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Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Jeanette Thompson. Jeanette is in Chicago, Illinois and I'm in Naperville, Illinois and the snow is basically preventing us from getting together. Today's date is December 16, 2008. It is 6:14 in the evening. We are conducting this interview over the telephone and Jeanette thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Tell me about your quilt "Obama Equals Hope."

Jeanette Thompson (JT): Where should I start? I went into a Panera [restaurant chain.] to get breakfast and there was a Chicago Reader there. They had a picture of Obama on the cover, and I thought, I want to do an Obama quilt, and I want to do his face. I think it was either that night, or even the next day that the post went out on the QuiltArt List that someone was interested in doing an Obama exhibit. I immediately responded that I was getting ready to do one, so I wanted to be involved, and then I decided to use the face that was part of his campaign, that is part of his, I guess you would say, logo [by Shepard Fairey.]. We were able to get that off the internet very easily, and my husband was able to crank it out on a couple of sheets of printing paper and I taped them together. A lot of the work that I like to do is sort of overlapping images and switching the colors. I wanted to put Hope in it because, I think Obama really gave America hope, he definitely gave me hope. My husband actually, suggested using the "Hope" that Robert Indiana had made the sculpture of for the Democratic convention. We were able to get that image and I divided it up into four equal parts [and overlapped it over.] his face on tracing paper. Then from there I was able to figure out what colors I wanted to use. I didn't want to use patriotic colors, like red, white and blue. I wanted to use very bright happy, what I considered, hopeful colors. From there I just sort of looked at what colors I was going to use for the letters, which was yellow, and then looked at my stash, and thought about what colors for his face and parts of his face. I kind of broke it down into the different values depending on what colors I had in my stash. That is all done with Wonder Under [paper-backed fusible web by Pellon Consumer Products.] appliqu, and then I satin stitched it, and just did a little bit of quilting on the Hope and the background, and then it was done.

KM: What are your plans for the quilt?

JT: It is going to go to the exhibit in Maryland and I might put it up for sale. I'm not sure. We will see what happens. So either sell it or just keep it for my collection.

KM: Do you plan to make any more Obama art?

JT: I thought about making another one using that same template because I still have the tracing paper with it, and maybe using different colors, or doing something else with his face, but nothing has really come to mind concrete that I wanted to go ahead and work on, but I've thought about it.

KM: Is this typical of your work?

JT: Typical in the sense of the style?

KM: Um, hum.

JT: Yeah, it has been something that I've done in my work, probably for the last couple of years, taking different shapes and images and overlapping them and then switching the colors so that if you spend a little bit of time looking at the art work, you eventually see the secondary image, or multiple images that are in there. It is stuff that I have done in painting, in using colored pencils, or drawings, and it is definitely a direction that my quilting is taking, and a direction that I want to go in, to challenge the viewer to look at the piece. Their eye will see the one image, maybe be able to locate the "Hope" [letters.] and then see Obama's face. If you spend a little more time looking at it, then you start to notice the Hope in the background, or the overlapping. I use the color to help the eye see each image separately but also see them together.

KM: This face is 24 inches by 24 inches, is that a typical size for you?

JT: Not a typical size being that most stuff I do is more rectangular, probably not much bigger than that. I don't have a very good sewing machine, and to work on bigger pieces is much more challenging, so I stick within maybe that range. I think the biggest piece I did was 39 inches by 38 inches.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

