Friday, April 29, 2011

Lucky Man

"A Star in the Garden" 2010 by Mary Kerr
"Ooooh, what a lucky man he was." Lucky Man, the first hit single by the English progressive supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, was written by Greg Palmer when he was 12 years old and recorded by the trio using improvised arrangements. The song contains one of rock music's earliest instances of a Moog synthesizer solo. I probably hadn't heard the song in 20 years, but it was stuck in my head on the drive back to the hotel after another full day in Paducah yesterday. Here's why.

Mary Kerr is one of my Facebook friends, but we hadn't met in person before Wednesday. My class was on lunch break and a few of us were enjoying delicious barbecue pulled pork sandwiches while sitting on a park bench outside the museum. New friends and classmates Carol Beck and Judy Lyons were there. At one point, I turned to the left and there was Mary walking toward us. I recognized her from her Facebook photos, but since my mug shot doesn't appear on Facebook, I needed to introduce myself.

We hit it off immediately, and wanted more time to visit, but classes were soon starting up again. Later on, we agreed to get together after classes on Thursday for a visit before the benefit auction at the museum. Luckily, she was teaching right across the hall. At the end of the day, we headed toward the downtown area, but not before I purchased a copy of her recent book "Vintage Revisited: A Quilt Block Challenge". On our way over to Whaler's Catch, we stopped at a local antique shop. A classmate had told me there was a New York Beauty quilt top for sale. Luckily, it was still there. After a quick haggle with the nice gentleman at the register, I pretty much bought it on the spot.

We bumped into several of Mary's friends along the way. Some of them already knew who I was. As one of the only guys around, and being 6'4" tall, it's probably foolish to think I'd ever blend in or go unnoticed among a gathering of quilters. Plus, a lot more people read my blog that I'd realized. That felt good. At Whaler's Catch we ran into more quilt people, including Merrily McKim Tuohy- Ruby McKim's granddaughter! Wow!!! Sharon Pinka was there, too. She and I had e-mailed a while back about her research on the Rainbow Quilt Block Company.

After a delightful conversation, I accompanied Mary back to the museum for the auction. I hadn't planned to bid and didn't even know what was being auctioned, but she registered. We made our way to the back of a packed room and found a place to sit. What a newb I am - I didn't know they were auctioning the amazing quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Challenge, which I'd seen hanging in the hallway outside the classroom for the last three days. One of those quilts - "A Star in the Garden" - was made by Mary. I'd been admiring it all week. The quilt is a whimsical blend of old and new. Visually dazzling, it includes vintage red diamonds on white, set in curvy paths, with a bold, bright floral print background - the fabric from the Pilgrim/Roy Challenge - and a slightly off-center vintage star block medallion.

As the items were being auctioned, I opened Mary's book and read the forward written by another gem of the quilt world, Pepper Cory, who beautifully summarized the importance and the beauty of the whole "Vintage Revisited" project, saying she wished she'd thought of it. Coming from Pepper, that's high praise. Just as I was reading, Mary's Pilgrim/Roy Challenge Quilt came up for auction. She seemed a little worried about it not netting enough proceeds to be worthwhile for the fundraiser, but I wasn't worried about that. So I asked if I could borrow her bidding card, bid on her quilt, and was the lucky winner!

At first, she thought I was bidding for her and said, "Well, I guess I just bought back my quilt." However, I didn't plan on leaving Paducah without that quilt in my bag. It may have seemed like a totally impulsive purchase on my part, but in my mind, it was really more like quick thinking after a sudden, significant realization. Of course I wanted the quilt! It's an ideal example of what Mary had done so brilliantly in her book, and it's importance is very evident. She and the other artists in her book had combined old blocks with new materials to make totally unique works of art. Among the Pilgrim/Roy Challenge quilts, her quilt stood out for this reason.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face on the drive back to the hotel, and couldn't get that old E.L.P. song out of my brain. If I hadn't been lucky enough to hang out with Mary after class, I probably would've missed the auction and never would've realized what I was missing until it was too late. Dumb luck on my part, but luck nonetheless.

"Ooooh, what a lucky man he was."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Surprise, surprise!

The value placed on this quilt was very surprising!!
This week I'm in Paducah, Kentucky, taking appraisal classes with the American Quilter's Society at the Museum of the American Quilter's Society. There were about thirty students from all across the U.S. and Canada in the 2-Day Insurance Appraisal course. I was the only male enrolled in the class, but that wasn't too surprising. The biggest surprise was discovering what I knew and what I didn't know.

