Interview with Sonia Callahan, February 22, 2008

Quilt Alliance
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00:00:01 - About the touchstone quilt: "Women Who Were"

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Partial Transcript: This is Karen Musgrave. I am doing a Quilters S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Sonia Callahan, and Sonia's in Piedmont, California, and I'm in Naperville, Illinois, so we are doing this recordin-, this interview over the telephone. Today's date is February 22nd, 2008, it is 2:54 in the afternoon, and I'm doing a special Quilters S.O.S. - Save.Our Stories project, based on the exhibition, Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece, and I want to thank you for doing this interview with me, and you're kind of unique, because you have actually two pieces in the interview.

Segment Synopsis: Callahan describes her touchstone quilt, "Women who Were," which is based on observing the residents in the residential facility in which her mother lived. Callahan discusses at length the images she used in the quilt and what they represent. She also briefly describes her approach and her techniques. Mixed into this content are observations about Callahan's mother's specific circumstances and about the other residents in the facility, as well as praise for the caretakers in the facility

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Residential facility; Women Who Were

Subjects: Quilting

00:06:35 - About the second touchstone quilt: "Alzheimer's Thief"

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Partial Transcript: Was this the first or the second quilt that you made?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan talks about "Alzheimer's Thief," the other quilt that she made for the Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece exhibit. Callahan has a friend with Alzheimer's. After talking to her, Callahan decided that for this quilt she needed to know more "about the technical stuff, about Alzheimer's," so she spent some time reading about it. She describes the process of making the quilt and, to some extent, the techniques used. Callahan also addresses her use of color in both quilts. "Alzheimer's Thief" depicts the loss of faculties that occurs in Alzheimer's. Callahan discusses the emotional response of a couple, one of whom had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, to seeing this quilt exhibited.

Keywords: Alzheimer's Thief; Alzheimer's disease; Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Quiltmaking process; Techniques

00:12:31 - Visiting the exhibit / Being accepted into the exhibit / "Women Who Were" poem

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Partial Transcript: Have you seen the exhibit?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan has been to the exhibit. She found it led her to compare her work critically with the other quilts, but she acknowledges the exhibit's power. Callahan initially thought that neither quilt was likely to be accepted. As other people responded to "Alzheimer's Thief" while she was working on it, she thought maybe that quilt would get into the exhibit. Callahan wrote a poem for the "Women Who Were" quilt. She paraphrases it in the interview, and then Musgrave reads it from the exhibit book.

Keywords: Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Poetry; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:15:38 - Recording an artist statement / Exhibit CD and book / Plans for the quilts

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Partial Transcript: So, let me ask you, the CD, we were all asked to read our artist statements, tell me about that experience for you.

Segment Synopsis: Callahan had no problem reading her artist's statement. It made sense to her as part of the project in its entirety, and Ami Simms liked her voice. Callahan has listened to the exhibit CD. Musgrave discusses the strong points of the exhibit CD and the book. Callahan has no specific plans for the quilts when they return to her. She will probably give them away, perhaps to a residence. She tells a story about giving away another quilt commemorating a cat who returned home after an extended absence following a firestorm.

Keywords: Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece; Ami Simms; Quilt shows/exhibitions

00:18:12 - Interest in quiltmaking

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

Segment Synopsis: Callahan taught English as a Second Language to Mien refugees from Vietnam. As a result of Callahan's trying to figure out a way for the women to make good use of their exquisite stitching, the program also started to offer a quiltmaking class for the refugees. Then a neighbor of Callahan's taught her to quilt. She tried different things, then took a class, joined a guild, and took more classes, largely through the guild. About fifteen to twenty years before the interview, she took a class from Penny Sisto, from whom she learned to use images in quiltmaking, as well as to not be scared of experimentation

Keywords: East Bay Heritage Quilters; Learning quiltmaking; Penny Sisto; Quilt guilds

00:22:45 - Inspiring artists / Time spent quilting

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Partial Transcript: So whose works are you drawn to and why?

Segment Synopsis: When asked whose work she is drawn to, Callahan names Claude Monet. Speaking specifically of quiltmakers, she is drawn to those whose work communicates something to her. She tries to educate others about "different peoples' cultures as represented in cloth." Something she values in the work of quiltmakers is the ability to create "interesting art" from "other people's cloth." After a class in using fabric the quilter is reluctant to cut up, her approach is to "take the fabric out, and just what is it saying to me?" The time Callahan spends quilting varies from none at all to twenty or more hours a week.

