Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Update: A Perfect Pair

"This is It" 2012
It must've been a wild weekend at the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. As it turned out, two of the quilts I had ordered had already been ordered by other supporters of the charity. So, I got two instead of four, and I'm still happy. The two I managed to get are the ones I like best: "This is It" and "Enigma Variation".

"Enigma Variation" 2012
Because of some of the artists AAQI has attracted, connoisseurship has arrived. Artists such as Andrea Balosky will always create a stir, so I suggested to Ami Simms that AAQI could maintain an internal reference list of these artists. If those quilts get to the auction rather than the sale page, supporters can continue to up the ante. I think she liked the idea, and there is promotional value in it, too.

So, why all the fuss about Andrea Balosky? Why does her work always sell out as soon as it hits the market? It's because she is a visionary with a remarkable life story and a very distinct point of view. And she's an expert quilt maker who can hand quilt circles around most anyone.

Andrea Leong was born in Hawaii, and by 1982 she was married, living in Seattle, and making her first quilts. Her married name was Andrea Leong Scadden when her first masterpiece was included in the 1983 Quilt National. By the time her work was becoming more well known, she had remarried, moved to Camp Sherman, Oregon, and was known as Andrea Balosky.

"Night Flight" 1982
During those years in Camp Sherman, she was part of a group known as the Pine Needlers, and she was most prolific. She published a book, called "Transitions: Unlocking the Creative Quilter Within" in 1996. Her work had been included in the Sisters Outdoor Quilt show, and she was involved with the organization of the show. Her work was also displayed in Houston and other important venues, including the White House. Even though she had this success, the world had yet to fully grasp her brilliance. She was so far ahead of her time.

"Jerry's Garden" 1995
She made her groundbreaking series of "Small Wonders" quilts from 1999 to 2004, but the world didn't discover them until just last year, when I teamed up with collection owner Merrily Ripley and the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center to mount an exhibit and produce a catalog.

"Miala Leong" June, 2002 
There were many reasons why this incredible body of work would remain undiscovered for so long. It went directly into the hands of a private collector, and then Andrea seemed to vanish without a trace. She had gone to the Himalayas to live in solitude and practice Buddhism, taking the name Nyima Lhamo. It seemed her brilliant quiltmaking career had abruptly ended.

"Albert Einstein" 2001
Just when almost everyone had forgotten about Andrea Balosky, she attended the 25th Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, which is where she and I first met. A friend of Andrea's, Merrily Ripley of Port Angeles, Washington, stepped forward and said she had the "Small Wonders" quilts after she'd read my blog about meeting Andrea. Merrily wanted to share the quilts with the world. She wrote to me, and since I was on the Board at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center, I proposed an exhibit.

At first, the quilts were like eye candy, visually interesting, colorful, and experimental. Then came the realization that each one was given a name - a person's name. When she began making these quilts, the names were random, but as the series evolved she used the names of famous individuals, from Rosa Parks to Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein to Marge and Homer Simpson. The work was about something much more than using up her stash. It was about people who inspired her, and it came during a difficult period of American history, inclusive of 9-11.

"Rudy Giuliani" 2003
Big wow factor! The quilt that stopped me in my tracks and drove home the point was her 2003 quilt called "Rudy Giuliani". When I saw that quilt and realized what it was, I stopped breathing for a few moments. It was a beautiful, eloquent tribute to the people lost during the horrific acts of terrorism that destroyed the World Trade Center, and a nod to the Mayor, whose leadership during the crisis made him a hero in the eyes of the nation. All in an innocent little doll quilt. I thought, "She's brilliant!" and "She's got chutzpah!"

Andrea Balosky, now known as Nyima Lhamo, hadn't made a quilt since 2004 when she discovered the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative last year. One of her relatives has Alzheimer's, and the idea of making small size quilts for charity was enticing, so she came out of retirement and started making quilts once more. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. The world was finally ready to understand the greatness of her work, but the problem was that none of it was readily available on the open market.

So, to get hold of an Andrea Balosky quilt is not easy, but it's a major feather in the cap. Good for AAQI for inspiring her to produce work once more, and good for anyone who's lucky enough to get any of the quilts. The perfect pair, "This is It" and "Enigma Variation" will soon arrive on my doorstep, and I'm just delighted!


  1. Thank you for including these fantastic photographs! The quilts are breathtaking.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post. I didn't know much about her history, though I did know a little from talking to Tonye Phillips. I was lucky to see the Small Wonders Exhibit at the SOQS last year (I think, or the year before). I loved reading about how those quilts got named. Andrea does indeed have a fascinating history as a person and as a quilter. What luck to have access to some of her new work!

  3. Interesting story-I was not familiar with Andrea.

  4. The AAQI quilts are even more wonderful when you consider the conditions under which they are made. Mungpoo does not always have electricity or running water and it certainly does not have a quilt shop! Nyima has to scrounge for material and even thread and needles are in short supply. There is an AAQI blog post that tells her story about getting to the post office to mail out the first batch - the story is poignant and hysterical at the same time! When I got it, the envelope was covered front and back with small denomination stamps because the post office didn't have the appropriate postage for a package to the US. These new quilts are amazing in so many ways!

    1. I agree, Diane, and have frequent contact with Nyima. So I know all about her now. I also have one of those packages covered with stamps, and it is among my most prized possessions. She will be here this summer, and we'll see each other at some point. Can't wait!

  5. I feel so honored to just know Nyema as an email friend..and a fairly new one at that. I feel that everyone comes into our lives when they are meant to and what a gift she has been to you, and you to her! I feel the exact same way and because of that I am so grateful you have shared this extended story. I was probably at that same Sisters Quilt Show..I have been to a number of the Pine Needlers shows, as well and I know people with the last names you have mentioned in this story. It all feels so full circle and connected to me and is just a delightful tale ..up and down the journey to the Himalayas! And now it is her precious little quilts that make that trek right along with her. Just awesome!

  6. Excellent post, so glad I stopped by. I vaguely remember Andrea, glad to see she's back as Nyima. Simply gorgeous work. Thank you.
    best from Tunsia,

  7. Thanks for another excellent post on this quilter and her lovely little quilts, there is something very appealing about them. How wonderful to have two new ones. Interesting also to read the backstory, and I was amazed to see that she had written that book which I have and which is full of inspiring ideas rather than instructions.

  8. thank you for sharing this story I LOVE her quilts too and have found her to be very inspirational to me. I loved her book transitions and now small wonders I know I will be reproducing many of her quilts and friends quilts from this book, but I would love to own an original someday....