One aspect of appraisals is evaluating and identifying each quilt, and when it came to quilt identification based on fabrics and other visual characteristics, I did very well. No surprises there. Most of my research over the last two years has centered around quilt identification. But when it came to assigning values to quilts, some of the figures heard during the class made me think I may still have some work to do.

We looked at 40 to 50 quilts, tops, and blocks, and there were interesting side discussions about early tape bindings, the difference between madder and turkey reds, and other visual characteristics of quilts, both old and new. When it came to identification, only once or twice did my estimated date differ more than ten years from the date the instructors gave. It wasn't as easy to assign a value to these quilts, possibly because we didn't have access to a database of quilts with established values, but it could also be because my sense of value is connected with my browsing and buying patterns.

I browse through thousands of available quilts on the open market each week, many listed in online auctions and others for sale by established quilt dealers around the U.S. - and most of the time I've had a very good eye for a bargain. Could my knack for finding bargains cause a skewed sense of quilt values? Maybe. Only once did I estimate a quilt to be significantly more valuable than the figure provided by the instructors. The rest of the time, my figures were generally on the low side.

One of the biggest surprises during the last two days may relate to that knack for finding a bargain. I brought an Amish Nine-Patch crib quilt to share with the class. When it was time to talk about the quilt, I explained that it had once been part of the Esprit Collection, and pointed out the velcro on the back. The first surprise was learning that instructor Gerald Roy thought he'd seen it before, and may have been the one to sell it to Doug Tompkins of Esprit back in the day. For me, it was a pleasant surprise because I'm always very interested in ownership history.

As Gerald began to talk about the quilt, its condition, its unusual size and its quality, I started to think maybe it was worth a few hundred dollars more than the $800 I recalled paying for it. That's when I got one of the biggest surprises I'd had in a long time. He felt the value of the quilt would be around $6000.

"What??" I blurted out. "Are you kidding? I had NO idea!"

Now, it's important to realize that a verbal figure doesn't constitute an actual appraisal and is generally seen as no more than an opinion. But still, even if the quilt is worth just half of the figure Gerald offered, that would be way more than what I thought it was. In my mind, I thought it was worth maybe double what I paid for it, possibly $1500 if I was really lucky. When I thought about it some more, I realized there was probably no way I would've thought of that quilt as a $6000 dollar quilt, or even a $3000 quilt, since I bought it for $800.

Surprise, surprise!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Decisions, Decisions...What I'm Bringing to Paducah

Small, old, rare, and unusual - good choice!
Tomorrow I will fly to Paducah, Kentucky - my first time visiting the quilt mecca, which is home of the American Quilter's Society and the National Quilt Museum. It's a long way from home, and I've struggled with the decision about what to bring. I am taking two appraisal classes and a fabric dating class, and participants are invited to bring a quilt to share with each of these classes. Originally, Bobbie Aug was supposed to be the instructor for the two appraisal classes, but recently I learned that Gerald Roy will be the instructor instead.

Too big, too heavy, too bulky -
this one stays at home
When I heard the news about the change in instructors, I had to take the Album with Lyre Medallion off the list of possibilities. Gerald had seen the quilt a few years ago when visiting Portland for the Northwest Quilters Show. Although I'm sure he wouldn't mind looking at it again, I wanted to bring something he hadn't seen. The recently acquired Star Medallion from Rhode Island would've been a great one to show Gerald, but it's all wool, very large, heavy and bulky. It would take up my whole suitcase, and I wasn't sure I wanted to transport it that way. Luggage is usually searched, and sometimes lost, so I just couldn't do it.

From Kentucky, but I need
this quilt for an exhibit later
in the year.
I'd thought a lot about bringing the famous New York Beauty made in Kentucky in 1868 by a member of the MacMillan family - the quilt seen in the book "Kentucky Quilts" - particularly because I wanted the curator of the National Quilt Museum, Judy Schwender, to see it. Seemed like a great choice for a visit to Kentucky, where it originated. However, I took this quilt off the list because it is going to be part of the exhibit I'm planning at the Benton County Museum in a few months, and it's going to be one of the focal points of the exhibit. I really don't want to risk having anything happen to it, so it's staying home.

