Teresa Barkley

Photos

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Title

Teresa Barkley

Description

Teresa Barkely learned how to sew at the age of five, and began quilting at a young age. She entered her first quilt show when she was a teen, and won a ribbon for her quilt “Denim Quilt.” She is most known for her stamp quilts, and see art as a form of accessible art that does not alienate the viewer like other traditional forms of art.

Identifier

NY-002

Contributor

Christine Sparta

Interviewee

Teresa Barkely

Interviewer

Bernard Herman

Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance

Location

New York City, New York

Transcriber

Elaine Johnson

Transcription

**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Bernie Herman (BH): Today is April 21, 2003. I'm Bernie Herman with the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project. We're with Teresa Barkley and Karen Schaeffer at the University of Delaware. Teresa, tell us about the quilt that you've brought with you today.

Teresa Barkley (TB): Okay, the quilt I have with me today is called "Denim Quilt" and it's the first quilt that I ever completed that I felt really satisfied with--it was a two year project. I started it in 1970 and finished it in '72. It got much bigger than I thought it would be when I started, which has been an ongoing problem for me. Things frequently get bigger than originally planned. It is a collection of mostly worn denim squares cut from jeans. They are decorated with embroidery and appliqué that's hand done as well as with commercial company patches, Army patches, Girl Scout patches, a really wide range of designs. There are 396 squares of denim, each four inches and the designs on them are all different. The idea for the quilt came from a quilt that my great-aunt made. She saw directions for making such a quilt in a Woman's Day Magazine in the early seventies, I believe. And on a visit to Minnesota, I saw the quilt that she had made, where the designs on each square were much simpler, and I thought that this would be a really fun project. I had always been very interested in quilts and I think I had started some piecework that I had never finished of traditional designs, but the image of this quilt really fascinated me. Every square was different and that collage kind of aesthetic had always interested me. It was an easy project to work on a little bit at a time. I was a high school student at the time. All of the edges of the squares are turned back and crocheted with red crochet cotton and into that crochet is black crochet cotton, and then those edges are sewn together. Over a two year period of time I collected patches from places that I visited. I embroidered things. I appliquéd the whole alphabet. I embroidered the signs of the zodiac. I had long been interested in a collection of Army patches that were my father's when he was a small boy. And when I began the project I really wanted some of those patches and he was not interested in parting with them. And over the course of the project he came to see how really important this was to me and what a significant thing it was becoming and in the end he was very willing for me to choose as many patches as I wanted of his collection to put into the quilt on the condition that I never sell it. He said, 'If you ever want to sell that quilt, you have to give me back the patches.' I reached a point where I realized that it was plenty big, I had plenty of squares and I set out to arrange them on the floor with the alphabet in order and the Army patches evenly spaced, the alphabet evenly spaced. I'm not sure what my goal was in making it actually. I was fourteen when I started it and fifteen when I finished it. I felt very strongly about finishing it before I was sixteen. I had read in quilt history books that by a certain age you should have 12 quilts done or you weren't going to be ready when you were married, something like this--I knew it wasn't practical for my life but I liked the idea of it. I liked what few historical stories I had read about quilts. At the time there weren't very many books to be had about quilts but I had read every one of them that I could find. And I just knew this was something I was going to continue to work at. I had quilts that I was familiar with-- there were two or three. My mother had two quilts that her grandmother had made and I loved looking at those. My grandmother on the other side of the family had one quilt that she had made. And the mix of all kinds of things from all over the place put together in something new, fascinated me. I've never been very interested in quilts that were two contrasting fabrics put together or a solid color. It's not the object of the quilt that interests me so much as the process of the assembling things from all over the place into something new that means something different. The juxtaposition of all these things from a different place brought together in a particular theme is what really interests me about quilts that they have some kind of story with them. And while this isn't a specific story, it's a lot of little stories to me. Places I went and people who contributed things to me. I have friends who still send me worn jeans, because they remember thirty years ago when I was making this that I was collecting denim from people. I have no idea what happened to my great aunt's quilt but my denim quilt became for me a real affirmation that I could start and finish something successfully and the first time it was exhibited it was at the Delaware State Fair and it won a ribbon. I was very encouraged because I didn't know what to expect when I took it down there. Sometime later, I don't remember how much time passed. I took it to the National Quilting Association's show in Greenbelt, Maryland. That was one of the first venues available to people outside of a state fair to exhibit, and while it's not really considered an art quilt venue today, back then it was one of the few places you could exhibit with other quilters. And it was a range of all types of quilts. And I had no idea of what to expect when my dad and I drove it down there one weekend and went back the next weekend to pick it up and it had won first in youth category and third in the whole show and "Viewers' Choice." The woman who was in charge of the show was so excited to tell me that men on motorcycles were coming in to vote. She said, they said, "I've heard there's a quilt with patches on it here and I have to vote for it". It really astonished me that the interest was so great in it. And it encouraged me to continue and it's become the thing I'm most passionate about in terms of work. There is no other work I do that is as satisfying to me. And so when I look at this quilt I'm always encouraged. It always makes me happy to see it. I've had it exhibited a number of places. I used to sleep under it once a year--on Christmas Eve--I used to sleep under it and then I'd put it away for another year. I didn't want the cats to get on it. I didn't want anything to happen to it. It was a time when patches were every place. People were putting patches on jeans. It was easy to go out and buy patches. And I've always been a collector of a number of different things. And this combined my needlework and my interest in collecting things. Any questions about it?

BH: I just wanted to ask what your other influences were--you mentioned that you had an aunt who saw this pattern. But are there other influences in your work as well?

TB: Yes. I've always had an interest in vintage things, vintage advertising and things that have interesting graphics. I buy anything I can find with advertising on fabric. Usually if it's old, I have a lot of contemporary items too, but old advertising, commemorative advertising, and that complemented with my interest in stamps and the history that you learn from stamps, led to what I guess you could call my signature style of making quilts that are the image of a stamp. I made quite a few of those.

BH: Since you've introduced that topic, because your stamp quilts are so well known, could you talk a bit about those?

