Jane Lury




Jane Lury




Jane Lury


Joe Koval

Interview Date



Houston, Texas

Interview indexer

Emily Bianchi


Tomme Fent


Joe Koval (JK): This is Joe Koval. Today's date is November 2, 2002. It's 3:21 p.m., and I'm conducting an interview with Jane Lury for the Quilters' Save Our Stories project at the Houston Quilt Festival. Jane, can you tell me about the quilt you brought today?

Jane Lury (JL): Well, it's the first quilt I ever bought, and that's why it's here and why it seemed appropriate as a history piece. When I was just out of college, I had a friend who collected some quilts and I thought they were beautiful, though I didn't know anything about them. And about ten years later, I went out to Portland, Oregon, with a friend of mine who was looking at real estate and asked if I'd come along because I own a building in New York. I didn't like the guy he was dealing with at all, so I politely excused myself and said I was going for a walk. I went for a walk and I came upon this antique shop and there was this quilt, and I said, 'Hmm, that's awfully pretty, hmm.' I tried to call my old friend--I'm no longer friendly with her at this point but I couldn't reach her. And I thought about it for awhile, and it cost $200, this was 1983 or 4, and I thought, 'That's got to be worth $200.' So, I bought it. And then I went back to New York, and I walked up and down Madison Avenue and went into the fancy quilt stores and asked them about their quilts and sort of learned a little bit about what I had gotten and what it was, because I had no idea, and that I'd done a good thing. That summer, I went back out to Oregon with this man I was seeing, and we were in a little town in Eastern Oregon, where his family had come from or had landed when they went across the country. We found a woman who had some quilts that belonged to her family that she wanted to sell, so we bought those. I had gotten a new car that I was going to drive back across the country. Doug was flying home so he could go back to work. I had some time off. As I made my way across the country, one of the things I started to do was ask people if they had any quilts. I'd never been across the United States before. I had spent time in Europe as a girl, and that was really where my family came from and where I was oriented. So, this was a whole new experience. As part of that experience, I landed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one evening and asked about quilts, and sure enough there were some antique stores and I went through them. And then a couple of years later, a friend of mine, college friend of mine and I repeated this trip in another car and did the same kind of thing, and started to ask people about making quilts, and landed one night in Elk City, Oklahoma, in a Hilton Hotel, which was the only decent hotel for thousands of miles, it seemed. It was ten o'clock at night and there was a young man behind the desk. And Virginia said to him, 'Do you know anybody who has quilts or knows about quilts?' And I thought, 'Oh, gosh, come on, what are you doing?' you know, 'The guy's the wrong sex and he's the wrong age.' And he said, 'Oh, yes, my wife.' So the next morning at 7:00, because his wife was a school teacher, we showed up at their house--this was Sally, remember Sally? And she had some quilts we bought and she told us about a friend of her's down the road who had some more quilts, and she called her friend and her friend said, yes, we could come and look at her quilts. Her friend was obviously a little more leery about this than she had been. She, of course, had not seen us; this was Cindy Reynolds. So we went and bought some quilts from Cindy Reynolds, and gradually the car got--you know, we had maybe a library in the back of the car, and there was the tool box, and then we have this ever growing stash of quilts. And that's how I got into quilts. And this was the first of many, but it's a very nice quilt and I kept it because I like it, although what I really have come to love are the mid-nineteenth century and earlier pieces.

JK: Can you describe this quilt for us?

JL: This is a 1930s quilt made of feed sacks. Somebody early on in my career looked at it and told me that it was Indiana Mennonite, and I don't know if that's right or not but I've just always accepted that. It is a Double Trip Around the World. I've never seen another one that has this for the pillow as well as the main part of the quilt. And it also has this sashing. I continue to like it but it's nothing that I'd buy now, fall in love with or buy. But, I've kept it because it was the first. It was the culprit that got me into trouble.

JK: Do you use this quilt?

JL: No.

JK: Do you display it?

JL: No.

JK: What are your plans for it?

JL: I don't have any. [laughter.] I'll probably keep it until I sell the whole collection and then I might keep it anyway because it has this attachment as the thing that caused all this change in my life.

JK: Other than how you got started, what do you think your earliest memories of quilts would be?

JL: Probably from my friend who had some, what I now know are very pretty kit quilts and things like that in her house in Baltimore [Maryland.]. They bought this big house outside Baltimore, and she had many quilts. They were not in my family. My family were European. My grandmother did beautiful hand work, I now know, but I didn't know that earlier. My other grandmother is much older. There were forty years between her and my mother and another thirty-nine and a half between my mother and me, so by the time I knew her she was well on into her eighties. She was a wonderful cook and apparently was a very smart and well read woman, but I don't know whether she sewed or not. My mother was dead by the time I started quilt collecting, too, and she had absolutely no interest in textiles or sewing, so it's all self--there are collectors in my family. My father's grandfather was a stamp collector and he went to Egypt when he was an older man and came back with a train car full of oriental rugs, apparently. And my father collects. My father assembled an enormous collection of early books that Christie's sold not so long ago so that I come by it in the genes. But the specific textile affection is mine. My mother's sister was weaver.

