Paula Golden




Paula Golden


Paula Golden says that the name of her quilt is "Dancing To My Spirit" and was inspired by a soapstone carving from the Inuit culture. She talks about the techniques she used in creating the quilt, as well as the things she learned during the process. She talks about the message of the quilt.

Golden shares that she grew up overseas and lived in Germany for ten years. She says that traveling was a rich opportunity to learn about other cultures and countries. At 22, she tried to make her first quilt. She met her husband in 1980 and moved to Hawaii and took a Hawaiian quilting class. She talks about a quilt she created using a Hawaiian design. Golden was the recipient of the 2001 Teacher of the Year award from Professional Quilt Magazine. She says that she began teaching a year after taking a class in Hawaii and researched Hawaiian quilting. Golden has been on Jinny Beyer's staff since 1995. She talks about what makes a great quilt, the art of quilting, and quilting as a craft. She talks about her involvement in various quilters' groups and guilds.




Quiltmaker's club
Quiltmaking purpose


Paula Golden


Le Rowell

Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Harrisonburg, Virginia

Interview indexer

Interview index by Ta'mya Ross with the support of the Virginia Quilt Museum


Elaine Mosel


Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and today's date is May 3, 2003. It is 10:03 a.m. and I'm conducting an interview with Paula Golden for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts, and we are in the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia. So, Paula, thank you for getting up so bright and early this morning and making your way down to the Museum for our interview. Let's begin with your touchstone piece. I know you had a hard time deciding which one was going to be your touchstone piece, but this is a beauty. So, tell me about it.

Paula Golden (PG): The title of this quilt is "Dancing to My Spirit" and it was inspired by a soapstone carving that I had seen at the Canadian Embassy by an Inuit Indian, [pause.] Nalenik Temela. When I saw this small, oh, it must have been a 2 x 3-inch photograph of a dancing polar bear in the Washington Post; it touched me in some way. So, my kids and I went down to the Canadian Embassy to see the exhibit of Inuit Indian artists. This image of the polar bear dancing stuck with me because, in my mind, he was dancing to the Northern Lights. It didn't matter what was going on, but he was dancing to his spirit. And I thought that I'd really like to recreate that. And that's what this quilt is a result of. However, it required learning a lot of things that were beyond my artistic capability.

LR: Like what?

PG: The fact that an image can have two vanishing points as compared to just one vanishing point with the telephone poles getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Well, if he's dancing on a glacier, the glacier should be three-dimensional and that doesn't work with one vanishing point. You need to have two--so, learning about that from a number of quilt books. I also had to shade the polar bear right to reflect dimensionality of his body.

LR: How did you do that?

PG: Actually, I did a couple of renditions that ended up being charity quilts because they weren't right. I finally got the bear to the size that I wanted but two of my neighbors, Dale Glasgow and Marsha [pause.] I'll come up with her name, Marsha Piner, are artists and I asked if they would help me. Basically, I just had a line drawing. And so, they gave me some ideas of what would be dark, what would be light and then I took that information and rendered it in fabric. It didn't turn out quite--you know, in retrospect there's always something to change--oh, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that. I learned a lot about beading also. I purchased a large quantity of beads because I was going to use them to reflect the Northern Lights. I sent the quilt off to a show and it came back with beads hanging off of it [laughs.] because I didn't know how to properly adhere a bead. So, all the beads have been replaced, but it doesn't have the same flowing image that it did originally. "Dancing To My Spirit" will be going to a show in June [2003.], Sacred Threads. The exhibit is about quilts that have inspired you. So, between now and the end of May I'm going to take the beads off again and see if I can get them to really reflect what I imagine the Northern Lights to be.

LR: How will you do that?

