Charlotte Warr Anderson

Photos

QSOS_028_a.jpg

Title

Charlotte Warr Anderson

Description

Charlotte Warr Anderson began quilting in 1974, and taught herself from books. She considers herself to be an artist and views fabric as her medium of choice. Anderson does not think of herself as a “purist” when it comes to fabric selection, and works with whatever fabric she needs to produce the right look. She gets most of her inspiration from photographs including the quilt she brought with her, “Do Not Go Gentle.” This quilt was inspired by a photograph of her late father, and was an emotional outlet for her when dealing with the uncertainty of him having prostate cancer.

Identifier

QSOS-028
2019oh0544_qsosiqf0028

Contributor

Christine Sparta

Interviewee

Charlotte Warr Anderson

Interviewer

JoAnn Pospisil

Location

Houston, Texas

Transcriber

JoAnn Pospisil

Transcription

JoAnn Pospisil (JP): Charlotte, could you describe the quilt in general for the listener?

Charlotte Warr Andersen (CWA): Okay. This is called "Do Not Go Gentle" after the poem by Dylan Thomas. When my parents had their fiftieth wedding anniversary my brother Steve got out a photograph--well, several of his photographs--they were slides, and he was flashing them up on the screen. He came to this one that was a photo of my father way off in the distance walking up this snowy hillside. The sky was beautifully lit, and it was an amazing photograph. This was their fiftieth wedding anniversary and my mother said, 'Oh look! There goes Noel off into heaven.' Which I thought was really a tacky thing to say. I didn't want to hear anything about my father dying. I thought he was just fine and dandy. But I decided to get this photograph from my brother and make it into a quilt. In the photograph he was quite far away and was more or less just a silhouette against the sky. So I decided to bring him up close and personal and dress him in fabric that was like the kind of clothing he would wear. I didn't want to actually use his clothing because my mother always said it was so filthy and dirty it would stand up by itself. [laughter.]

JP: Can you describe the kinds of material, the fabrics, you used?

CWA: I've got wool and denim and some iridescent taffeta that makes up his galoshes. Different things like that. He's there out hiking through the snow. I remember his health was starting to fail at the time. About the time I had the pieces all cut out and was sewing it together, he was going to have a test for prostate cancer. They were worried he might have that. I remember really just having the 'must do this' on me. It was like I was working night and day on this thing. The day he had his prostate cancer test I was sewing away like crazy, and I finally got the last piece of the top together and it occurred to me, 'Dad had his prostate cancer test today.' I quickly called my mother as soon as I remembered that had been taking place and she said, 'Oh, it was negative. He's just fine.' I remember thinking to myself, 'Yes! Yes! I've done voodoo with my Bernina!' It was an absurd thought, but that's what it felt like at the time. [laughter.] Unfortunately, right after that his health started to fail even more. He had congestive heart failure. He was a long time going down hill and he became crabby and bitter about life. And--[catch in voice.] usually I can tell this without choking up, I've told it so many times--but anyway, it got to where I felt about this quilt like one of the characters in the story "The Monkey's Paw" where you got what you wished for but it wasn't what you wanted. I got to feeling negatively about this quilt. It wasn't a good thing anymore. When he died in 1994, we hung it behind his coffin and, all of a sudden, it was right again. There he went off into heaven.

JP: Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful story. This quilt means so much as a symbol of your father's life and memory.

CWA: Yes.

JP: You made the quilt when?

CWA: 1993. He died in 1994. And he did like it. He was not loose with praise. When I held up and showed it to him, he didn't say a word. But he was very free with criticism, of course. He would tell you if anything was wrong, but he didn't say a word so I knew it was good. I knew he would probably choke up himself if he tried to talk about it.

JP: Can you tell us about the various fabrics in the background?