JK: How have the quilts that you own or have owned impacted your life?

JL: Probably made me run around the world and do all of these funny things. [laughter.] It's hard to answer that. It's more the people, I would say, than the quilts. I love the quilts but the quilts themselves are only part of a life venture. And David, of course, loves the quilts too.

JK: Tell me how your relationship with David has gotten stronger because of quilts?

JL: Well, David is a much more visual person than I am and the quilts have made me pay more attention to those visual hues in the world. And he's taught me a lot about looking at things, partly through the quilts and partly through looking at paintings and also at nature.

JK: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

JL: A difficult time? I wouldn't have used the quilts but they were certainly a part of my life when I was surviving cancer. And being able to come here and keep on. I have a doctor who very much encouraged me to go on with all the aspects of my life at the time and this made a difference. But again, it was the interaction with the people more than the quilts themselves.

JK: Tell me what you like about the quilt business?

JL: You! My friends most of all, I think. I like being able to pick things that I think are pretty and some other people think they're perfect for them by paying for them. Sometimes I'm sorry that I've sold things. But the other piece of my life is so different from this, I'm a psychotherapist and so I sit quietly in an office and listen. I do talk--there are silent therapists. But this is very different, I'm involved in it in a different way, and it also means that I have ideas about how business works, how the world of business works, that I wouldn't have from sitting in an office all five days a week, listening to other people talk about their business. I have my own connection and this gives me a difference in relating. I'm not sure I'm answering your question.

JK: You have. You mentioned some of the quilts you've sold that you might have wanted back. Can you think of any in particular?

JL: Somebody asked me about this the other day so it's fresh in my mind. There are two very odd pieces that I will never have again. One was an all white Log Cabin. She made Log Cabins about a quarter of an inch wide into a quilt, all the same fabric and white. And the other was a quilt that was an embroidered piece. I don't really know if it was a Crazy Quilt but it must have been. It just had embroidery, it wasn't--neither of these things was particularly beautiful but this one had embroidery everywhere, every minute piece of it was covered in embroidery. So it was some kind of "Lunatic's Delight." [laughter.] Whereas I feel like many of the other things I've had, I've had similar things at different times or I'll find something that touches me that way again, but the "Lunatic's Delight" I don't think I will ever have again. So, that was two I can think of.

JK: You collect quilts. Why don't you tell me about some of the things that you collect?

JL: I collect very early quilts. I love the early textiles. I love the rich colors in the early textiles and again, I love the more idiosyncratic things particularly. But sometimes the idiosyncrasy of the textile itself appeals to me. It's the rarity that has something to do with it, having a quilt that's survived for so many years and somebody proudly took care of it all those years and it's just been stuck away and not messed with, which is why it's survived. I tend to keep the really early pieces that I can afford.

JK: Which is?

JL: A broderie perse. That's the last quilt I bought and it's the kind of thing that sometimes I keep and sometimes it's not odd enough to really appeal to me. I have a few things that have white backgrounds, quilts that I've kept, but they're strange in some way. One of them is clearly and a number of the pieces I have are clearly English. One of them has castles in the broderie perse. Another one has pheasants and fish and something, so they're not the things that you see repeatedly.

JK: Do you buy and sell only American quilts?

JL: No, I buy and sell English and French quilts and East Indian quilts.

JK: Is there a – do people in America appreciate quilts from other countries?

JL: Pre-1900 quilts I think yes. There is an idea abroad in the world that quilts are American. Frequently we say to people that we are going to buy quilts, or even when we get to England to buy quilts people say, 'Why did you come here? Aren't quilts American?' But it's like most everything American that it has another history. Quilts probably started in East India, and when you tell people about that they are astonished. Quilting and piecing are ancient human activities in many parts of the planet.

JK: What makes a good quilt? What makes a great quilt?

JL: I guess I think the best new quilts are made in Japan, and I think that's because they have a long history of wonderful, interesting craft, and a long history of fine textile development, and they've been very open to learning from us about the making of quilts. They've used that combination of things to make beautiful, subtle lines and things. So, I guess those would be the-- I think intelligence, it helps to have humor. I mean, certainly my all white Log Cabin didn't have any humor to it. [laughter.]

JK: What do you think makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or for a special collection?

JL: I tell people that the issues in pricing quilts are age, beauty, condition, and rarity – A, B, C, and R and I guess I think those– rarity, obviously, being the most important for a museum. But if it's in terrible condition, unless it's some extraordinary thing, the museum's not going to be able to do much with it. So, those are the things.