TB: Well, I forget what year it was--[1978.] at one point when I was in college there was a stamp issued with a basket quilt design on it. And it was a traditional piece work basket that was multi- colored I guess there were four blocks that assembled together, repeated over the sheet of stamps. And a father of a friend of mine gave me a whole sheet of the stamps because he knew I was interested in quilts. I don't know if he knew I was interested in stamps, I don't think he did. He just thought I should have a sheet of these stamps and in looking at it I was just struck with how much this repeat image resembled a traditional quilt where a modular unit is repeated over and over again. Maybe a ten inch square, twelve inch square. Forty-eight of them put together look very much like a sheet of stamps. And I thought it would be an interesting idea to try to do a quilt that looked like a sheet of stamps but I didn't know what that block image should be. I didn't know how to silk screen and I didn't want to appliqué something forty-eight times just to pursue this idea. So I went looking for something that I could put at the center of each one. And I had access to canvas money bags, how do I describe this? I had graduated high school at the time, but I worked at my high school's bingo. And one night at the end of the night the man in charge was putting the evening's earnings in this canvas money bag and I saw the design on the front of it. And I said, 'Do you know how I could get more of these, I would love to have a vast quantity of these that I could use in a quilt project.' This was at St. Anthony's, in Wilmington. And he said, 'The Italian Festival is coming up.' [it's held every June around St. Anthony's feast day.] And he said, 'I'll get new bags for all of the vendors at the carnival and I'll give you the old bags, the bank will just give us new bags. I'll just tell them we need new bags. And you can take the old, dirty ones and do with them what you want.' So I got massive quantities of Delaware Trust canvas money bags and washed them and they became the center of this block that was repeated forty-eight times to look like a sheet of stamps. And I did reverse appliqué sashing to go in between the blocks to look like the perforations and I copied from that sheet of stamps that my friend's dad gave me, the same serial numbers and painted with acrylic paint down the side those numbers and the little zip code man to make this look as much like a sheet of stamps as I could. And I realized in doing this that I liked the idea of making this commemorative document in a way that stamps are a commemorative document of an event or an anniversary, or a person. I thought it would be interesting to make quilts that were also commemorative in some way and that the content of the stamp should be more interesting. Rather than have a whole sheet of stamps I would start making individual stamps. Also a factor was how tedious it was doing all those perforations. It was very time consuming and didn't really result in aesthetically anything too interesting. It just served the purpose of representing perforations. So I thought that I'd put the effort into the composition of the stamp and just do a border that will look like the torn perforations. And so the next few stamp quilts were stamps that were about quilts in some way. The next one was a ten year anniversary stamp on the Whitney's exhibition. It was a strong graphic design in Amish colors that said across the top the two years involved - '71 to '81. And I thought this was an event worthy of a stamp being issued. The following one I think was the fine arts stamp which was fashioned after the Rauschenberg painting "Bed." I wanted to ruin a painting to the extent that he had ruined a quilt by dripping paint on this pillow and quilt. I thought I'll take a painting and quilt through the painting. Then I built patchwork that looked like the patchwork quilt Rauschenberg had used and at the top instead of the pillow I had a painting and instead of the paint drips I had suede and leather appliqués that I had available to me at my first patternmaking job in New York. The designer I worked for had a lot of leather. So I did my best to represent dripping paint and my husband had unfortunately done a commission for somebody I had worked with and she had reneged on it and he was going to paint over this canvas, because it was a very unpleasant reminder to him of the experience and I said, 'Wait, don't do that. I need a painting for this project and I'm not going to paint the painting so let me use this one.' I think there were only those three stamp quilts that had some connection to quilt history.

BH: How was the one that was the critique of Rauschenberg received? Was it shown?

TB: It was shown--I can only think of a couple places it was shown. I think Quilt National declined it, I don't remember but I'm pretty sure, I entered it and they declined it. It was in the exhibition here at the University at the Perkins Student Center Gallery. [1988.] It was at an exhibition outside of Pittsburgh [1984.] where all of the work had to be in someway derivative of log cabin designs. And the quilt Rauschenberg used was a log cabin so half of my quilt was log cabin. It has a difficult time finding venues because it is very long. Sometimes the dimensions are not acceptable to people so it's been shown a very few times. It's been published a few times. Occasionally I hear from somebody who sees it and says, 'Oh, I did something similar.' The Rauschenberg piece always gets some kind of reaction from quilters, either they love it or hate it. So many people have done something, well maybe not many but a few people have done things, I've seen other quilts that have a reference to Rauschenberg, so sometimes I hear from those people. But, by and large there has not been as much reaction to it as I would have thought.

BH: In a parallel, there's a point where your quilts begin to, very early on, begin to engage the world of art, however you wish to construct that. Can you talk about the process that got you to think about the quilt as art, or the art quilt?

TB: Well, as I mentioned earlier I had done a few traditional quilts and never finished them prior to the denim quilt. And the realization that this was a very time consuming way to work made me very anxious to do something that was one of a kind. I really like the tactile quality of quilts and I loved working with fabric. But the realization came to me very early that fabulous quilts had been made for a very long time by people with more time and skill than I had and it was really kind of pointless for me to duplicate those designs in contemporary materials when I had so little time, I would rather use it on something that was uniquely my own. One - that it would be more interesting looking, and two - it would be a better use of my time. The world doesn't really need another flower garden quilt and that was the quilt that I had admired so much of my great-grandmother's and the first traditional one I had begun to piece and I've never finished it because I made a lot of technical errors along the way. It was a learning experience but I never felt the need to finish because it became much less interesting to me to make a quilt to use. I wanted something that was interesting to look at and I think I was influenced to some extent by the fact that my sister who's a year older always drew very well and I did not. But, I was attracted to sewing very early. My mother taught me to sew when I was five. I remember it very distinctly because my sister had started to school and I was bored. She taught me to sew and I took to it very rapidly and I spent a lot of time on it. I thought if I were to find a way to express myself with sewing. I could avoid learning how to draw. I wanted to make things. I was fascinated with making things and I didn't ever think it would be with paint or pencil, but I loved the process of making a visual something and so it came to be in fabric and wanting to make it unique. But at the time there wasn't anything called an art quilt. It was not well received by a lot of people actually, there was a lot of, 'That's not a quilt,' that you would hear from people.