PG: The beads actually have different colorations. They're all very dark beads, but some have a green shade, and some have a blue, some have a slight red, and to get movement of light behind it. I think the Northern Lights jiggle a little bit, or dance in the skies--in my imagination at least. I'll take them off, separate them according to color again, and then really work the image a little bit better and then re-apply them. I had to learn that you use a nylon thread and backstitch after each bead and that way if one does fall off the rest of them don't fall off. At least this is one area that I can change to make it dance a little bit more than what it does now.

LR: So, you've actually stitched these on, they're not glued on.

PG: No, all the beads are hand stitched.

LR: Hand stitched.

PG: Um-hm, and that was loads of fun. In the glacier that the bear is dancing on, there [are.] probably eighty different pieces that comprise the glacier. Separate units, not like anything else. I don't use sparkle glue very often, but my sister, who is fifteen years younger than me, suggested that I try using this product. She'd seen it in a craft store. It actually helps reflect the ice feeling onto the water and onto different parts of the fabric. I then added beads on top of that. So, it's a lot of fun to play with beads. Beads can cover up a lot of missed stitches. You can use them judiciously for that, or other times you just add them on, because the quilt says, 'I need more,' and one should listen to what your quilt says to you. It's very important, because a quilt has a story to tell from the maker's point of view, what's going on in their life at any particular point. It is also that you honor the piece that you're working on. It will tell you where it needs to go, and sometimes it goes where you don't want it to go, but in the end, it goes where it was supposed to go. And by taking it there you learn a whole lot about the quilt making process and about yourself since you have to have trust in that. Depending on your personality type you may not always accept that easily and you have to go back and remake things [laughs.], you know, until it becomes to your satisfaction.

LR: What was going on in your life?

PG: Let me check the date on this, because I'm pretty sure I was probably in my late thirties--early forties. I think at that particular time in a woman's life you're finally starting to listen to what is important to you and not necessarily to what is important to society. You become comfortable in the roles that you play, you know, as a mother working out of the home, or working within the home and volunteering within the community. There are a lot of 'shoulds' that one comes upon. I think that at this particular time in women's lives we have so many different choices that we can choose from and a lot of freedom. I think as women as whole we're seeing the consequences of some of the choices we've had and some are good and some need to be worked upon, and--I'm diverging--maybe we should brush off some of the 'shoulds' or maybe embrace some of the other ones that we think are important to our individual needs. I think this quilt came about that time because when you dance to your own spirit, you're finally realizing what's important to you and you have to start to follow that path – as compared to all the roles that we have to play or feel that we should play.

LR: So where was quilt making in your life at that time?

PG: I think at this time it was changing from a hobby to something that I had a passion about. Quilting became important to me, and I started teaching locally at the rec center. I realized that I really enjoyed this, and it was a way for me to express myself--as many other women--what's going on inside our lives, and making the quilt tell the story. And that goes back to the first quilt class that I had in 1980. I had made my first quilt in 1973, and--I'm going to back up a bit [laughs.].

LR: Good.