Two crib quilts on my short list will make the trip because they are interesting, compact, and fit perfectly in my carry-on bag. The first is an early 19th century applique crib quilt, the first picture at the top of this blog entry. The quilt is very old, very rare, and very unusual. I'm not sure if everyone in the class will know exactly what it is or appreciate its funky beauty, but I'm fairly certain Gerald will be very interested in it. This quilt has signs of glazing in the brown fabric, especially toward the edges, and 54 unique, paper-cut gothic snowflakes. Although it has some condition issues, I feel they would be a good talking point for the class.
This Amish crib quilt from the Esprit Collection
will fit perfectly in my carry-on bag. I'm bringing it.
The second crib quilt I'm bringing is an Amish Nine-Patch on point, which was once part of the Esprit Collection. It's a handsome little quilt with interesting solid fabrics, and its small scale would have made it a rare object among the Esprit collection. This quilt still has velcro on the perimeter edges of the back, a method once used by Esprit to display quilts in its San Francisco headquarters. Although it has the familiar look of an Amish quilt, I feel it's something you don't see every day in the genre.

I'm considering a third quilt since I'm taking three courses and wouldn't want students in all three classes to have to discuss the same quilt twice, but we'll see how much room there is in my bags and what would be compact enough to transport in a carry-on. If I bring anything else, I guess it will have to be a surprise! :)

"Tuesday & Sunday"

"Tuesday & Sunday" 2011
This year's tax refunds magically appeared in my bank account during the week, and I decided to go back to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) web site and buy the remaining quilts by Nyima Lhamo, aka Andrea Balosky. One problem, though...there was only one quilt left. All the others, including the two I'd already bought, had been purchased. She had donated six quilts, and although I wanted all of them, I feel fortunate to have gotten three. Counting the quilt she sent directly to me, plus two others and the six she made for AAQI, Nyima made a total of nine quilts in 2011 - her first and only quilts since 2004. Four of those now belong to me.

I've blogged about Nyima several times over the last year, but continue to have more to add. The quilt I just bought is called "Tuesday & Sunday"and includes multicolor strips and two of her "Log Jammin'" blocks, which represent a loose, contemporary version of the traditional Log Cabin block. The quilt is very small, like the others, and measures 7 & 3/4" x 11" - roughly the size of a piece of letter paper. It is all solids with a lively combination of colors, and is all hand quilted with tiny, even stitches - truly a hallmark of her work. She can quilt circles around most quilters.

In the artist statement on the AAQI web site, Nyima said,

"We are all in this together. There is no one who is unscathed by the devastations of Alzheimers. Given the opportunity to help, the honor is mine. May this small quilt provide links to a cure, that brings compassionate relief to millions. Plus, it was fun to make!"

There is also a dedication, which goes with all six quilts she created for the AAQI:

"For cousin Paul Leong, the devoted, loving caregiver, and his wife, Jane Forester-Leong, of Honolulu, Hawaii. Paul kisses Jane a hundred times a day. When she got sick with Alzheimer's ten years ago, he promised the daily dose of 100 kisses, because it makes her happy. He does not forget. My aloha to Jane and Paul."

Once again, I am moved. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Evening with the Emerald Valley Quilters

Album with Lyre Medallion by Mary Couchman Small, 1850
On Thursday evening, I gave a presentation for the Emerald Valley Quilters Guild in Eugene. It was a full house in the Masonic building across from Autzen Stadium, and audience members were treated to mostly new acquisitions plus the 1850 Album with Lyre Medallion by Mary Couchman Small of Martinsburg, West Virginia. With the exception of the Album quilt, all the quilts I showed had been acquired in the last year, but I decided to bring the Album because it's such a spectacular quilt and I knew everyone would enjoy seeing it.

Star Medallion, c. 1800, Rhode Island
The talk started with an introduction about how I bought my first quilt, followed by the story about the Album quilt. Then I showed quilts in reverse chronological order according to the date each quilt was made. I started with the exquisite Star Medallion quilt, circa 1800, from Rhode Island, and said the same thing I had said to the Northwest Quilters when recently sharing it with the group during a show and tell at a guild meeting. "Take a good look at this quilt, because you may never see another one like it," I said.

Honeycomb Hexagons, 1842, Pennsylvania
The next quilt was the 1842 Honeycomb Hexagons quilt, part of my Rescue Quilts group. I shared the story about how the red hexagons were covered with an old, faded restoration and explained my decision to remove the restoration, exposing what I feel was the essence of the maker's original vision.