BH: Referring to the denim quilt?

TB: The denim quilt and those that came after. The one immediately after this was all made from clothing labels. This one doesn't even have batting in it. It's so heavy that it's just a backing on the denim. The quilt that followed this was the one made from clothing labels that also took a couple of years.

BH: How did you respond when people said, 'Well this is not a quilt?'

TB: I said, [laughing.] 'I don't really care if you think it's not a quilt. It's interesting isn't it? Isn't it fascinating all these things that people make that you can use a different way.' That's always been something that interested me finding a new application for something that's been made and was maybe too interesting to just throw out. I find that over the years that the work includes more and more found object materials just because they're too interesting to just discard. They should get together and do something else. So I started to collect anything with printing or imagery on it. That's contemporary fabric as well as vintage fabric whether it's feed sacks, flour sacks, things like that or commemorative handkerchiefs, pillow tops, tea towels, tablecloths, commemorative fabric that's printed for. They used to print a lot of more interesting fabric than they do now, anniversary, and things political and handkerchiefs. There's not a great deal being done today that's as interesting commemorative textiles.

BH: I want to come back to the stamp quilts and you talked about the three that really quoted the world of art and the place of the quilt in the world of art. But, then work evolved. These weren't the only stamp quilts that you made. Can you characterize sort of the trajectory your work took?

TB: Well, I have always had more time to think about them than to do them. From college I began a career in the fashion industry and quilting was always the secondary use of my time. I would find myself thinking about interesting ways of putting these things together while I was commuting or waiting to do something else, or daydreaming at work or whatever. I tend to think a lot about which things to put together rather than working in a kind of spontaneous evolution, which a lot of quilters do, they just start and cut and put up and see what is evolves. And partly because I have so little time and partly because I work as a patternmaker, I tend to think about drafting a full scale pattern. And also because the material was irreplaceable in a lot of cases, if it was a hundred year old handkerchief and there's only one of them available to me. I better know how best to use it before I start cutting. So, these elaborate ideas turn around in my head about what to put this with. They become very thematic and stamps are very thematic. So, I started many years ago to store the fabric by theme. As the collection of fabric got to be so large to find something, or not even just to find it, to find the connections between them, I started to store them by theme. There are four boxes of Christmas fabrics. I have a box of train fabrics, and plane fabrics, and planets and bugs, and three boxes of food fabric and cartoon characters. And as I acquire something and put it with the other things they kind of have this dialogue. They have this oh well, you know Mighty Mouse and Mickey Mouse together with Fievel the Mouse and something else. And they have a relationship where different people for different reasons have put this imagery on fabric, and don't they look interesting when you get them all together. And then maybe some current event or anniversary of an event will trigger a reason to start putting them together, I'm trying to think of a for instance. [pause in conversation.] "The Dawn of Television" is a quilt that includes across the bottom half turn-of-the-century pages from a linen children's book with Mother Goose nursery rhymes on them. And the top half of the quilt is a sun rising supposedly beyond this fence with images of cartoon characters that were my favorites when I was a child on TV screens. And the Museum of American Folk Art in New York had a competition called "Memories of Childhood" back in I guess it was '88 and the quilts had to be this dimension 45" X 54" and they were supposed to be about some memory of childhood and one of my strongest memory's of childhood was the rise of television as the most popular means of storytelling and I thought if I put together these storybook pages on the one hand and contrasted them with the TV images of cartoon characters this might look interesting. And Howdy Doody's included there also and that's before my time but I knew it was the transition in this move toward telling stories to children. And had it not been for that contest I never would have put this together but there'll be some kind of reason to start working on a particular theme.

BH: Before we move on from that quilt. Early on you alluded to the denim quilt as having a lot of little stories and "The Dawn of Television" also has a narrative aspect to it. You've talked a bit about the aesthetics in your design of quilts. But could you talk a little bit about how you see quilts as narrative or quilts as storytellers?

TB: Well a lot of viewers when they first see something of mine they get an initial impression of what it's about but, usually they feel much better when they've heard more of the story about how it came to be. I have this conversation a lot with my husband who's a painter, whether you should need to describe something to someone or should they take their own meaning from it and not need any additional input from the artist to take their meaning from the piece and I tend to think that those who get an initial impression of the quilt that interests them and draws them in to want to know more about why you did what you did the way you did, and sometimes that information is available to them and sometimes it's not. I write a description myself every time I finish one about why I did what I did and to some extent what it means to me not in great detail but how these elements came to be put together. I don't want to forget why it was made that way and I want people who are interested in finding out more, to have access to that information and eventually when I get around to putting it all together in some kind of publication it'll be there for people who want to know more about that story. Some people will probably be happier with their own story, with what they thought when they first saw it. But I like having the information available to people about why it was made in the first place. Did I answer your question? I sense that you're looking for something different.

BH: Well, I think you did answer it in the way that made sense. And perhaps I'm asking about the larger range of possibilities for quilts as narrative in all sorts of ways. And they're never explicit narratives. "The Dawn of Television" is not explicit when you look at it, but it's evocative and I'm interested in that evocative nature, the evocative narrative nature of the quilt.

TB: Well, I think that quilts have the potential that a lot of other mediums don't have in that they're made up of a material that is very accessible to everyone. A lot of people feel a distance from a painting or sculpture that they don't feel from something that's textile because textiles are part of everyone's life and they have all kinds of warm connotations, family connotations and people are attracted to a quilt in a way they're not attracted to painting or sculpture and I think they can see themselves relating to it in a more personal way. I think people feel intimidated with a lack of art history. They come to art feeling, unless they're trained in it, they come to museum exhibitions feeling, 'I don't know enough about this to understand this. Why don't I understand this?' and when they look at a quilt a lot of that baggage isn't there, they just enjoy it for what it is whether they understand the reason the maker made it or not. They don't feel that there's this distance between themselves and it that exists with other mediums.

BH: What is it about quilts that makes that possible?

TB: Everybody has one in their life whether it's--

BH: Almost everyone.