PG: I grew up overseas, as a Department of Defense offspring. I had the opportunity to live in Germany for ten years--my parents lived there for a total of twenty-nine. It was from the time I was nine until I was nineteen. We weren't part of the military community because my dad was DOD [Department of Defense.]. But we weren't part of the German community because we were American and so we were living this sort of half-life, not really feeling like we belonged to either. It was interesting and an incredible opportunity to travel. We saw many countries and learned about different cultures. It was a phenomenal upbringing and the older I get the more I appreciate the opportunity that we had. But from a teenager's point of view, at that time it was much more limited--I felt like that I didn't know what being American was like. And when I came back to the United States, I didn't know how to use a pay phone. I'd never eaten at McDonald's and was probably the cheapest date around. I had no concept of what being American was. Was it anything different from being German or French? I attempted to make my first quilt. My mom had taught me how to sew at home, but then things looked homemade, so I didn't want to wear them. I wanted to have store-bought stuff rather than homemade items. There was some cute stuff at the PX, but it was two years out of fashion. You could also order from Sears. But that was not up to fashion either, especially when you have kids coming over right from the States who are in fashion. So, I, I knew how to sew from the basics, so I figured I could put a quilt together. I was probably twenty-two when I tried to make my first quilt, and I don't remember where I got the fabric from. I started with maybe three-inch squares, and it was probably twenty inches at the top and even though there were the same number of blocks all the way down, if I remember correctly. At the bottom it was probably thirty inches wide. You know, it was an odd shape [laughs.]. It was like, I know this isn't right. I have no idea what type of fabrics I used, or where I got the fabrics, but it went in the trash. I didn't look at a book and didn't realize that there were other quilters around. I was a brand-new college graduate and trying to earn a living, so I just figured I'd shelve it away. I eventually met my husband, got married and in 1980, had the opportunity, with his schooling to move to Hawaii. It was an absolutely incredible place for him to do his schooling. I met a young woman, Marnie McClung, from Virginia. She knew how to quilt, but she wanted to take a quilt class in Hawaiian quilting. I guess I'm really practical, but as she was another intern's wife, I figured I'll get to know her better and learn how to quilt. So, we took a Hawaiian quilting class up at the Kamehameha School, which had incredible evening extension programs. Eventually we took lei making and ancient hula classes there. I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the Hawaiian culture. The class that we took was from Betsy Like. She was probably seventy if she was a day, and probably five feet tall. Her requirement for this three-month class was that we develop our own design. I was not working at the time, and I remember that I spent probably three or four mornings a week for three weeks trying to fold newspapers and come up with a design that reflected who I was. But at twenty-eight, I didn't know who I was. And, you know, if I'd had a name, like canoe, I could have done a canoe pattern. But with Golden being an adjective, there wasn't a lot to do. Her philosophy is that a quilt tells a story and it's very important that whether in the design or the colors that you tell your story in that quilt. Each quilt has a spirit. I asked, 'How come we can't just copy a pattern? It would be so much easier.' One can make a quilt from a pattern. How much of the quilter's story is getting into that? But there are times in our lives when things are just in such upheaval, that making a quilt, whether it's choosing somebody else's colors and somebody else's patterns, is the best thing to do. Quilting is great for helping us cope: for getting through difficult times and celebrating good times. And, you know, I'm not critical anymore about judging people when they seem to make it exactly like the pattern. Because, even then, that's the story of what's going on in their life. There's nothing wrong with that. So, anyway, getting back to Betsy Like, I feel very fortunate that I had her as a teacher. I don't know if she's still alive today, but I'd like to write her a note to say I'm still quilting, twenty-three years later. What a gift that she gave me, especially that push towards telling your own story!

LR: What was the design you came up with?

PG: Um, it's hard to describe it because it's a paper-cut design, but it reflected golden sunrise at Bellows Beach. When I teach quilting, especially with Hawaiian quilting, you come up with the design and then you evaluate it to see if it's within your capabilities. Because I wanted that beautiful, um, wave from the Japanese wood block print, the Tsunami wave. Well, I was a beginning appliquér--I was lucky to get triangles even though the vision in my mind was this beautiful wave coming over the sun kissed waves and a sunset over the mountains, I got a triangle. But that's okay.

In Hawaiian culture you should have a ti plant, like at every entrance to your home, because it wards off evil spirits. And at the quarters we were issued a ti plant to ward off the evil spirits. We also had a beautiful Bird of Paradise that we planted by the front door right in front of the ti plant. I tried to reproduce them, but again the beautiful long green spikes became triangles. You know, you can see that it's a Bird of Paradise, but it's a very folk art [laughs.] to say it kindly. And then, the Hawaiian pineapple. So much of the industry from Hawaii was based on the pineapple, and how that translated to a welcome throughout the world--especially in Colonial America. We were able to get pineapples for fifty cents each at the swap meet. And when my husband did have a day off, I mean, his hours were usually 120 to 160 hours a week for a solid year. We didn't get to see each other a lot during that time period. But we'd go to a swap meet once in a while and get these incredible, just sun-ripened pineapples. So that's on the quilt also.