The Macmillan family quilt (detail), 1868, Kentucky
The 1868 New York Beauty made by the MacMillan family of Kentucky was up next. While speaking about the characteristics of this quilt, including it's superior quality hand quilting, there was an important point I missed regarding the inevitable comparisons between hand quilting and modern machine quilting. I may have put the traditional hand quilting on a pedestal high above machine quilting, but the truth of the matter is I see high levels of mastery in both traditional hand quilting and the finest machine quilting being done today. Both types of quilting are potent methods of artistic expression requiring a high level of technical proficiency, and I have great respect for both.

New York Beauty with Vines and Pomegranates, c. 1870, Kentucky
Another New York Beauty quilt from Kentucky, a very rare example with vine sashing, pomegranates, and double-line clamshell or fish-scale quilting was next. While looking at the New York Beauties, I talked a bit about the upcoming exhibit at the Benton County Historical Museum and told the story about how the opportunity to show quilts came about. Realizing I was running out of time in the hour-long talk, I breezed through the Album with Rooster Medallion and reminisced a little about being from New Jersey, where the quilt was made by Hannah Swin in 1868.

Album with Rooster Medallion by Hannah Swin, 1868, New Jersey
Nearing the end of the talk, I made a big jump forward in time to 1995 and the Nine-Patch Center Medallion Strip Quilt made by Lucy Mingo of Gee's Bend, Alabama. It was a relevant quilt to show in light of the news that the Gee's Bend quilters would be visiting Oregon in July for the Quilter's Affair and Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, where I will also be speaking. Audience members reacted in near disbelief when I told them the remarkable story about this quilt, its maker, and how the quilt and its story came to me.

Nine-Patch Medallion Strip Quilt by Lucy Mingo, Gee's Bend, Alabama
Last quilt of the day was "Oriental Express" made in 1999 by Debra Kerns of Lafayette, Indiana. I included this quilt not just because it is a wonderful, lively example, but to talk a little bit about how I'm putting together the show at the Benton County Museum to include over 150 years of history in one quilt pattern. It was only during the last few years that I'd broadened the scope of my collection to include 20th and 21st century quilts, and I explained how I had become interested in the "younger" quilts.

"Oriental Express" by Debra Kerns, Indiana, 1999
At the very end, there was time for some Q & A, and I was delighted by the number of thoughtful, intelligent questions. An audience member asked if my mother liked my quilts after I'd made several references to her during the talk. So I quickly told the story about how I'd hidden my first quilt from Mom and worried about what she might say when she discovered the indulgent purchase. Mom said, "Bill, that was the best thing you'd ever spent your money on." What a great way to end the talk, I thought.

It was a great honor to be invited to speak to the group. I was grateful for the opportunity and did my best to make sure the audience enjoyed themselves. There was laughter, a healthy dose of "oooh's and ahhh's" and a whole building full of quilt makers and quilt lovers with wide eyes, craning their necks to get a better look at each quilt I brought before them. Before and after the talk, many people came up on stage to get a better look at the quilts, which I encouraged. It was a memorable evening for me, and I hope to visit the group again with more quilts in the future. I'd like to send a great big thank you to the guild, and especially to Sherry Galloway who invited me for the talk.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Quilt That Made Me Weep

"William Lloyd Volckening" 2011, by Nyima Lhamo
Several months ago, when corresponding with Nyima Lhamo, aka Andrea Balosky, regarding the Small Wonders exhibit at Latimer Quilt and Textile Center, she told me she was making a new group of small quilts for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI). I blogged about a few of these quilts just the other day after purchasing two of them from AAQI.

At the time, she said she was sending a package to me with a quilt she made to include as part of the festivities of the Small Wonders exhibit at Latimer. She wasn't sure when the package would arrive, or if it would ever arrive. I'd pretty much written it off and come to the conclusion that the package had been intercepted during its long journey from India to the United States.

Yesterday was a rainy afternoon in Portland. I was on my way out to the grocery store, mind preoccupied with the ingredient list for cornflake crusted, baked chicken tenders, when I thought to check the mail. There was a small package in the mailbox, and for a split second I tried to remember what I'd ordered online that would be inside the package. A quilt book, perhaps? I pulled it out of the mailbox, and as soon as I saw all the stamps covering the back of the package and the handwriting on the front, I realized it was the long lost package from Nyima.