Keywords: Claude Monet; Quiltmaking inspiration; quiltmaking classes

00:25:50 - Favorite techniques and materials / Studio / Family

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Partial Transcript: So, what are your favorite tech-, tec-, techniques and materials?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan lists several techniques she has worked with, but says that she gets bored if she uses the same approach too much. She keeps cloth in a guest room, but often works in the dining room. She says her studio is "all over the house." Callahan describes her family's initial attitude towards her quilting as "tolerant." She thinks that now that she has had several pieces in the show in Houston, her husband is proud of her work. She has won a couple of prizes, but is not interested in conforming to the norms that might win her more. She enjoys quilting and finds it stimulates her mind.

Keywords: Family; Home studio; Quilt Purpose - Exhibition; Quilt shows/exhibitions; Techniques; Work or Studio space

00:29:31 - Identifying as a quilter / Challenges

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Partial Transcript: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you make the distinction?

Segment Synopsis: When asked if she thinks of herself as an artist or a quilter, Callahan says that she thinks of herself as a parent and a teacher. In terms of creative pursuits, she thinks of herself as a quilter, rather than an artist. Callahan says that one of the major challenges facing quiltmakers today is competition from artists with an art school background who are getting into quilting. They tend to do very well at it, but intimidate quilters from other backgrounds. Also, our culture has become too fast-paced to accommodate things like hand quilting. Instead, there is a focus on entering work in shows, along with a tendency to really jazz quilts up, on the theory that that will make them better, rather stopping when a quilter knows the quilt is finished.

Keywords: Quilt Purpose - Exhibition

Subjects: Arts and craft; Teaching

00:32:29 - Advice for beginning quilters / Importance of women / What makes a great quilt

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Partial Transcript: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan stresses enjoyment in her advice to beginners. She suggests not paying much attention to the "quilt Nazis," although they do have a function in setting standards, but instead learning techniques and taking classes in things in which the beginner is interested. When asked about "the importance of quilts and women," Callahan says they are very important. Women have been artists without being acknowledged for it. In her own work, if she can support women in some way, she will choose that project over others. She gives examples of such projects. Callahan describes a great quilt as one "that draws me in." Color, how color defuses and "unique patterns of quilting," as well as an ability to communicate something clearly are all part of what makes a quilt great for her.

Keywords: Aesthetics; Learning quiltmaking; Quilt design; quilt police

00:36:05 - Influence of international travels

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Partial Transcript: Always ask people, um, if there is anything they would like to add, before we close, so this is your opportunity to . . . .

Segment Synopsis: Callahan lived in several different countries as a by-product of her husband's job. As a result, she developed an interest in "ethnic fabrics." In Indonesia, she was able to buy several quilts and she would ask at a tailor shop for cloth scraps. She discusses the importance of batik in Indonesia. Callahan thinks her international travels have caused her to "have a greater appreciation for diversity of fabric. . . ." At this point, she relies on her cloth stash, rather than buying cloth.

Keywords: Fabric - Batiks; Fabric stash; Indonesia; Travel

00:39:12 - Making Priority quilts / Supporting the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, have you participated, like, I'd like to come back to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative before we conclude. Have you participated in the Priority Quilts?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan has made a couple of Priority Quilts, but finds the size awkward for self-expression. She has, however, contributed to the Alzheimer's Art Quilts Initiative by encouraging people to buy books and CDs, even going so far as to create an order form. As the interviewer points out, Callahan also has two quilts in the exhibit. The interviewer and Callahan discuss the extension of time for the exhibit from three to three and a half years.

Keywords: Alzheimer's Art Quilts Initiative; Priority: Alzheimer’s Quilt Challenge; Quilt Purpose - Fundraising

00:41:30 - Concerns about Alzheimer's

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Partial Transcript: Do you worry at all about getting Alzheimer's?

Segment Synopsis: Callahan says that she does worry about getting Alzheimer's. However, she says that there is nothing that can be done about it. She talks about the different things she does, including quilting, that stimulate her brain in different ways. She also has some genetic hope, as her father was free of Alzheimer's. Callahan and Musgrave agree that Alzheimer's is terrible. The friend of Callahan's, whose experience inspired her second touchstone quilt, has deteriorated badly. Callahan and Musgrave discuss how sometimes Alzheimer's is quite fast and other times very slow.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Family