JK: What makes a great quilt dealer?

JL: [inaudible.] Misty, [addressing a third party.] would you come and answer the question? Sorry. What makes a great quilt dealer? I guess a passion for quilts would be the first thing. A willingness and ability to talk to people and put up with their smart-- being moved by their wise customs, and sometimes you see something you've had for a long time that somebody will come in and see something in it that you've never seen. And that's part of what keeps you going, I think. Those would be my main--some ability to comprehend value, but I think you learn that as you go along and you change your thinking, too, as you go along.

JK: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting?

JL: For the most part, hand quilting is much more beautiful. Nobody's, that I've ever seen yet, has taught a machine to not bite into the fabric too hard so that it's not attractive, I think although we just had and sold a wonderful machine stitched quilt. It's the first one I've ever had that I really liked. It was English, it's a whole cloth quilt, and she had really--it probably took her as long to machine quilt it as it would have taken her to hand quilt it. That's how it looked because it was carefully done by the quilter.

JK: If you were to give advice to someone who was going to get into the antique quilt business, what advice would you give them?

JL: You know me; I'm a shrink so I'd listen first to what they wanted to do. [laughter.] I mean, the standard advice is buy the best but I don't do that, and I don't necessarily think that that's the only way to go. It depends what you want out of the business and what you're looking--if you want to make a lot of money, then you have to deal in very high end things. But I love my low end things and I love the connections to people that they give me, not all of them of course, but--

JK: I guess we've covered why quilting is important to your life?

JL: It's not quilting, it's really you're handling the quilts and what you are doing with the quilts that's important to me. I don't quilt at all. I've never quilted. My sewing is just as bad as my handwriting, it's just excruciatingly awful. [laughter.] David's is much better than mine.

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

JL: Well, I guess I think at this point the quilt business is enormously important to women as a focus for spending a lot of time with other women, getting away from their family responsibilities and going off either just for an evening or a weekend to come to something like this [referring to the International Quilt Festival.]. And I guess to some extent it always provided a focus for socializing, or not always but often. And I think it does that in other countries now, too. We were just at a show in France, and there were women from all over Europe, and there was a Turkish woman from a new guild in Turkey. Kathy Nakajima, a very famous Japanese quiltmaker and teacher and TV personality has become a friend of ours. She brings her groups for dinner at our house when they come to New York, and that provides them with an entrée into life in New York that they wouldn't otherwise have, and us with an entrée into life in Japan which we wouldn't otherwise have. So, for me, it's been international friendships as well, but I think for most women it provides opportunities for spending time with their friends like fishing or golf does for men.

JK: You've done quilt shows all over the world. Do you find that the women all over the world have very similar qualities or traits?

JL: Certainly, we have a lot in common. There are cultural differences. In Japan, you don't say, 'No,' you find a more gracious way to say, 'No, thank you.' You almost never would say, 'I don't like that.' It's easier in some ways, of course, if people tell you what they want and what they don't want, at least for us. But certainly there are those kinds of cultural differences. Latin peoples tend to stand closer to you when they talk to you but certainly there are more similarities than differences.

JK: Do you find quilters--does quilting change any of that?

JL: Quilting itself? Not that I know of, just that I don't know--that's an aspect of this world that's more familiar to you and Mary than to me.

JK: How do you think quilts can be used?

JL: Not cut up into Santa Clauses. [laughter.] Mine hang, as you know, on the walls of my houses, out of the sun, carefully, and they seem to do pretty well there. We sleep with a quilt at home, a "no account quilt." I think their best use is as beautiful things for people to look at, wherever they are.

JK: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

JL: Some of them don't deserve to be preserved for the future. [laughter.] Obviously, they have to be treated carefully. One of the things I think is that to any announcements that are made over the loudspeaker at a show like this, someone could add the notion that if people are coming to touch things, they should do so respectfully and carefully and think about the fact that some of these have been around already for a hundred or a hundred and fifty years. But everyone wants to touch them if they are anywhere accessible in a show, even though it says very clearly that it's made in the early eighteenth century, everybody wants to come grab them. Different--silk quilts are to put away on shelves and hide because people grab them. So one important point for preservation would be to educate the public to a little bit of that, I would think maybe in one of the convention speeches and obviously there are other ways of conserving a really beautiful piece.

JK: We've covered a lot about quilting in your life. Is there anything that you want to add or anything I may not have asked you about quilting in your life?

JL: I don't think so. I didn't think about that before. I mean, I really didn't think about this much, I figured I would just answer questions. So, I may wake up in the middle of the night and have something to say, but not that I can think of right now.

JK: Okay. I'd like to thank Jane Lury for allowing me to interview her today as part of the 2002 Quilters'.


“Jane Lury,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 22, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2671.