Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hidden Stone by Jean Wells Keenan

Hidden Stone, by Jean Wells Keenan, 2010
I don't often write about quilts that are not part of my collection, but I feel strongly connected to Hidden Stone, 2010, by Jean Wells Keenan. When I first met Jean in April, she was teaching a class in the back room at the Stitchin' Post. The Oregon Quilt Project was in town, and was launching the multiyear statewide quilt documentation project the following day. The documentation was a two-day event, and on day two, we were privileged to document the quilts of Jean Wells Keenan and her daughter Valori.

When Jean was dropping off quilts in the morning, she talked about a quilt she wanted to rework. She was unhappy with the quilt because it hadn't gotten in to a juried show, and she was talking about cutting it up.

"Don't cut that quilt!" I said to Jean, even though we'd just met. "There must be something else you can do besides taking a scissor to it." She seemed entertained by my candor, flashed a winning smile, and invited me over to the shop to have a look at the quilt after the documentations were done. Jean called it her "red" quilt.

If you haven't been to the Stitchin' Post in Sisters, Oregon, you must go! It's wonderful. I love it, and I don't really even know how to sew. The shop is tantalizing, mesmerizing, and luckily, I snapped out of it long enough to realize I was there to see Jean's quilt. She was in the back, finishing up a class. The class was full of women from all across the U.S. A lovely lady named Honore, who came all the way from Washington D.C., was there. Honore had invited me in the day before, when I'd curiously popped my head in the door, not wanting to interrupt Jean's class.

A few of us gathered around a table as Jean spread out her quilt. The quilt was like a magnet for small pieces of thread floating around the room, and Jean brushed off some of the threads. She pointed to one end of the quilt and said that was the area she was thinking about cutting because it wasn't as lively, visually, as she wanted it to be.

"I don't think you need to cut it up to save it," I said. "Why don't you make some of those mini quilts, like the ones on some of your other quilts?"

"Quiltlets," she said.

"Quiltlets?" I'd never heard the term before. Jean told me she that's what she called the applied miniature quilts, and she seemed to like the idea. It was less drastic than cutting up the quilt, and she could move the small pieces around on the quilt until they looked right. "It could really help balance out the quilt," I added. 

Shortly after my return home to Portland, I received a handwritten note from Jean, and in it, she thanked me for the suggestion. When I returned to Sisters in June, I saw the quilt. Jean had taken my suggestion, and the quilt looked amazing. In July, it was part of her very first art gallery showing at the High Desert Gallery on the weekend of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. The Oregon Quilt Project documented the quilt at the show, and Jean was the toast of the town. It was her 35th Outdoor Quilt Show, and just weeks later she would be inducted in the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana.

As the Quilt Show was winding down, Jean asked if I would photograph the quilt for her. She wanted to try another juried show. It made me happy that she felt I'd do a good job, so we arranged to have the quilt sent to my house, where I photographed it in my loft. The quilt was hanging on a stand for about a day, and I took photographs of it at different times. It seemed to change throughout the day, and looked different every time I saw it. There was something magical about the color.

I was just thinking about this quilt because I'd recently been looking at pictures of it, after seeing it again at the Northwest Quilting Expo. At the show, I had to get a pair of white gloves to pick a few pieces of thread off of it. Then it was perfect! 

Today, I received news that Hidden Stone was selected for a prestigious award at the Santa Clara Quilt Festival. The quilt won Best Use of Color! I'm thrilled for Jean, glad the pictures worked out so well, and happy to know so many others will get to enjoy the quilt. I feel like Jean put a little bit of me into the quilt when she took my advice. That's a wonderful feeling.


  1. I remember the morning she brought it in at the OQD after she'd added the quiltlet. She seemed very happy with the change it brought to the quilt.

  2. I was blown away that she asked for my advice, and even more blown away when she actually took it. So glad the quilt worked out so well. My mother was happy I put my art school education to good use. Very glad she was happy with how it turned out.