TB: Almost everyone. They have a connection to a family quilt whether they own it or not, they remember one somewhere. Or they have a favorite one that they've seen even if it's not something in their family. There is one that they've seen pictures of that they like. It has all kinds of comforting memories for people, maybe a quilt that you got to use only when you were sick or a quilt that a special person made or they made it for a special reason or there are special fabrics in it that they bought on a particular occasion. I know for myself, I can look at fabric I bought twenty years ago and remember where I bought it and who I was with when I bought it, sometimes what I paid for it. I don't know why it is, memories attach easily to fabric and I don't know if it's based in clothing or if it's just that's it's such an everyday part of your life. But, fabric is a common denominator for everyone in the way that other mediums aren't necessarily.

BH: Let me shift again here. You are a very active member in one of the most dynamic quilt groups in the United States, the Manhattan Quilter's Guild.

TB: Correct.

BH: Can you talk about the impact that this had in your own work?

TB: Certainly. When I first moved to New York I was already very passionate about quilts but I did not have contact with other people who were. It was very much an individual endeavor. In New York I started to meet other people who were also interested in quilts through a person named Jeff Gutcheon. He and his wife Beth had a business in Manhattan where they sold fabric and they had done a few books and they gave lectures. I started going there to buy fabric and some other people who worked there gave lectures on occasion there and showed their work. I became friendly with the sales people that worked there and some of them were members of this organization. It's always been such a small group partly because of where they met, but also because of the management involved in a bigger group, nobody wanted to be terribly involved in organizing a large group of people and dividing the work among them. They started out very social. People got together to actually work on quilts and it came to be more of a networking vehicle for finding out about shows, sometimes discussing techniques, sometimes they would invite speakers. For a long time they didn't accept new members and about 11 years ago they decided to bring in new people and it was an opportunity. I joined with five other people I believe in 1991. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how people in that group had developed their individual styles, what their techniques were, to learn about exhibition opportunities. It was the first time probably I met--half of them I knew prior to that and half of them I met after joining. But they each had individual styles and that was fascinating to me because I had my style and I wasn't interested in learning anybody else's technique but it was fascinating to me that they each--most of them had their own either way of constructing or their own way of printing fabric or some did photo transfers, some did silk screening, some had intricate piecing techniques but it was not like somebody wanted you to be their teacher or their student. It was just a group of people with this common interest who shared this passion for getting their work out there. Getting people to accept this new art medium. The group has reinvented itself many times as people get more busy with other things, we meet less often. We've always stayed a pretty small group, people move away, or they become less interested and drop out. We take on new members occasionally but not on any regular basis. For most people it has been a very good vehicle for finding venues to exhibit, because we have a lot of international members. We have a member from Japan, one from Australia, two from Russia and they all bring to it their own cultural perspective as well as a variety of techniques, materials, opportunities to share the work with their country. We've been in Japanese publications because of one member, Emiko Toda Loeb, who spends half of the year in Japan and half of the year here. It always amazes me how much you can do when you divide the work among a dozen people with different skills. I mean we're twenty-one members but some people are away a lot. Some people are very good at finding venues, others are publicizing them. You need people to complement your strengths and weaknesses so it's very good to be in group and be exposed to things you'd never get around to doing yourself.

BH: There are a couple of additional questions that I want to be sure we cover. One of these is you've had so many influences. You've known quilts since you were young that have been in your family. You're a patternmaker. You've exhibited internationally.

TB: Yes.

BH: You belong to a guild which exhibits in major venues, I'm thinking particularly of the exhibit at Times Square which is current. With all these different perspectives what do you think makes a great quilt great?

TB: My first thought is there is something about it that surprises me. Either there is something technically wonderful about it or a really extraordinary material or the person thought about something that I never thought about before. It's something very personal to them. I think that for me a really successful quilt tells you something about the person who made it, that's unique to them. It's not something that anybody else could do. Only they could have made that thing. And I think--I am asked by people sometimes, 'Do you worry about people copying your style? What if other people start making stamp quilts, isn't that going to bother you?' I say, 'Nobody is ever going to do exactly what I would do. Nobody has exactly the materials I have, or will connect the things that I would connect. They come out of my own experiences. I make them either in response to something I'm feeling strongly about or such as a souvenir commemorative document of something that I'm feeling. In the way that stamps are issued for a particular reason, I'll make a quilt about a particular something that's important to me at the time. And that's my experience. It's not ever going to be anybody else's experience. They can make quilts that look like stamps if they want but they're never going to come out of the same experience. To me a quilt is really successful if it's unique to the individual that made it, if it comes from their own experience.'

BH: The corollary to that question is what makes a great quiltmaker?

TB: I thought about that a lot earlier this year when I was looking at the exhibit at the Whitney Museum. Given that the Whitney has only shown quilts a few times, they may have had quilts in the recent biennial but, shows that were about quilts. I think this recent one of quilts from Gee's Bend was probably the first time they had a quilt show since the one in 1971. And a lot people reacted as emotionally to this one now as they did back then, 'That these aren't great quilts.' These are very weird utilitarian things that are made that are aesthetically very pleasing. They're made out of old work clothes, out of jeans, out of double knitted leisure suits, out of some really strange materials. And I went to it not knowing how I might feel about this. And I thought, 'Oh, there's so much hype about this. Everybody says that these are such interesting, strong quilts. Am I going to like them? I don't like a lot of pictures I've seen of them.' But when I saw them in person and I got the sense of these people made these without caring what anybody thought. They did it to please themselves. And if you can make something--you do so many things in the course of your day-to-day life that you do because you have to for one reason or another. This is something we choose to do because we really want to do it. I couldn't not do it. I have to do it. I'm compelled to do it. It brings me great satisfaction and if somebody--whenever I make a quilt for somebody else to try to please them it's always a very dissatisfying experience for me. I do commission work but only when I have a certain amount of latitude to do what I want to do. Because if it's not interesting to me I might as well be waiting on tables or something, it's got to be something that I'm excited about doing. So to me a successful quilter is someone who is doing exactly what they want to do. I find it to be a very good compliment to the day job I have. I'm working with a lot of the same tools, thinking about a lot of the same things--making things fit together. But, I get to choose the design, the dimensions, the materials, spend as much time as I want, as much money as I want. The design is what I want. I only have primarily two dimensions to worry about instead of three. When I'm making a garment it's like sculpture. It has to hang right and when quilting that's not an issue for me. Quilting for me is exactly what I want it to be. I feel it's successful if I do what I wanted to do. I know that sounds really self-indulgent but I think everybody should have some aspect of their life that is completely within their control, because there is so much that isn't in their control. The quilt is successful if you achieved what you set out to do.