JT: I took sewing classes in 6th grade because they offered that back then. Then went to college and ended up studying set design for theater. Part of that degree was to take costume design, so we learned how to sew, and learned how to design costumes, and make patterns to make our own costumes. Then after college I didn't do too much sewing. My husband and I moved to Chicago, and through a friend of his from high school I met another woman, and she had a party when we first moved here. At her party she was showing off all this stuff that she had made, like her curtains, and she made some pillows, and you know different things to decorate her house, and it reminded me of the fact that I knew how to sew. My husband's friend's wife was at the party and she mentioned that she had a sewing machine so I asked her if I could borrow it because I had just moved and I wanted to make some curtains and stuff for my place. I don't remember where quilts first caught my eye, but somewhere, in Chicago, they caught my eye, and I was interested in learning how to make quilts. I had found out about Quilter's Palette, which used to be in Morton Grove [now closed.], through a postcard posted on a corkboard in a coffee shop. I went on the internet and found it. I saw that they offered quilting classes, so I signed up for some beginner classes. Then befriended the teacher I had there who was, Faith Dukor-Chaplick, and she became my quilt guru. I started, as I think most art quilters, making traditional quilts, but the perfection in your measurements and seam allowance was not something I was very good at. Then I found out about the Mancuso [Brothers.] show last year [2007.]. That was the first quilt show that I went to and got to see art quilts, more of them, up close and the range of them. I hadn't really made too many art quilts at that point, but I was definitely going in that direction. I learned to appliqu using Wonder Under. I had met a few other people that were quilters in Chicago and we met a few times. I also found out about the QuiltArt Digest [QuiltArt listserve which you can get in digest form.], which was a huge influence in my turning point because I didn't realize that there was all that information out there, and options through checking out people's websites and blogs. I went to the Mancuso show and they had the Alliance [The Alliance for American Quilts.] home exhibit ["Put a Roof Over Our Head" curated by KM.], where the artists had made a home, like a house shaped quilt, and their interpretation of what home meant. I just loved those, and I decided to make one for my best friend. I would say that quilt was probably the first art quilt that I consider, that I made. I was able at that show to take two classes. One was Linda Fielder's "Creative Machine Quilting," because I hadn't done any free motion quilting yet. It was the first time branching out into free motion quilting, which is a huge turning point in what I could do in my quilts. I also took a class with Gloria Loughman from Australia, which was "Playing on the Surface." Those two classes, and that show were really the turning point to realizing what I could do with fabric and quilting. Taking it from traditional to more of an art form and a way of expression.

KM: Do you belong to any quilt groups?

JT: There are a couple of ladies that I meet with in Chicago. You could say we are a group, we don't have any official name or anything. We meet maybe, once a month, maybe more like every other month, and sort of just share what we are doing, or go to shows together, stuff like that. I wish that there was a stronger group in Chicago.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JT: Maybe about 20. I'm a teacher, so when I come home from work I try to get inan hour or two, and on the weekends, pretty much most of the time on the weekends. Maybe like 10:00 a.m. to about 6:00 p.m. and then when I have summers off, I just try to work as much as I can.

KM: What do you teach?

JT: I teach Art at a charter, a local Chicago charter high school.

KM: When did you move to Chicago?

JT: About 4 years ago. It will be 5 years this summer.

KM: Where did you move from?

JT: Brooklyn, New York.

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

JT: I've always considered myself an artist, but since finding art quilting, I have dedicated more time and energy to it. I've been much more dedicated to it than I had ever been before [to a medium.]. Lately, I would say, I was a fiber artist, if I had to define myself. I'm comfortable just saying artist. I like saying fiber artist because, I think it is a little bit more interesting, especially because most people don't really understand what that is, or don't fully understand what art quilting is. As soon as you put quilts into the description they sort of get turned off and think more traditional quilting.

KM: Why quilts? What is it about quiltmaking that draws you in?

JT: For me, I actually do think about this often, because my first love artistically, I would say, is painting, and it has always been painting. I look at art quilting as painting with fabric. With paint you can get one color, or you can get different shades of a color, different tones, but with fabric, you have the patterns that are in the fabrics, so it is not like you just have the yellow, or you have bright yellow. You would have yellow with gold in it, or different tones of gold, or values of gold, or you could have orange in it, so there is a pattern that you can get with fabrics that you can't get with paint. There is the whole texture too. There is the tangible experience, or tactile feeling of using the fabric, holding the fabric, ironing it, the way you manipulate it, putting it together, the quilting. It is very interactive and personal, and there are all these different layers, not just the quilt layering, but the layering you can put into the art with the fabric, or mixing different materials, or you can use different thread, or different free motion techniques to get a different look on the quilt.