CWA: I have to say I'm not a purist at all. As I find a fabric that I would like to use that looks like it will go well into a quilt, I use it. So I made his jacket out of wool. The very shiny sky behind him is a silk charmeuse which was very interesting because this is a piece quilt. I had to put right sides to right sides to put the pieces together so I was sewing wool next to silk charmeuse which was not the easiest thing I've ever done. But I did accomplish it and it looks like I wanted it to look.

JP: What did you back it with?

CWA: I have to confess it's a fabric that I bought at Wal-Mart, but it looked right. It's not the best of fabrics, but the look is what is important for me. I couldn't find another color that was pleasing, that looked kind of wintery and cold.

JP: Is it a cotton?

CWA: It's a blend, I believe. A cotton-poly blend. I've got a little bit of everything in there--there's a hundred percent polyester, there's silk, acetate because that's probably what this taffeta is made of. I really like the combination of fabrics. If I just use all cotton I wouldn't get the gleam and shine that the sky and the snow have in this piece.

JP: The contrasts are beautiful. Absolutely. How long did it take you to make this quilt?

CWA: The top was about a month's work because I was working so very hard on it. Then, all of a sudden the urgency was off once I had the top done. So I took time quilting it and probably quilted it over a period of about four months. I could have done it faster if I had wanted to but, like I said, the pressure was off.

JP: This is probably a foregone conclusion after the story you told, but what is the reason that you chose this piece over all others?

CWA: It was something I needed to make. Something I thought would be beautiful. A lot of people remember this quilt. It moves them, also. Probably of all the quilts I have made, it is the most moving. It is about death but it's still a beautiful quilt. And everyone goes through that experience--someone dies that is dear to them in their life. It strikes a chord.

JP: They are not always lucky enough to have this kind of a tangible symbol.

CWA: Right

JP: What do you plan to do with the quilt?

CWA: I was going to sell it--unbelievably--at one time because I do sell most of my quilts. I actually mentioned it to my mother and she said, 'You can't sell that quilt.' So she bought it from me, but she doesn't do anything with it. I still have it. I guess maybe it was more like a gift--'Well, if you need money that bad, I'll give you the money.'

JP: How do you use it?

CWA: The poor thing mostly resides in my suitcase because I'm traveling so much and I like to show it off. It really doesn't get hung all that much, but whenever I travel to Guild or a show it gets out and gets shown to lots of people.

JP: Do you have a special place to hang it at home?

CWA: No. I don't have a big enough wall to hang it on. I live in a fairly small house and with working--it's too much trouble to put it up and take it down when I travel every three or four weeks.

JP: How did you become interested in quilting initially?

CWA: I've always done some sort of needle work. I tried a little bit of everything over the years. I started out making my own Barbie doll clothes then got into crocheting and knitting and tatting and everything. When I finally tried quilting in 1974, it was the one that stuck. It's the one that feels like what I should be doing and the one that I love the best. I can't picture me going back to any of the other needle arts with any amount of seriousness.

JP: Did your mother quilt? Did you learn to quilt from her?

CWA: My mother made a few quilts here and there. I can't say I learned to quilt from her because the quilts she did were whole cloth quilts that were made of nylon tricot. They were essentially whole cloth quilts that just had a nice quilting pattern in them. They would do a rose pattern or, since I live in a Mormon community, maybe a Mormon temple right in the middle. They were just whole cloth quilts so she would stretch them out in the quilting frames and quilt them. I helped her every once in awhile so maybe that's where I learned to do an actual quilting stitch. But as for assembling a complicated top, I'm essentially self-taught.

JP: Have you taken classes?

CWA: Most of what I've learned is out of books and most of the techniques that I use now, I figured out myself.

JP: So you started when you were a child and did various things that built up to quilting. What do you do now in quilt-related activities? Large quilts? Wearables?

CWA: I do wearables every once in awhile. I've done several for the Fairfield fashion show, a big invitational fashion show. They presented here at festival last night. I didn't have one in this year's show.

JP: It is for this festival?

