studio Art Quilts Associates.] I'm a PAM [Professional Artist Member.] member, and I belong to Quilt Visions. I was in Visions in 2002, that is one of the things I'm proud of, and in 1996 I was first runner up for something called Artistic Expressions, it was sponsored by Quilter's Newsletter [Magazine.] and I got to go to France to accept my prize, so that was exciting.

KM: Tell me about going to France.

CC: The prize money kind of paid for my trip, so that is how that worked out, and I never really done much traveling by myself, so it was scary but exciting, although one of my friends met me there. She said 'why don't you go to France and I will room withyou.' That is how that worked. It was in Lyon, France. I had been there once before, I had been a couple of years previous to that, and the Quilt Expo [Patchwork and Quilt Expo.] was in 1996, I think I mentioned. It was very exciting. I met some quilters from all over the world and saw a couple of people that I already knew. Lura, she won the prize that year. She was first prize and I was runner up right behind her. I knew her because she was also from California and we had a mutual friend. I also met people from Germany and France and Japan, I got to meet a lot of people. It was really exciting. I got to go up on the stage and get my prize and shake somebody's hand. It was great. One other thing I might mention about my quilting in general is that I have sold some patterns. I think in the mid-1990's a friend of mine said 'that would make a really great pattern'and so she did the business part of it, and she still has the business, Jukebox. Her name is Kelly Gallagher- Abbott and she still sells my patterns. I've done maybe ten overall, but there are maybe five or six that are still selling.

KM: You are not doing that anymore?

CC: Off and on.

KM: I think it is probably true of all of us.

CC: I think that there have been a couple more things that she says, 'oh yeah that would make a great pattern,'but she hasn't gotten around to it. So no, I haven't done many patterns lately, although I was in a book that came out late last year called "Embellished Mini Quilts" and it is sort of like doing a pattern, because I did the directions for the two quilts of mine that were in it. The book was by Jamie Fingal and she wrote it. Wrote the copy and there were maybe ten artists in it, so that was a lot of fun.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why? You mentioned Michael James.

CC: That was back in 1991.That was when I was unfamiliar with anything. Yvonne Porcella because she is so colorful.

KM: She also has a lot of humor.

CC: Yes, and that is the thread that runs in a lot of my quilts, not all of them but I think most of them have some sort of humor or whimsy in them. I am drawing a blank.

KM: That is okay. Describe your studio for me.

CC: It is a mess right now. [laughs.] I have actually a very nice space upstairs in my house. When we first moved here, we moved here in 1985 and originally it was an art studio. I wasn't quilting then, I was an artist, I was doing pen and ink drawings at the time, so it was a pretty spare little room with a drafting table desk and a little tiny set of drawers for my supplies. And since then with the quilting [laughs.] it has gotten very full, I also have a computer in there and some computer stuff too. I have a Bernina machine, and it is a real mess right now, because I'm in the middle of a project which I'm trying to get done by the end of March so I have fabric all over the place on the floor, little scraps of it. I'm doing something for the "Surf's Up" special exhibit that is going to be at the Quilt Festival in Long Beach in July. That is what I'm doing right now.

KM: Why the move from fine art to textile art?

CC: Because several years I was a pen and ink artist, mainly black and white art, and I think after maybe fifteen years of that I got really tired of no color. I really, really needed some color in my life. I tried ceramics and that was good, I enjoyed that too, but I really wasn't good on the wheel, I was kind of limited to doing things by hand, and things didn't always turn out the color that I wanted and things like that, and I sort of fell into the quilting after that trip to Hawaii. At first I didn't really plan on getting into it, it was just sort of a mindless activity. I was having a little stress in those years because my kids were both teenagers and I found that quilting was very soothing and kind of calmed me down. [laughs.] That is really how I got started. I really wasn't thinking about the art, applying art to my quilting right away. It just evolved. [laughs.]

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make the distinction?

CC: Yes, I consider myself a quilt artist. I considered myself to be an artist for a long time before I was a quilter, and I'm still an artist, and right now I guess I'm a quilt artist.

KM: What advice would you offer somebody starting out?

CC: In quilting? Well, I actually have some friends who are starting out. The great thing about quilting is that it is a smorgasbord. There is something for everybody for sure. It seems like a lot of the friends I knew in high school or college or when my kids were little, they'll say, 'oh we quilt too,' and their quilts are really different from mine. They are all traditional, and I just kind of say 'oh, that is lovely.' I think quilting includes everybody, and there is something for everybody. I think I would be bored if I was just doing the traditional stuff, I think I would have left a long time ago. That is why I'm still doing it is because it is a great outlet for my creativity, and I can still paint and I can draw and the skills as I had as an artist, a lot of them I can use in my quilting too. When I make my art quilts. There are a lot of skills I've tried over the years with the quilting and some I keep up and some I really haven't, like fabric dyeing. I've done some stenciling with the paint with those dry oil sticks.

