What better way to learn quilting than at a quilting club in Friendship, Indiana.
That’s what Addie Davis did back in 1974. Each lady embroidered her name on several patches and distributed them to the other members who then sewed them together into their own patchwork friendship quilt.
Addie comes into the store, sometimes buying a tiny objet d'art (chotchka), and we chat. She's a very pretty petite woman with curly white hair, vibrant, dynamic, age 82. She invited me to visit her quilts. I've seen fine quilts. Lauren has some gorgeous pieces she made that are hanging, framed. I've been to the stunning annual quilting exhibit at the Botanical Gardens here in town. Bonnie made a charming sentimental quilt featuring a tree, each leaf having been signed by a guest at Natalie's Bat Mitzvah. Even I, many years ago, made two log cabin design quilts in a Make a Quilt in a Day class at our high school adult program. I loved it, but two quilts satisfied that passion.
One day Addie mentioned she had her quilts appraised. “Yes?” I asked politely, “And?”
She said, “$10,000 to $17,000.” Well. Numbers like that grab my attention. I had no idea quilts have that kind of price. She told me that the quilt market is down in this economy, but the market is still strong for folk art and fiber art, the category of her handiwork. I was so ready to visit Addie now, to see the quilts inspired in Friendship, Indiana.
Oh my, Addie has come a long way. Her quilts are dynamite. Not for the bed, oh no. They are Art to hang like tapestries. The pictures she had shown me in a quilting book that reproduced two of her pieces were flat photographs. Hers have to be seen in living color, her Crazy Quilts with pieces and layers and appliqués, embellished with embroidery, jewels, buttons, ribbons, lace. Then, of course, there are the enhancements like commemorative ribbons, commemorative badges, a tiny gold violin, political buttons, anything George Washington related, all attached strategically, dramatically.
The fabrics are cigarette silks, cigar flannels (who remembers that?), vintage silks. Some of the vintage silks came from Sister Antonia who had made fine vestments for the church but had to abandon the sewings when her eyesight failed. The vintage embroidery floss came from Sister Toni, too. Addie visits fabric stores wherever she travels. When she had to make a medical trip to Mayo Clinic she found a fabric store with two old proprietors who still had vintage silks from lack of interest of today’s buyers looking for the avant garde. Addie recalls a trip to Florence, Italy where she bought beautiful lustrous fabric in a tiny non-tourist shop.
Addie has one quilt hanging, the others are folded between white sheets and laid into archival boxes. She spreads them one at a time on the bed. I walk around the bed slowly, there is so much to look at.
I love the Jesse Willcox Smith one. Addie has reproduced the easily recognizable pictures by this famous children’s book illustrator. They are pieced and embroidered, the boy flying his kite, the boy on his tricycle, the girl with her doll, the baby in the buggy. Each of the many little figures engaged in different activities has its own embroidered facial expression. Adorable.
And the quilt with the little tin soldiers marching around the entire border. Each soldier with his tiny red jacket, the gilt thread making epaulets, the double row of gold buttons that are really tiny round beads, his black pants, tall hat, shiny boots.
Another quilt with replicas of famous museum paintings. Quilts bursting with energy, pattern and color.
I think I saw eight quilts. Each breathlessly gorgeous and each entirely different from the others.
Addie admits to being a bit old to continue this fine work. Eyesight and agility of fingers for the sewing are slipping. She’s ready to sell.
That’s what artists do. They create their art. And sell it.