I hurried inside, scrambled to open the package as carefully as I could in all my excitement, and found her letter with several other small, wonderful things. There was a precious red envelope tied with gold thread and decorated with gold designs and tiny beads. I opened it and found her letter. The first page was a checklist with the contents of the package, dated January 23, 2011. It said, "Namaste, William Lloyd. Whenever these arrive will be a good day." (She was right). First item on the list was "3 Smaller Wonders Quilts" and I thought, "What's this?"

Before looking at the contents of the package I continued reading, and the first line of the second page said, "Yours I made first, although at first I didn't know it would be yours." I put down the letter, grabbed the plastic bag, which had three very small quilts. The one on top was about 8" x 10" and was quilted with the word "Small Wonders". So I flipped it over, read the label, and that's when the most unexpected thing happened. I began to weep.

The inscription said, "'William Lloyd Volckening' A Tribute Quilt by Andrea Balosky, 2011, Mungpoo, Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India." I was absolutely blown away. How extraordinary! You could've knocked me over with a feather, and I had to continue wiping my eyes to read the rest of the letter. There were several other wonderful things in the package, but I'll save those for another day. Even though I have more than 100 quilts collected over 22 years, nobody had ever made a quilt for me before. I'm not afraid to admit it brought tears to my eyes.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Oriental Express" by Debra Kerns

"Oriental Express" 1999 by Debra Kerns of Lafayette, Indiana
The quilt I blogged about the other day has arrived, and I'm just delighted. I found this quilt on eBay late last week, bought it on Saturday, and wasn't expecting it to arrive so soon, but here it is. The quilt is called "Oriental Express" and is an relatively early example in the modern wave of New York Beauty quilts inspired by artist Karen Stone. Debra Kerns of Lafayette, Indiana, made the quilt in 1999 as a commission for the Quilter's Harvest shop in Lafayette. It's a wonderful example, made with Japanese print fabrics and batiks, and quilted with shimmering thread. Here are some more pictures. Enjoy!!

Detail showing one of the windmill variation border blocks
Detail showing four blocks, which form overlapping, spiked circles
Detail showing lush peacock fabric with gold printed outlines
Back label- I blurred the address to maintain the artist's privacy
Detail of the Japanese print back fabric with figures in traditional garb
Detail showing one of the figures on the back fabric

Straight Out of Mungpoo

"Green Tangent" 2011
Earlier this year, I curated an exhibit called "Small Wonders: Doll Quilts by Andrea Balosky" at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, Oregon. Balosky, a visionary quilt artist who lived in in the Northwest and produced a substantial body of truly miraculous work starting in the early 1980's, moved to the Himilayas in 2004 to live a reclusive life and practice Buddhism. She now lives in Mungpoo, Darjeeling, India, and goes by the name Nyima Lhamo. 

Nyima and I met at the 35th Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in 2010.
I met Nyima last summer at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and after blogging about the experience, the owner of the doll quilts, Merrily Ripley of Port Angeles, Washington, contacted me to tell me about the doll quilts and express her desire to share them with the world. That's how the "Small Wonders" exhibit was born. During the time I worked on the exhibit and its accompanying catalog, I enjoyed much correspondence with Nyima and many stories of her enlightened view of the world. 
"Blue Skies" 2011
She hadn't made a quilt since 2004, but I think all of the excitement about the "Small Wonders" show may have helped trigger her to make another batch of small, wonderful quilts for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI). That, and a family member who was suffering from Alzheimers inspired her to pick up a needle and thread and make a group of small quilts for the AAQI. In one of the e-mails, she described making the quilts and how she picked cotton off local plants to use as the batting. 

Nyima picked cotton from local plants to use as batting for her new quilts.
AAQI posted a wonderful story about Nyima, and the extraordinary effort she made to create and ship the quilts. In April, one of her quilts called "Ribbon Sutras" was available for auction. I signed up for the auction but failed to click the link in the e-mail to complete my registration, thus failing to enter my last minute bid. But I was delighted to discover a friend, Lori Dejarnatt, who had taken a class with Balosky and saw her quilts in Camp Sherman several years ago, was the winning bidder. Lori, who had made a quilt of her own for AAQI and blogged about it, contacted Nyima with the news. Shortly afterwards, Lori received a reply that said, 

"Your mention of the AAQI quilt in your blog was the real spark for my decision to do the same. So, all this seems to have come full circle."