KM: Describe your studio.

JT: My studio is my living room. We don't have a dining room anymore. I have taken over the dining room table area. I got a cutting board that is the same size as the dining room table. I got a sewing machine table for free from Craig's List, and we jacked up the height. We were able to, sort of make some adjustments to it, so my sewing machine could fit into it, and that is right up against the dining room table. I've taken over most of the hutch that goes with the dining room table for art materials. We have some little bookshelves from IKEA [retail store.] that I've pretty much taken over. A friend gave me a little table for next to my sewing machine. Not a table, more like a wire shelf thing that has all of the things that I need when I'm quilting, like nice thread. The threads are color coded in 99 cent Tupperware thingies, and I have a stand up spot light that I use so I have better light when I'm working. Pretty much that space is covered with fabric and projects and pictures and whatever I'm working on.

KM: Do you work on more than one thing at a time?

JT: Yeah, I would usually be working on three or four things at a time. I don't like to have too many projects working at a time, because it makes me a little too scattered. So when I have too many, I will force myself to kind of sit down and finish one or two so I only have maybe, three or two pieces that I'm working on, because I like to finish them, and complete them, and finish the journey that each quilt is.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials?

JT: Pretty much appliquing using Wonder Under and satin stitching. That's really it. I don't get too fancy. I'm thinking that in the near future I will probably venture out into painting on fabrics, or painting on muslin, and quilting that. I don't do too much embellishing. It is something I just started to do. I've only been quilting about four years, and really doing the art quilting maybe a year and a half. I try to remind myself that I'm still a newbie, especially when I look at what other people are able to accomplish, and remind myself that they have been doing this a lot longer.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

JT: I think only recently they started to realize how serious I am about it, or that it really is an art form, and not just quilt blankets or a quilt that you put on a bed. When I started, I was making a lot of baby quilts for family members [and friends.]. Then went into the art quilting. They've seen pictures and I've gotten some recognition and I think that from that they sort of realized that it is more my artistic voice, rather than a hobby or traditional quilting.

KM: What do you think of the art quilt movement in Obama?

JT: I think it is great. I can't image that there has ever been an election where people have responded in this way, just the coverage from Election Day, and how people all over the country, and all over the world, celebrated this election. That people were in the streets celebrating all over the country. I have a friend in Scotland, and I asked him about it, and he said that people were just thrilled, and they just love him and they think Michelle Obama is great. I just don't remember an election that the world was so happy about, and I don't remember a time when artists reacted like this and that artists want to have exhibits, that artists have felt such a strong need to express their joy over a presidential candidate and future president, and I think it is great.

KM: Tell me a little bit more about the exhibit.

JT: I'm very excited about it. My husband and I are hoping to drive down and go to it. My family tells me that they will drive down from New York and go to it, but we will see if that actually happens. I'm excited about going to it. I'm hoping that a lot of the other quilters can make it, and meet them in person. I think it is a beautiful space. I think that it is incredible that Susan just put this post on Quilt Art Digest and all these people responded, that she has I believe almost 60 artists, right?

KM: Um hum.

JT: That she got that beautiful space, and that they are supporting it so much, and everything that they are going to do at the exhibit, and the publicity. I think it is going to be a beautiful show.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

JT: Well as someone I consider still starting out, I found working on the challenges you can find very helpful, because they give you a spark and an idea to work off. I would definitely recommend joining the Quilt Art Digest. It can be a little bit overwhelming with the amount of emails and information that comes through there, but I think it is great because, you get a lot of information and any question you have, you can post on there. You can get great information back. You can also meet so many quilters on there, and there is information, websites and blogs so you can see what other people are doing. Through the Quilt Art Digest I was able to join the Fiber Artists of California Yahoo group and I don't know if you know Ann Copeland, she started the [Yahoo Fiberarts Connection of Southern California.] fiber group which is a little smaller than the Quilt Art Digest group. On that Yahoo group, you can post your work and get feedback. I think the art quilt community overall is so generous and supportive, and I don't know if different art genres are like that, because I haven't experienced that, but having a network that is so supportive has been great. I would definitely recommend that so you can have that support. I would recommend if you can, to go to the shows, if you are near any of the big shows, the Mancuso show or the other big one that I can't think of the name.