BH: How's quilting had an impact on your life? How does it fit into your family life? It's time consuming.

TB: It is time consuming, but I've got a terrific husband who really understands that. He's a painter and he's the cook in the family and he is self-employed in a couple different things and he's very flexible about time. He handles most of the children's needs because he works from home and he understands that this is the most important work that I do. I do other things for the financial gain but this is the thing that makes me me. As much as painting makes him who he is, if he's not doing that he's not happy and the same is true for me with quilting. Things are a means to an end and this is sort of an end in and of itself. This is the thing I really want to be doing and when all is said and done nobody is going to remember if my house is clean or not. [laughs.] They are going to see the quilts and say, 'This woman spent her time well.' There was an exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum. I forget what it was. It was one of the first places I showed. It was one of the first times I showed the labels quilt and I guess it would have been the fall of 1976. And I remember standing behind a couple of women looking at my quilt and it was the first time I'd had this experience listening to people talking about it. The one woman said to the other, 'This person could have spent this time helping people, like what a waste of time that she put all of this effort into this thing when she could have been out helping people.' And I thought, 'Well, you know I guess that's true but in some way this does help people if it helps them think about recycling or think about new ways to apply materials or the aesthetic of some small, ordinary things, it was about three thousand clothing labels sewn together.' I thought, 'If you can't look at that and think something more interesting than this person could have been helping people.' [laughs.] To me it's almost the best use of the time when I quilt. Certainly family has to come first, my children understand that. For many years my children thought this is what I did when I went off to my job, because when I'm at home this is what I'm doing and they thought when I go to my job I must be doing this too, because it's the work they see me primarily do. I don't know for how long they thought that but one day I said, 'That's the job I'd really like to have but it's not the job I have. I don't go off and make quilts. I work hard at it at home. So far I haven't found a way to quilt full-time.'

[tape ends.]

[tape two begins.]

BH: This is Bernie Herman with Teresa Barkley and Karen Schaeffer on our second tape on the twenty-first of April, 2003. And as we near the conclusion of our interview, I had a couple of additional questions for you. How do you see the place of quiltmaking in contemporary society?

TB: Well, I've certainly seen tremendous changes in the last thirty years that I've been quilting and in how people receive quilts. I'm always surprised when I see an article in a newspaper or magazine that begins with 'These aren't your grandmother's quilts' when they're talking about contemporary quilts because people were writing that twenty-five years ago. I'd like to think that quilts have gained tremendous exposure in such a variety of settings that people don't immediately identify them as bed covers anymore. They're made with such a tremendous range of materials and themes, proportions. That people see them in hospitals, and airports, in museums, in all types of magazines with such great variety that I think that it's probably an extraordinary person that hasn't already experience them in some way outside of bedding. I might be wrong. I realize that I live and work in the densely populated New York metropolitan area, that my perspective on things is not necessarily the nationwide perspective on things. But because of exhibitions like Quilt National and the Visions exhibition and many international shows. I forget what they call it Quilt Expo or something, European exhibitions, that people all around the world have come to see quilts in a variety of wall hanging venues that they don't think of them as bedding--not always as an art object but that they have the potential to be an art object. That was the point of the Rauschenberg quilt for people to see--I took the writing from an existing stamp that had an abstract painting on it. The stamp was labeled 'to the fine arts' and there was an abstract painting on it and I thought that by combining the Rauschenberg work with quilting and that labeling people might get the idea that quilts had the potential to be fine art. If things like glass and wood and video, and performance art can make it into the mainstream acceptance I don't know why fiber should not. For the naysayers who worry about the deterioration problems and the fact that it's not as stable as some other mediums, there are plenty of more ephemeral art forms as well, that people don't have trouble recognizing. I think if it's something that you value you'll find a way to preserve it. I don't think it's any less potential as an art form as anything else.

BH: Is there an area that we haven't covered today. Is there a question or questions that we should have raised that we didn't?

TB: We talked about stamps. We talked about commemorative documents. We talked about quilts as art. We talked about. I can't think of any general area that you omitted.

BH: Is there a question you wished I'd asked that I didn't? Have I failed you?

TB: Do you want to talk about the "Midtown Direct" quilt?

BH: We certainly can. We did ask that you bring a quilt that was in progress prior to 9/11 and that remains unfinished at present. And it would be great if you could talk about that.