Lori D. won "Ribbon Sutras" 2011
Our circles overlap. Today I purchased two of Nyima's recent quilts - "Blue Skies" and "Green Tangent" - both made earlier this year. The new quilts are very much in the same vein as her previous work. They are bright, colorful and whimsical, but these remarkably simple, visually sophisticated quilts are all solid prints - a departure from her earlier work, which included mostly print fabrics. I am absolutely thrilled to add these two little gems to my collection. Nyima holds a very special place in my heart, and the quilts are a wonderful reminder of our long-distance friendship.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Couldn't Resist...

I know, I'm supposed to be saving money for Paducah...but I just couldn't resist this New York Beauty with Japanese theme fabrics, found on eBay. The quilt is coming from a seller in Indiana, and I don't have a whole lot of information about it yet, but there's a possibility the maker is male. If so, it would be the first quilt in my collection known to be made by a male quilt maker.*

*Edit: found out who made the quilt...Debra Kerns...see comments below!

The quilt caught my eye because it's made with great Japanese theme print fabrics and has an uncommon border with curved corners. It is 66 inches square with pinwheel blocks in the borders, and New York Beauty blocks in the curved corners. Of all the recently made New York Beauties I've seen, this quilt is among the most unusual. It appears to be whimsically machine quilted, too.

The back fabric is another wonderful print with traditional looking Japanese figures and flowers on a black background. Are those Geishas I see? Wow! Charming, unusual, and a great addition to my collection. Will post more information and pictures as soon as this beauty arrives.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oregon Quilt to be Displayed at High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon is planning a quilt exhibit this coming summer, which will take place during the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. The exhibit, "Quilts: Bedding to Bonnets" focuses on how quilts were used throughout history, from comfort on the trail to homestead bedding and clothing to political purposes and social gatherings, to name a few. The quilts will be on display from May 12th to July 24th.

I first found out about the exhibit when I received a letter forwarded to the Board of the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center asking to borrow a quilt. Seeing the description of the exhibit, I contacted the High Desert Museum to let them know about the American Legion Auxiliary Quilt. 

This quilt is a unique part of Oregon history, made in Salem in 1931, the year The Capitol Unit of Post Number 9 in Salem's American Legion Auxiliary was raising funds for the city's new Salvation Army building. In that regard, the quilt serves a distinct purpose in the context of the exhibit. This quilt has been seen here at Wonkyworld in the past. I've blogged about it a few times. For those who missed the blogs, you can find more details in the January 21st, January 25th, and February 2nd blogs.

So, if you're planning to travel to central Oregon during the Quilter's Affair, the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, or any time between May 12th to July 24th, I hope you'll stop by the High Desert Museum and enjoy the show. The High Desert Museum is located in Bend, at 59800 South Highway 97. For more information about the museum, please visit the museum's web site

Monday, April 4, 2011

Speaking of T-Shirts...

T-Shirt Quilt made from my old swimming T-shirts
Yesterday, I blogged about my new T-shirt from Rhode Island School of Design. Speaking of T-Shirts, I have a T-shirt quilt made of old swimming T-shirts. The quilt was made in 2000 by Michigan quilt maker Andrea Funk of Too Cool T-Shirt Quilts, and it includes many of my pre Y2K shirts.

Dr. Seuss T-shirt worn when coaching in Princeton, NJ
When I look at this quilt, there are some happy memories. From 1994 to 1998, I coached a summer recreational swim team in Princeton, New Jersey at the Community Park Pool. During those years, I met a lot of families from the area and saw hundreds of kids growing up. The team didn't have a name or a mascot when I started, so I decided to give them a name - the Bluefish.

I designed the Community Park Bluefish T-shirt with wrap-around fish
To this day, the team maintains the name. One of the shirts I wore a lot was a Dr. Seuss shirt with the "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish" image. We had a team cheer that went the same way, with an added "Gooooooo...BLUEFISH" at the end. One of the kids I coached as a six-year-old now has Olympic Trials cuts and swims at Harvard. Several others have had successful runs in college swimming.

In 1995, I helped coach my alma mater to a national championship.
There are also some funky memories, such as the Peddie School T-shirt. In 1995, I helped coach the team to a national high school championship. The head coach, Ray Looze, who is now head coach at Indiana University, was dismissed from Peddie for taking an unauthorized vacation, leaving a whole dorm full of boys unsupervised, and lying about where he'd gone. He was, and probably still is, a schmuck. Sadly, the sport of swimming is full of people like Ray.