LR: Fascinating. Talk a little bit more about your teaching. The influence of your teacher, Betsy, and how that's influenced you.

PG: I was very fortunate to be the recipient of the 2001 Teacher of the Year award from Professional Quilt Magazine, and the nomination came very much as a surprise, as did my selection. We were judged on our responses to questions along the lines of some of the ones that you're asking today. And it required a lot of soul searching about what I thought was important as a teacher, teaching techniques and philosophy. I was very surprised to have been selected, especially considering some of the other people that had been nominated. I think what I've learned most from that are where my ideas of teaching are and how some of them do come through when I teach a class and how some of them don't. It's been really interesting, because when I take a class to learn a new technique, I also watch how other teachers present to see what I can learn from their teaching techniques. I am more aware of how people learn and how I can reach them more effectively. It should have been the other way around, but I tend to do things backwards. I actually started teaching in Hawaii at a local community center, probably within a year of having taken a class from Betsy Like. I don't remember the name of the community center, but they were looking for teachers. I researched Hawaiian quilting at different libraries, through the home extension courses, and taught Hawaiian quilting to two or three groups of Army spouses at that time. We moved to New Jersey, and I joined the newcomer's group. I explained to them how to do Hawaiian quilting. And then we moved to Tacoma, Washington, and I didn't do any teaching there. When we moved to Virginia, I taught at a local rec center and once in a while for local guilds who wanted a class on Hawaiian quilt making. And then in 1995, I received a call from Jinny Beyer asking if I'd like to interview to be on her teaching staff. To me it was very interesting because we had an unlisted phone number. My mind doesn't think very quickly, and I always think of a good comment to make or quick comeback, you know, twenty-four hours later. So, my mind was on overdrive, and I'm thinking, I don't know what she sounds like, why would she be calling me, uh, are my friends playing a joke, even though they don't play jokes like that. So, the only thing I remarked, 'Jinny Beyer?' And Jinny is so gracious, and she said, 'Do you make quilts?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she says, 'Well, I'm a quiltmaker too.' And I thought, yeah--you're over here, and I'm over here. But it got me thinking about the whole process of quilt making at that time. I don't want to diverge off on another subject, but anyway--

LR: Do. Go ahead.

PG: Quilt making is a journey. I look at my quilts and see many errors. My excuse is that I teach quilting and therefore it's okay to have mistaken in them because I can use the quilts as teaching instructional points. I don't mind using my quilts for that because they're learning experiences for me. I think it's easy when we look at to compare ourselves against other people. Well, each of our own quilts are incredible, and if it was hanging on a wall, and we didn't know it was our quilt and we walked by it, we would think it was just as incredible as the one right next to it, or the twelve right next to it. But because somehow, it's ours, it's not worthy enough. If you take the time to look at your quilts from twenty years ago, and look at them now, you'll see changes, things that may please you, and things that may not. But it's a life-long process. It's not just each product that is indicative of who we are. And even though that call from Jinny put my mind in such a tailspin, it got me to thinking about the process and the journey of quilt making that each of us are on. We don't have to be on the same journey that somebody else is taking. It's like in life, we all have life lessons to learn that don't have to be other people's life lessons. When you make a quilt that you can actually enjoy it, rather than going nuts all about it, getting each particular point to match.

But anyway, back to teaching. I've been on Jinny Beyer's staff since 1995 and have enjoyed the group of women that I'm able to work with. They have intimidated me with their quality, and I have just learned so much from them. And the intimidation is just on my part. I have learned a lot from them and am so grateful to be part of such a talented group of people. I teach at Jinny Beyers' studio, local fabric shops and quilt guilds around the country. I really enjoy having the opportunity to travel around the country to meet different groups of quilters.

LR: On with the story. When we're looking at all these quilts, what do you think makes a great quilt?