TB: Well, as I described earlier, a lot of quilts, naturally, come out of my own experience and when I moved from New York to New Jersey and started to commute on a train into Manhattan and I could see the skyline of New York and one of the first challenges of my day was getting a seat on this train, I started to think about a quilt that was about my commute. A lot of my quilts have very serious themes whether they are something social, or political. Some are very humorous like "How to Get a Husband" stamp. The area I moved to in New Jersey was becoming increasingly popular as a community for commuters and my train was getting very, very crowded and finding a seat within the course of the first year of my living there became very difficult. So finding a seat was a big issue for me and I thought it would make an interesting quilt. And even before I started to make it I called the quilt "Midtown Direct" which is the name of the train I take and it runs from Western and Northern New Jersey into Penn Station. And I started to assemble fabrics that had trains and chairs on them. And I wanted to put together these images in some representation of my commute. And in the center of the quilt will be a woven picture of the World Trade Center, which I could see on my approach to the city. This woven picture I cut up into sections and pieced together with it train images to resemble the rails and the ties of train tracks. This was going to represent the aisle in the middle of the train and on either side of it would be fabrics with chairs and trains and upholstery webbing. And then on the top of the quilt would be a semi-circular design which is an element I've used in a lot of different quilts, sometimes its the sunrise, quite a few times it's been a sun design, but in this case it would be the entrance to the tunnel. And on that tunnel entrance would be a huge, plush chair. The ideal primo seat on the train. I was working on the quilt most recently in the summer of 2001 and after 9/11 I found I couldn't even look at it for months. It was a very emotional experience to have invested so much time in making this so far and really want to complete it and find I couldn't even bear to look at it. And it had been photographed for a magazine, the work-in-progress, and I notified them that they should be aware of it, that maybe they hadn't realized it since the photography was done that it would have a completely different meaning at the time the issue would come out and that they should be aware of that. They could do whatever they wanted to do about it but just that they should be aware of it. And they chose not to use the image and I've spent an awful lot of time deciding whether or not to proceed with it the way the pattern was originally drafted, or if it should change in some way. But, for months this was a dilemma and I didn't look at it at all. And then I thought that I'll decide later. Now is later and I've thought about it a lot and I'll finish it just the way I had originally intended because the event is far enough behind me now that I can look at it without it being so emotional. I did make a quilt for a 9/11 memorial project that uses the same woven picture in its entirety super-imposed on a flag design. And enough time has passed that I can work on this without it being so emotional again and I would like for it to be a stamp design. It will be commemorative of what that commuting experience used to be like. And I found that for many months I still expected to see the towers as I approach the city, much as your brain knows one thing you have these habits and there would be three points in my commuter where I would see the twin towers. This would be the first as we approached the city and my view of the towers would be similar to the piece work I had begun. They would be dissected by power lines and so this image isn't so far a field of what actually I would see. And then I could walk across town and look down Sixth Avenue and see them and I would take the train out to Queens and the subway would come up above ground and I would see them again. I found I was naturally, this was one of the high points of the trip, was always seeing this. It was always a real treat to see it and I found myself turning for weeks and weeks and months to see that image and they wouldn't be there. And thankfully enough time has past and it's not something I look for anymore. I've come to terms with that being past and now all the talk is about how to rebuild.

BH: That gets into a question I meant to ask and slipped my mind. In thinking about things as metaphors, can you talk a bit about the architecture of a quilt?

TB: Well, when I happened upon the stamp design this perforated edge gave me a nice frame that would contain many different kinds of compositions. Because of my work as a patternmaker I like to think about drawing a full-scale pattern or half-scale pattern whenever possible and looking at proportions smaller than full size. I like to pull out certain old stamp designs, to look at ways of organizing images. I do often times look at old stamps to get an idea of what works visually. They usually have at least one line of symmetry in them. They are almost always pictorial in some way. I like putting together imagery from a lot of different sources and one of the strongest influences I failed to mention earlier was scrapbooks. My great-grandmother on my dad's side of the family made really wonderful scrapbooks in the late 1800's, early 1900's from advertising cards. These fascinated me as a child. The way that she cut out and put together these pictures on scrapbook pages. They looked to me like collages and what I thought quilts could be if I could only find those wonderful fabrics that looked like these pictures. And it took me years to realize that I could buy them if I knew where to look. And the advent of E-bay was great assist in that. The way you can just look and look for interesting images. Companies that used interesting logos on their textile bags for instance, that you could put together these wonderful pictures of wheat, and corn, and children, and cooking, and different idyllic settings and all of these things mushed together with some tie to something contemporary makes them both old and new at the same time and that's a big interest of mine as well. The value of something old together with something new. I like historic quilts and I like new quilts and I like that mine are a mix of the two of them, old materials and new materials on a particular theme.

BH: I think that's a wonderful place to conclude for today. Thank you very much, Teresa for participating in this interview and Karen whose silence is indicative only of her ailing condition. This is Bernie Herman for the Quilters' S.O.S. and thank you. Thank you all.Bernie Herman (BH): Today is April 21, 2003. I'm Bernie Herman with the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project. We're with Teresa Barkley and Karen Schaeffer at the University of Delaware. Teresa, tell us about the quilt that you've brought with you today.