CWA: Yes. Then it tours all over the United States for a year after it's presented. I had one in last year's show, but my main thing is making quilts. I make commissioned pieces a lot. Most of my pieces are for sale because I consider myself an artist and, as an artist, I feel like I need to sell my things. I guess I could keep them all to myself, but I'd rather share them. If somebody values it enough to buy it from me, that's good. It means they value what I'm doing.

JP: I was going to ask whether you consider it more of an art or a craft.

CWA: It is both, but I consider what I do as my art. I could be painting. I could be sculpting. I could be doing these other pursuits but I've chosen fabric as my medium for expression.

JP: You've done it beautifully in this quilt, this gorgeous piece.

CWA: Thank you.

JP: What do you find the most pleasing when you're doing your quilting?

CWA: I love that the object that I have made--even though I would not be happy to see somebody use it as a blanket or as a bedcover--is also a utilitarian object, that it is something that is a feast for the fingertips as well as the eyes. No one goes up and strokes paintings. That's why we have to have "Do Not Touch" signs all over quilt shows. Everyone wants to go up and feel the quilt. It's just this added dimension to an art object that is something that someone wants to stroke.

JP: They can interact. What's your least favorite thing about quilting?

CWA: That it takes so much time. I would like being more prolific--that I would turn out more product. Then again, it's kind of neat that it has all those hours involved in it. In this world that has to rush by and do everything so quickly there's something very admirable about being able to say that there are 500, 600, 700 hours invested in a quilt.

JP: What is the inspiration when you start a new project?

CWA: Most of my quilts are pictorial so I find some subject matter that I think will make a knock out quilt.

JP: You take photographs, the visual, and translate into the fabric.

CWA: Yes. Right.

JP: Beautiful idea. What are the qualities that you consider make a great quilt?

CWA: Originality is very important to me. Although most quilters are out there duplicating, if you are talking in the sense of being judged and elevated above other quilts, originality is what is important to me. You've done something that you have not copied from another person. I also like to see color and impact, something that is very eye catching. I don't care for dull things myself. They can be subtle, but if they are dull and lacking spirit they really hold no interest for me.

JP: Do you have any general color schemes that you prefer?

CWA: No. As an artist I cannot ignore any colors. I went to Ricky Timm's lecture the other day and he compared it to playing a musical scale. If you were saying I don't like F sharp--well, that's a very good point. If you were to forget that one note on the scale, you've left that whole block of things out that can add sparkle and life to your music. It's the same with color. All those colors have to be there. They are all present in the world around us, so I refuse to say I have a favorite color.

JP: Okay. Whatever works in that project?

CWA: Yes.

JP: What are the qualities of a great quilter?

CWA: A great quilter needs to be confident about what she does--or he--and open about what she does. That's one thing I like about quilters. They are very sharing people. I like that spirit. When I teach I really don't hold anything back. I don't want to keep secrets. If somebody asks me how I do something, I will tell them. Just because I can do things better than anybody else or a certain technique better than anybody else, doesn't mean I don't want to share that with anybody. I don't want it to go to my head. I want to stay a humble person. I don't want to get arrogant that I make beautiful quilts. I don't think arrogance is part of being an artist. I hope I'm not arrogant. I told somebody yesterday, 'Slap me if I ever get snotty.' [laughter.] That's enough.

JP: Okay. What is your favorite quilting technique?

CWA: I do both piecing and appliqué. This particular quilt we are looking at here today is a piece quilt. It's all sewn on the sewing machine. It's hand quilted, but all the pieces are put together with the sewing machine. I'm probably more well known for my hand appliqué. I do a lot of portraiture in quilts and I have fun with that. I also have fun with my piecing, so I can't say there is a certain technique that I like above others and, if there's something unique out there that I want to try, I'm not afraid to go try that either. If I have to specifically say, my favorite thing is making a portrait.

JP: What do you think makes a piece artistically powerful?