PG: I think, if it conveys something about the quilt maker, then it's a great quilt. And a lot of it comes down to putting your heart and soul into whatever you make somehow the design and coloration reflects that. So, I go between two different things, one that each quilt that is made is a great quilt because it reflects something about its quiltmaker. However, some people may have more confidence in their creative ability and be more willing to expose themselves a little bit. And that comes through in the design and the color, which are the first things that grab you on a quilt.

LR: So how do these great quilters learn the art of quilting, especially how to design the pattern, choose fabrics and color?

PG: I think, by becoming quiet and listening to what is inside of them and that ability that we all have and not worrying about what other people will say. There are a lot of 'shoulds,' whether we get it from ourselves, or what we absorb from society, what we've learned in school or by not hearing that we are creative individuals. We don't let that inner part come out and just go with what is important to us. I think as human beings, we have art inside of us, and there are many different ways to express it and quilt making is one of them. Unfortunately, I think in life that a lot of people feel that they have to be an artist in order to be artistic. And I find myself going, 'Hey, yeah! 'Like to be an artist you have to have a palette with oils on it, and that's an artist. They're special and they've got a beret, and a smock, but it's really not so. I mean, we're all creative and there are a gazillion different venues to express it if we give ourselves time to do that. I think that if you quiet yourself, (I don't do that) often enough, and if you listen to what's inside and you go with what's inside, then you can use the fabrics and colors and the design that come into your soul, and that's what your quilts will be. I think it comes from your spirit.

LR: So, would you say quilting is an art, or a craft?

PG: Craft is a hobby, or craft in the craftsman style where you have to know art, and through technique. When you say craft, which definition are you using?

LR: Either one.

PG: Oh jeeze. [laughs.]

LR: You. How do you define it?

PG: I think, in order to be a craftsman, I'm going back to an earlier tradition, in that in order to have a craft, one needed to know the art behind it as well as the technique. And I think when you combine the two of them then you'll have an excellent quilt. And I'm not talking as craft being the hobby aspect of it. The craft where you researched it, you tried different techniques, you explore some of the permutations of it, incorporating different artistic principles, whether they're done from the book or, you know, borrowed from your soul, that craft as a whole will cover it. But I think in today's world there's some art quilts, and there are craft-hobby quilts. There's a place for all definitions, but I think that if you put up the true definition of craftsman, it's a little bit different and encompasses the art in there.

LR: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

PG: I think that they have always been important. I think they are a way of giving women a chance to express themselves. When we did not have the right to own property, or vote, women could make quilts expressing their support of political issues, or their feelings against certain political issues, and this was a form they were allowed. It was socially acceptable to do. I think that quilts provide a way to connect generations. My grandmother never made quilts; however, she worked doing piecework to make ends meet, and was a fine sewer herself but didn't have the luxury of time to be able to sew. The women who have had quilt makers in the family--what a gift you know, to be able to connect back to previous generations in your own family. I like going to quilt shows and seeing antique quilts. I enjoy purchasing orphan quilt blocks and make them into a quilt. It is a way of completing somebody's unknown, unfinished project and giving a sense of completion to things. I feel a tie-in to women from previous generations by being able to do that. And if I don't finish a quilt, somebody down the road is going to finish it. [laughs.] It takes some of the pressure off. I think being able to connect to previous generations as well as express our feelings, even today, and share and celebrate different life events through quilts is important.

LR: What is the future of quilt making?