Teresa Barkley (TB): Okay, the quilt I have with me today is called "Denim Quilt" and it's the first quilt that I ever completed that I felt really satisfied with--it was a two year project. I started it in 1970 and finished it in '72. It got much bigger than I thought it would be when I started, which has been an ongoing problem for me. Things frequently get bigger than originally planned. It is a collection of mostly worn denim squares cut from jeans. They are decorated with embroidery and appliqué that's hand done as well as with commercial company patches, Army patches, Girl Scout patches, a really wide range of designs. There are 396 squares of denim, each four inches and the designs on them are all different. The idea for the quilt came from a quilt that my great-aunt made. She saw directions for making such a quilt in a Woman's Day Magazine in the early seventies, I believe. And on a visit to Minnesota, I saw the quilt that she had made, where the designs on each square were much simpler, and I thought that this would be a really fun project. I had always been very interested in quilts and I think I had started some piecework that I had never finished of traditional designs, but the image of this quilt really fascinated me. Every square was different and that collage kind of aesthetic had always interested me. It was an easy project to work on a little bit at a time. I was a high school student at the time. All of the edges of the squares are turned back and crocheted with red crochet cotton and into that crochet is black crochet cotton, and then those edges are sewn together. Over a two year period of time I collected patches from places that I visited. I embroidered things. I appliquéd the whole alphabet. I embroidered the signs of the zodiac. I had long been interested in a collection of Army patches that were my father's when he was a small boy. And when I began the project I really wanted some of those patches and he was not interested in parting with them. And over the course of the project he came to see how really important this was to me and what a significant thing it was becoming and in the end he was very willing for me to choose as many patches as I wanted of his collection to put into the quilt on the condition that I never sell it. He said, 'If you ever want to sell that quilt, you have to give me back the patches.' I reached a point where I realized that it was plenty big, I had plenty of squares and I set out to arrange them on the floor with the alphabet in order and the Army patches evenly spaced, the alphabet evenly spaced. I'm not sure what my goal was in making it actually. I was fourteen when I started it and fifteen when I finished it. I felt very strongly about finishing it before I was sixteen. I had read in quilt history books that by a certain age you should have 12 quilts done or you weren't going to be ready when you were married, something like this--I knew it wasn't practical for my life but I liked the idea of it. I liked what few historical stories I had read about quilts. At the time there weren't very many books to be had about quilts but I had read every one of them that I could find. And I just knew this was something I was going to continue to work at. I had quilts that I was familiar with-- there were two or three. My mother had two quilts that her grandmother had made and I loved looking at those. My grandmother on the other side of the family had one quilt that she had made. And the mix of all kinds of things from all over the place put together in something new, fascinated me. I've never been very interested in quilts that were two contrasting fabrics put together or a solid color. It's not the object of the quilt that interests me so much as the process of the assembling things from all over the place into something new that means something different. The juxtaposition of all these things from a different place brought together in a particular theme is what really interests me about quilts that they have some kind of story with them. And while this isn't a specific story, it's a lot of little stories to me. Places I went and people who contributed things to me. I have friends who still send me worn jeans, because they remember thirty years ago when I was making this that I was collecting denim from people. I have no idea what happened to my great aunt's quilt but my denim quilt became for me a real affirmation that I could start and finish something successfully and the first time it was exhibited it was at the Delaware State Fair and it won a ribbon. I was very encouraged because I didn't know what to expect when I took it down there. Sometime later, I don't remember how much time passed. I took it to the National Quilting Association's show in Greenbelt, Maryland. That was one of the first venues available to people outside of a state fair to exhibit, and while it's not really considered an art quilt venue today, back then it was one of the few places you could exhibit with other quilters. And it was a range of all types of quilts. And I had no idea of what to expect when my dad and I drove it down there one weekend and went back the next weekend to pick it up and it had won first in youth category and third in the whole show and "Viewers' Choice." The woman who was in charge of the show was so excited to tell me that men on motorcycles were coming in to vote. She said, they said, "I've heard there's a quilt with patches on it here and I have to vote for it". It really astonished me that the interest was so great in it. And it encouraged me to continue and it's become the thing I'm most passionate about in terms of work. There is no other work I do that is as satisfying to me. And so when I look at this quilt I'm always encouraged. It always makes me happy to see it. I've had it exhibited a number of places. I used to sleep under it once a year--on Christmas Eve--I used to sleep under it and then I'd put it away for another year. I didn't want the cats to get on it. I didn't want anything to happen to it. It was a time when patches were every place. People were putting patches on jeans. It was easy to go out and buy patches. And I've always been a collector of a number of different things. And this combined my needlework and my interest in collecting things. Any questions about it?

BH: I just wanted to ask what your other influences were--you mentioned that you had an aunt who saw this pattern. But are there other influences in your work as well?

TB: Yes. I've always had an interest in vintage things, vintage advertising and things that have interesting graphics. I buy anything I can find with advertising on fabric. Usually if it's old, I have a lot of contemporary items too, but old advertising, commemorative advertising, and that complemented with my interest in stamps and the history that you learn from stamps, led to what I guess you could call my signature style of making quilts that are the image of a stamp. I made quite a few of those.

BH: Since you've introduced that topic, because your stamp quilts are so well known, could you talk a bit about those?

TB: Well, I forget what year it was--[1978.] at one point when I was in college there was a stamp issued with a basket quilt design on it. And it was a traditional piece work basket that was multi- colored I guess there were four blocks that assembled together, repeated over the sheet of stamps. And a father of a friend of mine gave me a whole sheet of the stamps because he knew I was interested in quilts. I don't know if he knew I was interested in stamps, I don't think he did. He just thought I should have a sheet of these stamps and in looking at it I was just struck with how much this repeat image resembled a traditional quilt where a modular unit is repeated over and over again. Maybe a ten inch square, twelve inch square. Forty-eight of them put together look very much like a sheet of stamps. And I thought it would be an interesting idea to try to do a quilt that looked like a sheet of stamps but I didn't know what that block image should be. I didn't know how to silk screen and I didn't want to appliqué something forty-eight times just to pursue this idea. So I went looking for something that I could put at the center of each one. And I had access to canvas money bags, how do I describe this? I had graduated high school at the time, but I worked at my high school's bingo. And one night at the end of the night the man in charge was putting the evening's earnings in this canvas money bag and I saw the design on the front of it. And I said, 'Do you know how I could get more of these, I would love to have a vast quantity of these that I could use in a quilt project.' This was at St. Anthony's, in Wilmington. And he said, 'The Italian Festival is coming up.' [it's held every June around St. Anthony's feast day.] And he said, 'I'll get new bags for all of the vendors at the carnival and I'll give you the old bags, the bank will just give us new bags. I'll just tell them we need new bags. And you can take the old, dirty ones and do with them what you want.' So I got massive quantities of Delaware Trust canvas money bags and washed them and they became the center of this block that was repeated forty-eight times to look like a sheet of stamps. And I did reverse appliqué sashing to go in between the blocks to look like the perforations and I copied from that sheet of stamps that my friend's dad gave me, the same serial numbers and painted with acrylic paint down the side those numbers and the little zip code man to make this look as much like a sheet of stamps as I could. And I realized in doing this that I liked the idea of making this commemorative document in a way that stamps are a commemorative document of an event or an anniversary, or a person. I thought it would be interesting to make quilts that were also commemorative in some way and that the content of the stamp should be more interesting. Rather than have a whole sheet of stamps I would start making individual stamps. Also a factor was how tedious it was doing all those perforations. It was very time consuming and didn't really result in aesthetically anything too interesting. It just served the purpose of representing perforations. So I thought that I'd put the effort into the composition of the stamp and just do a border that will look like the torn perforations. And so the next few stamp quilts were stamps that were about quilts in some way. The next one was a ten year anniversary stamp on the Whitney's exhibition. It was a strong graphic design in Amish colors that said across the top the two years involved - '71 to '81. And I thought this was an event worthy of a stamp being issued. The following one I think was the fine arts stamp which was fashioned after the Rauschenberg painting "Bed." I wanted to ruin a painting to the extent that he had ruined a quilt by dripping paint on this pillow and quilt. I thought I'll take a painting and quilt through the painting. Then I built patchwork that looked like the patchwork quilt Rauschenberg had used and at the top instead of the pillow I had a painting and instead of the paint drips I had suede and leather appliqués that I had available to me at my first patternmaking job in New York. The designer I worked for had a lot of leather. So I did my best to represent dripping paint and my husband had unfortunately done a commission for somebody I had worked with and she had reneged on it and he was going to paint over this canvas, because it was a very unpleasant reminder to him of the experience and I said, 'Wait, don't do that. I need a painting for this project and I'm not going to paint the painting so let me use this one.' I think there were only those three stamp quilts that had some connection to quilt history.