CWA: I like them to have some sort of meaning. I guess that is why I favor pictorial quilts is because they're so easily understood. Patterns where there is nothing that's really identifiable as something from real life--the artist may say there is something going on there, some sort of meaning, but not something that's right there for every viewer to interpret readily. What I like about a pictorial quilt is that it tells a story very well.

JP: Why is it that you see quilting as such an important part of your life?

CWA: Well, it is what I do. From the time I was a small child I always wanted to be an artist. Before I discovered quilting I pictured doing it with paints or sculpture or whatever. There are many people out there who paint. I think there are less people who make quilts that are art objects. I have found that fiber and fabric is the medium that I love. It's the one I like to manipulate and see what I can do something with.

JP: The stitching in this is just beautiful, the textures that you bring out that give it that extra dimension. Especially in these dark areas where you have the tiny stitches. Absolutely gorgeous. How do you think quilts have been and continue to be important in this country?

CWA: I pay a little attention, but not a great deal of attention to other arts. It seems to me that the focus of a lot of the art that gets publicity lately is shock value. They're just doing something to shock you. Whereas quilts, for the most part, are very beautiful objects. While they may have a controversial subject matter on them, they still have that quilt that comfort feeling to them. Quilters have been working hard on that, trying to bring out that aspect of their quilts. Not too many of them have been done for just shock value. When I look at what has been done in the way of art in the last half of the twentieth century, I do believe that quilts stand out above some of the other mediums. That's a fairly strong statement to make, but when I look at them, that's the way I feel. They are some of the more worthy art objects of what's been turned out in the last half of the twentieth century.

JP: What do you think accounts for that worthiness, in your viewpoint?

CWA: That maybe so much more care and concern is put into them.

JP: Time investment?

CWA: Time investment and it's not being done to shock people. Recently we had that thing with the Virgin Mary painting with elephant dung on it. That's not a very pretty painting. I've seen pictures of it. I haven't seen it in person, but it seems there is some sort of disrespect involved in that when you have an object that is purposely made not to look attractive, but yet she is supposed to be a very dear icon to most of the world. I should say a large part of the world because Christians are not the majority in the world. That seems to me to be utterly done for shock value. Why take something beautiful and make it ugly? I don't understand that. For the most part quilts aren't that way. We are trying to make something gorgeous, something beautiful, something very admirable.

JP: How do you feel that your quilting might reflect your community or the region?

CWA: I am of Mormon background although I can't say I'm a practicing Mormon at the moment. I've done quilts, a couple of commissions, for the Mormon Church. They belong in their museum's collection. Quilting is part of the Mormon background. We have several pioneer quilts that are very well known in Utah. I guess that's enough of an answer.

JP: Do you feel like that background continues to influence the work that you envision?

CWA: Yes, although I'm not a practicing Mormon, it all still comes into play. It has instilled my values in me and is part of what has shaped me as a person.

JP: In what ways do you think that quilts have a special meaning for women's history in the U.S.?

CWA: Traditionally quilts are a woman's art. In the 1800s it was very hard for a woman who wanted to be an artist to become an artist. There are examples of women who made it, but most of them were discouraged and put down for even thinking that they could become artists. Working with fabric and making utilitarian objects such as quilts was a perfectly acceptable pursuit. So many of the women who wanted to be artists turned those creative juices into making their quilts and they made beautiful objects. Here we have this treasury--many of them in tatters, of course, because they were used so much--of art that has been handed down and is evidenced in the antique quilt booth here at festival.

JP: How do you think quilts should be preserved for the future, or in the future?

CWA: I know many quilts are definitely made to be used and loved and snuggled in and handled although I have to confess I haven't made many of those for the last several years. Most of mine are treated with care. This quilt we have right here, since I used such different fabrics, I never want to have to wash it! So I do try to protect it from getting dirt and dust on it. I can't say I keep people from handling it or anything. I may have to eventually deal with washing it, but I don't want to think about it at the moment. [chuckle.] I think quilts should be used for what they were meant for, the purpose that the maker intended. If they were meant to be art objects, then maybe they should be handled with care and revered a little more. Whereas if they were made for the purpose of being used, and maybe given to a child and loved to death, that's also a very worthy purpose.