As a coach and swimmer, I made three trips to the USOTC
There are many shirts from my masters swimming days. Those images mostly give me a headache. It was a time when I moved around quite a bit, trying to find jobs that would pay well. Much instability, a lot of angst and a terrible change in the leadership of the organization, which ultimately led to my permanent retirement from the sport. I can't even look at a swimming pool these days without becoming very agitated. One highlight from that time was going to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs three times, twice as a coach and once as a swimmer.

"Everything happens for a reason," I tell myself whenever I look at my T-shirt quilt. Still, I wish that part of my life could've been much more abbreviated, leaving me more time to enjoy what I'm doing today. Andrea did a wonderful job with it, and I feel badly that I don't love it as much as I once did, but I kind of wish I hadn't had this quilt made. If I could sell it, I would, but it's not exactly the type of thing anyone would want to buy. Eventually, it may become a donation of some sort. Perhaps I'll feel better about it some day. I don't use it much on the bed, but when I do, I turn it upside down so the plain blue back faces up.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happiness is a New T-Shirt

If anyone asked to see what I've collected most prolifically, I wouldn't show them quilts. I'd show them T-shirts. There's something wonderful about a really good T-shirt. It's a simple pleasure, a method of self-expression, and a relatively harmless way to satisfy materialistic impulses. Every T-shirt has a story.

Last week, I received a T-shirt ordered online from the Rhode Island School of Design book store. RISD (pronounced RIZ-dee) is a fine arts and design college located in Providence, Rhode Island. It was founded in 1877 and is one of the most highly regarded schools of its kind, even though there's actually nothing quite like it. I attended RISD from 1984 to 1986 in my first two years of college. My grandmother on my father's side also went there.

Opening the package and seeing the shirt brought back a lot of memories. I had another RISD T-shirt at one time, and there's a story about that shirt.

During my senior year in high school at the Peddie School in New Jersey, I'd been struggling with the decision about where to go to college. The situation was complicated by the sudden departure of the school college counselor, who had also been my swimming coach and advisor. I wasn't a particularly good student, and had been advised to apply to B-list liberal arts colleges with mediocre swimming programs. Frankly, I wasn't too thrilled with the idea, and was dragging my feet with college applications.

Everything changed one day when half the boys in my dormitory, including me, were suspended from school for what I'll call general mischief and mayhem. At the time, I'd started to become interested in photography. It was the only class I'd ever gotten an "A" in, but since it was just an elective I had the idea that photography didn't really matter and wasn't something that could be a career.

During my week-long suspension, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my mother. Lamenting about how the things I loved - swimming and photography - didn't matter, she offered me a new idea. There were schools where I could study photography and it could be a career. I had no idea there was such a thing as an art school where I could study photography and make a career out of it. During the conversation, Mom told me about RISD.

That day, we decided to cancel a scheduled visit to Ohio, where I'd planned to go visit two colleges. The following week, I returned to Peddie and informed the new college counselor that I wanted to apply to RISD. He wasn't very encouraging. After lecturing me about how difficult it was to get in to RISD, he said I could apply if I wanted, but I shouldn't expect to get in. I contacted RISD, received the application materials, and scheduled a visit.

It was a wet, rainy day when Mom and I drove from New Jersey to Providence for the campus tour and interview. RISD did group tours, and several other prospective students were scheduled to be part of the tour group that day. I had come from the farthest distance, and as it turned out, I was the only applicant who showed up for the tour. That worked to my advantage, I thought, especially when applying for early admission.

Of course, Mom and I were very impressed with RISD. On our way out of town, we stopped by the RISD book store and she bought me a RISD T-shirt. The only one I could find in my size was purple with a white logo.

Back at Peddie, the new college counselor continued to urge me to apply to those B-list liberal arts colleges. He felt strongly that it was my only chance to get in to a college given my academic record. But RISD was the only school I applied to. I wore my RISD T-shirt for good luck, and a couple months later I received my acceptance letter. For the rest of the year, I wore my RISD T-shirt almost daily. I was proud to be going there, and a little defiant toward the college counselor who told me I wouldn't get in.

I don't know what happened to the original purple RISD T-shirt. It may be in a box in the attic, and if I still have it I'm sure it doesn't fit anymore. The recent purchase of a quilt from Rhode Island got me thinking about RISD again, so I went to their web site and ordered a new shirt. It's amazing how a simple T-shirt could bring back all these memories. Happiness is a new T-shirt.