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Stitches That Connect Us

In the dimly lit room of Iowa’s State Historical Museum, Bonnie LeBeau’s flaming star flickers and glows on a night-black sky. Like the North Star, the quilt titled “Anpo Peta” (it means morning star) draws me. Orange, red and yellow prisms of fabric come together in crisp, sharp points. It’s a skill that evades me after 20 years of quilting.

Bonnie, who lives in Eagles Bluff, South Dakota, credits her mother and grandmother for her talent. Reading Bonnie’s story, I can picture these Lakota women: black-haired daughter with head bent over a kitchen table next to her gray-haired mother.

Bonnie isn’t the only one of the 25 quilters with work on display in the show “Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers from 21st-Century America” who mentions family as the reason for their love of the art of quilting. Patricia Cox of Minneapolis says she started quilting to replace one her grandmother gave her that she “loved to death”; now she spends nine to 12 hours a day at some quilting-related task. And Eldeen Geist of Deils Lake, North Dakota, credits her artistry to watching her mother “make something from nothing.”

Thriftiness, industry, debts of honor—concepts learned at the elbow of an elder. Even if we never master the art a mentor is trying to teach us (like me and those darn points), we learn important ideals, ones vital to a strong society. And that is why people who don’t even know a quilter will connect to the rainbow of colors and kaleidoscope of patterns on display in Des Moines through Jan. 31, 2014.

(This show was developed by Arts Midwest and South Arts with assistance from the Great Lakes Quilt Center at Michigan State University as a way to share American culture with the People’s Republic of China through a love of textiles. Parts of it will be displayed at other locations throughout the United States. This is the only show of all 25 quilts.)

All photos by Mike Jensen.

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