JP: And perhaps preserved at the end of that process? The remains? [laughter.]

CWA: Yes. My daughter has her baby blanket and it's in tatters. She's nineteen years old and she still goes to bed with it every night.

JP: Important piece of her heritage.

CWA: Yes. Exactly.

JP: What was the first designer pattern that you did when you quilted?

CWA: Designer pattern, the first one that I made? That I consider original?

JP: The very first thing you ever did.

CWA: The very first quilt I made was a log cabin. I bet if you asked most quilters, eighty percent of them would say their first quilt was a log cabin quilt.

JP: Okay. Then your first original design?

CWA: My first original design was a quilt for my brother George who is a dentist and does all our dental work for free. I decided to make him a wall hanging. It has an outdoor theme. He likes going camping, fishing, and generally loves the outdoors, so I used traditional quilt patterns that I evolved into a pictorial quilt as Delectable Mountains, tall pine trees in the corner, flying geese going across the sky, and then I invented my own little jumping fish block for a border around the outside of the quilt.

JP: How has your family responded to your quilting?

CWA: They all know that I'm a famous quilter. My brother, George, is jealous of my travels although it's really just a job. I travel and go and teach and I earn some money and whatever. My mother is tremendously proud of it. She would rather have pictures of my quilts than pictures of her grandchildren. She will carry this little portfolio of my pictures in her purse and she will grab unsuspecting grocery store clerks by the arm and say, 'Look what my daughter did.'

JP: [laughing.] So they are very supportive, I take it.

CWA: Oh yes.

JP: Do you belong to a quilting group?

CWA: I do, but I don't often make it to meetings because I'm traveling so much.

JP: But they do meet regularly?

CWA: Yes.

JP: Do you keep in touch with them?

CWA: Every once in awhile. Last spring I did a presentation for them. I see them here and there.

Often I see fellow members at the quilt stores.

JP: Have you found them to be important in your evolution as a quilter?

CWA: At first. When I first joined a quilt guild there was so much to learn from them. I didn't take that many classes but it was just going to the group and the meetings and absorbing what I could hear there. I'm a quick learner. It just takes me looking at something, pretty much a quick glance, and I know what is going on. So that early membership in the quilt guild was assimilation, osmosis, or whatever. Just absorbing whatever was around me and I really did learn a lot there.

JP: Is there anything else you would like to add that has been important to you in your quilting, or that you see as the future of quilting. What do you think is the future of quilting?

CWA: Well, even back when I first started getting active in a guild--which was almost fifteen years ago--I started hearing that this is a fad that's going to die out real soon because quilting came and went several times before. It was popular in the 1930s and faded out, maybe a little spurt in the 1950s and then it faded out. Now it's been fifteen years and I'm still hearing that rumor [laughter.] 'Don't you think things are slowing down? My good friend Jeana Kimball said, 'Don't you think people are kind of dropping out of this?' I hope that's not true. I hope that people will keep this going, will still love it. I know I'm not sick of it. I'm totally loving quilt making and I'm dedicated to it. It's what I want to spend most of the rest of my life doing.

JP: And do you think that large shows like this serve an important function? Bring a cohesiveness?

CWA: Oh yes. That we can put on this big a show with all these amazing quilts and draw this many people shows that there really is that interest in quilt making that is alive and vibrant and going to continue.

JP: If there is nothing else you want to add, I think we have covered just about everything, unless you have some personal observation.

CWA: I don't think so.

JP: We very much appreciate all the good information and this beautiful quilt you brought to talk about and the important story that it has, all the soul you put into your work. So we will end this interview with Charlotte Warr Andersen on 22 October [1999.] here in Houston at the quilt festival. Thank you so much.


Citation

“Charlotte Warr Anderson,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/33.