The true story of the quilt – Thank you Della

This week was another milestone for me. Something special and I’ve taken a few days to digest what just happened.
I was asked to take my Quilt of American Gothic to the Art Institute of Chicago.
We had an appointment to meet one of the officials, but by the time she arrived, Jim had shared the quilt  with everyone in the foyer.
Passers by, officials and the participants of our retreat were all there, snapping away.
I didn’t take a camera, can you believe that, but I have a few of other folks photos and I know there is an official one somewhere.

I can’t express the feeling of being there, in that prestigious place  with my quilt and the real photo.
I’m a little embarrassed by the quilting, but it was done some 7 years ago and I’ve changed my methods… or should we say, I’ve quilting matured….!!!
This is the story of the quilt.

Libby Lehman asked me once how many quilts I’d sold over the years.
“None” I replied…. they’re  like my children, I gave birth to them, how could I sell them.?

Now that’s not to say that I had a few moments when my kids were teenagers where that evil thought crossed my mind.!!!!  “Sell ’em off to the highest bidder” (the kids that is)

One such  quilt was “American Gothic Revisited.”

It’s an American icon, so why would an Australian make a quilt like that.?

One competitive Australian Quilter made the comment….. “Oh, of course you won Best of Show, you made it for the American Market”

I just sighed…….She had no idea why I made that quilt, and the comment was painful….. 

So this is the story of my American Gothic.

When I was 11, I was sent to live with my Grandparents who were Plymouth Brethren. I guess you would equate the religion with Amish in a way.

I had no radio, no books and I had to pray a lot and grow my hair…..

That didn’t work for me, I chopped a little bit of hair off each week, I must have looked like a scarecrow, but it was disguised by the curls…. so my hair never grew…. I told my Nana it was slow growing…!!!!

I could read music, so I taught myself the piano and Mr Onley, the grumpy man in the workshop downstairs used to bang on the ceiling with a broom to stop me… so I just played louder and stomped back.

I drew, and drew, and drew……. one day, in the back of a cupboard I found a single copy of the Saturday Evening Post…..

I read it from cover to cover and hid it under my mattress. I loved one of the pictures in the magazine, American Gothic….. and I drew it over and over again.

I also loved the cover and I fell in love with Norman Rockwell right then….his painting spoke to me….and I’ve been a fan ever since.

I got to go home after a year, but I never forgot American Gothic.

Some 48 years later, a special person came into my life, Della Moon. A lady in her 70’s who showed me a path through the trauma of my sons terrible accident… and was a support despite the tragedies she was experiencing..

Della lived in Indiana and I visited her many times. She in turn would turn up in my classes all over the USA…

On one occasion, I mentioned “American Gothic” to her and she told me the original was hanging in the Chicago Museum, which was about an hour from her house…..

Her brother Glen, a scholar from the Chicago University offered to squire me for the day if I drove the car. He was a fountain of knowledge, he took me to lunch in a wonderful German restaurant and then on to the Museum.

There I had the opportunity to see the original “American Gothic” and also an original Norman Rockwell. Needless to say, I was excited in the extreme.

 Like the viewers of the Mona Lisa… I was surprised at the size of the painting…. it was quite small.  In fact, about the size of the Mona Lisa, maybe just a little bigger.

The Painting drew quite a crowd, people stood around and talked about it in hushed tones….
I was in awe and marveled at the art of the artist, Grant Wood.

Della didn’t go with us that day, she was feeling unwell. and I told her all about our journey when I returned to the house.

Just a few weeks later, Della was in a coma with a brain tumor.

I couldn’t believe it. Not Della.

So I thought about re-creating the painting in fabric….. it wasn’t for competition, it wasn’t to please the American public…. it was to honor my friend Della.

Of course it took a considerable time to make the quilt… but every stitch reminded me of the time I spent with Della, her smile  and her hearty laugh.

I remember the time I had to go to Paducah and accept an award. Della drove friend Di and I, we had our good clothes to put on after the trip… but when we arrived there was a huge crowd outside the auditorium and it was still locked… so, we had to change in the car in front of everyone…

One minute I was in my shorts and T shirt asking if the door was open…. back in the car and five minutes later we popped out in our glad rags….!!!!

Della a largish lady, just stripped off right in the front seat.. it was hilarious. Then after the awards, to celebrate we went to Cracker Barrel for dinner and sat in our fancy clothes on the rocking chairs out on the front porch.

So “American Gothic Revisited” is in memory of Della Moon. The antique quilt it is buttoned to, as a border, was purchased in Paducah when Della and I were searching the antique malls.

Memories that can’t be sold, can’t be extinguished and are precious.

Husband Keith decided I should enter the quilt in competition and I fought against if for a year, finally putting it into AQS.

Right up to the minute I sent it ……..I felt it shouldn’t go. I’m not comfortable with the idea of competition as such.

I was in England, filming, I hadn’t even given a thought to the judging of the quilt I was so wrapped up in the documentary. I opened my email late one evening, in fact, I think it was early morning…. there was an email from my friend Gay who had heard on the Australian Quilt list that the quilt had won Best of Show AQS.

I didn’t believe it, so I had to go online and check the results… there it was….

Thank you Della.          Your memory resides in every stitch. I’m sure she made it happen.


16 Comments Add yours

  1. JIM WEST says:

    pam, it was a magical day when we went with your quilt to the art institute. i felt it was history in the making……………
    you are in a league all your own my dear!
    and i am one of your fans……….

    1. pam says:

      Jim, thanks, you made it work, and I really appreciate the thought and effort.

  2. Ann-Maree Jacobs says:

    Thanks for the explanation Pam hopefully it will stop at least one more person presuming to “know” why someonehas done something .

    1. Pam says:

      Ann-Maree, you know this happens to everyone….I’m not the only person this has happened to… The difference is I will mention it.. and the other thing is that I’m cross that I let it make me have a sad moment.

  3. Carolyn S says:

    What a precious story!!

  4. Pam says:

    Thanks Carolyn

  5. Thank you, Pam, for sharing that wonderful story, heartwarming and precious!

  6. Carol M says:

    Pam, I have always said if quilts could talk, the stories would be amazing. What a very special day it truly was. You are one very special lady.

  7. Lisa says:

    So here I am at work – wiping away the tears. It is the same every time I hear the story. I am blessed to have seen the quilt, to have heard the story and to call you friend. You are an amazing person – inside and out – you share yourself, your talents and I’m so pleased that you share your travels and adventures. You were blessed by knowing Della and she will live on through you… and continue to touch lives through you.

  8. Julia Preseau says:

    Thank you, Pam. Meeting you in the foyer of the museum last month has been a highlight of my winter. I felt honored to hear the brief version of your quilt’s back story that day, and I’m glad to see the full experience detailed here now. In my middle age, I find that tales of those who, in their youth, “respected” elders gain my admiration far less than those who knew enough even at an early age to meaningfully question. I hope that if you ever write the whole of your life story I will be able to read it.

  9. I can see that you are putting a lot of efforts into your site. Keep posting the good work. Some really helpful information in there. Nice to see your site.


  11. I wish you all good luck for your coming blogs and posts.

  12. I like it so very……..much.

  13. I like it so very……..much.

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