BH: How was the one that was the critique of Rauschenberg received? Was it shown?

TB: It was shown--I can only think of a couple places it was shown. I think Quilt National declined it, I don't remember but I'm pretty sure, I entered it and they declined it. It was in the exhibition here at the University at the Perkins Student Center Gallery. [1988.] It was at an exhibition outside of Pittsburgh [1984.] where all of the work had to be in someway derivative of log cabin designs. And the quilt Rauschenberg used was a log cabin so half of my quilt was log cabin. It has a difficult time finding venues because it is very long. Sometimes the dimensions are not acceptable to people so it's been shown a very few times. It's been published a few times. Occasionally I hear from somebody who sees it and says, 'Oh, I did something similar.' The Rauschenberg piece always gets some kind of reaction from quilters, either they love it or hate it. So many people have done something, well maybe not many but a few people have done things, I've seen other quilts that have a reference to Rauschenberg, so sometimes I hear from those people. But, by and large there has not been as much reaction to it as I would have thought.

BH: In a parallel, there's a point where your quilts begin to, very early on, begin to engage the world of art, however you wish to construct that. Can you talk about the process that got you to think about the quilt as art, or the art quilt?

TB: Well, as I mentioned earlier I had done a few traditional quilts and never finished them prior to the denim quilt. And the realization that this was a very time consuming way to work made me very anxious to do something that was one of a kind. I really like the tactile quality of quilts and I loved working with fabric. But the realization came to me very early that fabulous quilts had been made for a very long time by people with more time and skill than I had and it was really kind of pointless for me to duplicate those designs in contemporary materials when I had so little time, I would rather use it on something that was uniquely my own. One - that it would be more interesting looking, and two - it would be a better use of my time. The world doesn't really need another flower garden quilt and that was the quilt that I had admired so much of my great-grandmother's and the first traditional one I had begun to piece and I've never finished it because I made a lot of technical errors along the way. It was a learning experience but I never felt the need to finish because it became much less interesting to me to make a quilt to use. I wanted something that was interesting to look at and I think I was influenced to some extent by the fact that my sister who's a year older always drew very well and I did not. But, I was attracted to sewing very early. My mother taught me to sew when I was five. I remember it very distinctly because my sister had started to school and I was bored. She taught me to sew and I took to it very rapidly and I spent a lot of time on it. I thought if I were to find a way to express myself with sewing. I could avoid learning how to draw. I wanted to make things. I was fascinated with making things and I didn't ever think it would be with paint or pencil, but I loved the process of making a visual something and so it came to be in fabric and wanting to make it unique. But at the time there wasn't anything called an art quilt. It was not well received by a lot of people actually, there was a lot of, 'That's not a quilt,' that you would hear from people.

BH: Referring to the denim quilt?

TB: The denim quilt and those that came after. The one immediately after this was all made from clothing labels. This one doesn't even have batting in it. It's so heavy that it's just a backing on the denim. The quilt that followed this was the one made from clothing labels that also took a couple of years.

BH: How did you respond when people said, 'Well this is not a quilt?'

TB: I said, [laughing.] 'I don't really care if you think it's not a quilt. It's interesting isn't it? Isn't it fascinating all these things that people make that you can use a different way.' That's always been something that interested me finding a new application for something that's been made and was maybe too interesting to just throw out. I find that over the years that the work includes more and more found object materials just because they're too interesting to just discard. They should get together and do something else. So I started to collect anything with printing or imagery on it. That's contemporary fabric as well as vintage fabric whether it's feed sacks, flour sacks, things like that or commemorative handkerchiefs, pillow tops, tea towels, tablecloths, commemorative fabric that's printed for. They used to print a lot of more interesting fabric than they do now, anniversary, and things political and handkerchiefs. There's not a great deal being done today that's as interesting commemorative textiles.

BH: I want to come back to the stamp quilts and you talked about the three that really quoted the world of art and the place of the quilt in the world of art. But, then work evolved. These weren't the only stamp quilts that you made. Can you characterize sort of the trajectory your work took?

TB: Well, I have always had more time to think about them than to do them. From college I began a career in the fashion industry and quilting was always the secondary use of my time. I would find myself thinking about interesting ways of putting these things together while I was commuting or waiting to do something else, or daydreaming at work or whatever. I tend to think a lot about which things to put together rather than working in a kind of spontaneous evolution, which a lot of quilters do, they just start and cut and put up and see what is evolves. And partly because I have so little time and partly because I work as a patternmaker, I tend to think about drafting a full scale pattern. And also because the material was irreplaceable in a lot of cases, if it was a hundred year old handkerchief and there's only one of them available to me. I better know how best to use it before I start cutting. So, these elaborate ideas turn around in my head about what to put this with. They become very thematic and stamps are very thematic. So, I started many years ago to store the fabric by theme. As the collection of fabric got to be so large to find something, or not even just to find it, to find the connections between them, I started to store them by theme. There are four boxes of Christmas fabrics. I have a box of train fabrics, and plane fabrics, and planets and bugs, and three boxes of food fabric and cartoon characters. And as I acquire something and put it with the other things they kind of have this dialogue. They have this oh well, you know Mighty Mouse and Mickey Mouse together with Fievel the Mouse and something else. And they have a relationship where different people for different reasons have put this imagery on fabric, and don't they look interesting when you get them all together. And then maybe some current event or anniversary of an event will trigger a reason to start putting them together, I'm trying to think of a for instance. [pause in conversation.] "The Dawn


Citation

“Teresa Barkley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/48.