KM: Shiva Sticks.

CC: Yeah, and I used to always work in regular cotton fabrics but now I've got a lot of silk, dupioni silk and velvets and lace and toils and all sorts of stuff. I'm having fun with all of it. There was a fabric store that was open for a while near me, but it has moved on, it's too far for me to drive to. But it was around for a while and it had all these silks and all these fabrics that were really exciting, and they had remnants of them so they were cheap. You could come home with a huge bag full quite inexpensively, so I built up a stash of non-traditional quilting fabric, and I have been having fun with those ever since, even though that quilt shop has moved on.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

CC: [laughs.] I'm not sure. I think they, in a way they are proud of me, my husband is proud of me and he's saying, 'when can we retire'and things like that, he sort of jokes about it. He is very appreciative although he is not really an artist himself, so he doesn't really understand everything, but once in a while he will give a critique which is helpful to me, so that is useful. My kids, I don't know if they really understand it. My daughter, I don't think she really understands it, but they are all pretty tolerant of it. My daughter at one point was going to make a quilt out of shoulder pads. This was back in the '90's when people had leftover shoulder pads from the '80's, and she was going to make a whole quilt of those. And I thought it was such a clever creative idea, but when it came down to it you can't really make a quilt out of those because they are kind of three dimensional, they are not flat at all, so that never happened. I think we may still have a stack of them in her closet, because I thought it was a great idea.

KM: It is a very interesting idea.

CC: Yeah, I thought so. Maybe there is a way to do it; I haven't figured it out yet. I have a son too, who is a surfer. I wanted to put him in this surfing quilt and he said 'no mom,'so he wouldn't let me do that. I did make a quilt of him when he was a little boy; maybe he is embarrassed from that. They are tolerant, but I don't think they really understand it.

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

CC: The challenge that pops out initially is being respected as artists. For those that want to be artists, because not everybody understands, a lot of the public doesn't have the faintest idea that quilting is anything beyond the traditional blocks that their grandmothers put together. I think the biggest challenge is raising public consciousness, and getting appreciation would be nice. I'm going to be in, and I have been in some galleries the last few years and that is satisfying to me. Once in a while something even sells, to somebody I don't even know, so that is very exciting. We have a couple of galleries in southern California, at least that I know of, plus there is a third one up in San Pedro where I'm going to be in the spring, later this spring. These experiences help me feel that my art is getting out there, and hopefully that people see it and have more awareness of what quilt art is all about.

KM: Let's return to "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." You were talking about different experiences and there is a CD that Ami put out and we all had to read our artist statement, tell me about that experience for you.

CC: Reading?

KM: When we had to read the artist statement for the CD.

CC: Oh yes, well, I explained what the quilt was about, basically the gaps and how they grow and spread so memories become unrecognizable. The rest of what I talked about in the tape was about my family. Both grandmothers had it, my father had it and my mother has it. She is currently in a board and care home that cares for Alzheimer's patients, so it is very much part of my life, and her sister had it. I'm not sure who else in the family, but it is something that I think about all the time because it is in the family, and because I'm someone who takes care of a lot of the affairs of my mom, paying her bills and running to the store and buying some more of her lotion or aspirin or diapers or whatever it is that she needs. For me it is very important that they find a cure.

KM: I think it is wonderful that Ami has the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative and that the drive is for money for research.

CC: Yes, it is a wonderful thing and it makes me feel like I'm doing something instead of just being helpless, it makes it feel like 'I'm doing this'and maybe that will make a difference.

KM: I sure hope so. Tell me what you think makes a great quilt.

CC: What makes a great quilt? It is kind of in the eye of the beholder, and you know it when you see it. What I think makes a great quilt is probably different from the next person, so it is hard to say. For me it is color and impact. Something that just grabs you. I like humor in quilts, it is not necessary for me at all, but that is something that I appreciate, like if there is a joke to be found in the quilt. I guess I have wide tastes; I appreciate a wide variety of quilts. I'm just thinking, Pam RuBert, that is somebody, she has a--

KM: A lot of humor, a lot of humor.

CC: Yeah, a lot of humor, so that comes to mind as somebody that I admire. My quilts aren't anything like hers, but just the sense of humor. I don't know what else to say.

KM: Is there anything else you want to add before we end. I like to give people an opportunity.

CC: Nothing that I can think of.

KM: I want to thank you for taking your time to do this interview with me and to help people understand a little bit more behind the quilts and the exhibition. We are going to end our time and it is now 1:43.


“Cindy Cooksey,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 14, 2024,