PG: Hopefully, getting more people involved. I would love to see more quilt making in the schools, because--history can be taught, social perspectives can be taught, industry through the development of the industrial revolution, how cotton fabric was made, can be taught to grade school kids. The geometry of tessellations and mathematics are a tangible form. I think I probably would have enjoyed geometry a whole lot more if we had played with designs instead of, you know, talking with two friends in the back of the class. And I remember the geometry teacher saying you can't prove it in that fashion--well it makes sense to me, but that's not right. If I could have--I guess I'm more of a tactile learner, but hopefully I would have gotten a B instead of a C. I think geometry and the tessellations can be used for these kids who maybe don't grasp the way things are taught in one particular form because we all learn in many ways. It's exciting--in the guild that I belong to--that we have younger women in there, women in their twenties in the guild all the way through their eighties--and we're all part of this organization that supports what we love doing. It's exciting seeing younger people involved, and some of them have even brought their daughters along. So, we've got a number of probably middle-school-aged members of our guild, so that's really exciting to see. I hope more people will be encouraged, as a way of using quilts as a means of expression of their feelings. Maybe some things that can't be expressed vocally--to help them work through the issues that they need to.

LR: What is the guild that you now belong to?

PG: I belong to Cabin Branch Quilters in Woodbridge, Virginia in Prince William County, Virginia. I started the guild in 1989, we had 17 people who met at my house, and they just announced at our next meeting in May, it's going to be our 14th birthday, and it just dawned on me that – 14 years. That's a long time. [laughs.] All of a sudden it creeps up on you, whoa, that's a long time, I remember celebrating my in-law's 25th anniversary, and my husband and I just celebrated our 27th. But 14 years we've been in existence, and we've grown from 17 people to almost 300.

LR: Wow!

PG: For some reason, things just – you know, I think I'm an airhead sometimes. [laughs.] Somehow, it's just made an impact. The guild has done many things in the community. We've made lap quilts for every child that goes through the local woman's shelter. At times we've had surpluses, and so they've gone to the woman's shelter at the other end of the county, to the children who go through the homeless shelter. A couple have gone to ride in the police cars, you know, in case the kids need to be taken out of a situation. A new program uses the quilts in a proactive manner: the instructions are when your parents are arguing that you go take the quilt and wrap it around you and go to a safe place in your house. You're not to be involved in the argument. Hopefully these quilts that we've donated are providing comfort to kids in a time of stress. We've probably donated close to 3000, 4000 over the 14 years. The guild has also donated money to the Virginia Quilt Museum, the GED program, at the Homeless Center, the Friends of the Library, Prince William City Symphony, and the free clinic. And to be part of a group of women who do this is, it sort of gives your soul a hug. It's a gift to me that I don't think people realize that's come back, so many fold, that just fills my heart in a large way. So then, in addition to the Cabin Branch Quilters, I also belong to the American Society of Quilters, the Quilter's Unlimited in the Northern Virginia area, and the American Quilt Study Group. Though not actively involved in them, I enjoy receiving publications and learning about and being part of them. I am also the president of the Mason Dixon Quilt Professional Network and on the board of directors of the Virginia Quilt Museum.

LR: Our time is just about up. Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish?

PG: I can't think of anything.

LR: I have a round of quick questions if that's all right. Can you--what trends have you seen over the period time that you've been involved in quilting?

PG: I see all quilt makers becoming a little more confident within their own abilities. I watched a PBS series on math years ago, and they talked about, I think it was an algebra event, there are many different ways that you can get different answers for the same question, and they're all correct. That fascinated me, because I always thought there was only one answer. Taking that to quiltmaking – there are many different ways and many different answers, and I think that we're starting to appreciate that as quilt makers, that there are many definitions of a good quilt, and that's exciting.

LR: Paula, you are an inspiration. Thank you for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview was concluded at 10:47 a.m.

PG: Thank you very much, Le.

Interview Keyword

Dancing To My Spirit
Dancing To My Spirit (Quilt)
Quilt guilds
Quiltmaking community
Quiltmaking communities
American Quilt Study Group
Virginia Quilt Museum
American's Quilter Society
Quiltmaking classes
Hawaiian quiltmakers
Hawaiian quilts
Quilt magazines
Professional Quilt Magazine
Cabin Branch Quilters
Quilters Unlimited of Northern Virginia

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“Paula Golden,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed February 24, 2024,