KM: International Quilt Festival.

JT: Yeah, t go to those and just, if you can, get involved in a guild. I think that would be great. I haven't really had that experience. It is one of the things I lack, and really wish I could find. Experiment. I'm still experimenting. Try to go into quilt stores when you can. Whenever I travel, I look up if there are any quilt stores that are on the route of my travel, and I try to stop in them and check out what they have. Build a stash if you can, if you can financially. Get books. Look at books, read books. Again going back to Quilt Art Digest, you can get great recommendations from there about books to get and to learn from.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JT: I would have to get my "Master's" ["Masters: Art Quilts" by Martha Sielman, Lark Books, 2008.] book and look at it. I like Pamela Allen's work a lot.

KM: Why?

JT: Because it is very whimsical and it is very, kind of folksy, but it is whimsical and I like all the different materials that she incorporates into her quilts. The way she embellishes them. Also, how she has explained what they mean to her. I like her colors. I like a lot of color in my work. Let me think. I liked the work I saw when I took the class with Gloria Loughman, I liked her work a lot.

KM: Why did you like her work?

JT: Again, because it was very colorful, it was bright, I like the way she used her colors and her quilting on top of it. I don't know, who else I can say. I feel like I'm cheating as I look through my Master's book.

KM: That is okay you can cheat. I don't consider it cheating actually.

JT: I like Yvonne Portcello.

KM: Porcella.

JT: Yes, again I like her colors.

KM: She is very graphic.

JT: She seems to do sort of a similar thing that I do with the satin stitch, the appliqu. Who else do I have marked off in here? I love Hollis Chatelaine. I just think her work is absolutely incredible. I don't even understand how she makes these quilts. They are just so beautiful, they almost look like photographs.

KM: She paints them.

JT: Yes, that is what I would like to get into, the next step, painting them. Even just the fact that she pieced them, [meaning the layers to make a quilt.] and then quilting on top of them.

KM: Right, it is the quilting. I think with Hollis' work it is really the quilting that makes the quilt.

JT: I don't think I've ever seen, actually, I might have seen one of hers at, I don't know, I can't remember if I've ever seen one in person. Also Katie. [pause.]

KM: Pasquini Masopaust?

JT: Yes. I was just reading about her last night in Quilting Art [Magazine.]. I like what she is doing with this sort of painted look, it looks like brush strokes.

KM: That is her newest work.

JT: I like that. She also has a great use of color and color choices. I would say that Hollis is the top one.

KM: Have you incorporated quiltmaking in your art classes at all?

JT: No I haven't. I would like to, I'm not quite sure how to. It is something I want to look into. We only have, I think, two sewing machines in my school. I have an Art Club after school, which is for kids that want to come, and want to learn about art. Some of the other kids in my [art.] classes take it as an elective, and they do choose it for the most part, but sometimes they just get stuck in there because of the scheduling. Those classes tend to be bigger, so what I'm thinking is, maybe with the Art Club introducing it. I have brought in my work to show my kids. In the beginning of the year I brought in a couple of pieces, just give them an idea of what I'm about. I brought the Obama quilt in to show some teachers, and they were like, you have to show your students. I thought, 'I feel weird about showing it to my students.' I felt it would be self-centered, egotistical, like, oh look what I did, but the kids were so excited about the election, I reconsidered. On Election Day, my first period of the day was a class with a lot of seniors, and they came in showing their voting receipts. They were so excited, and some of them got up early just so they could go vote [and get to school on time.]. Then the next day, I had the radio on in that class, and they were replaying part of his speech and these are high school kids, they talk constantly, and this one kid was like, 'Shhhhh, it is Obama. It's Obama!' and the whole class got quiet just to listen to that little clip of Obama that they were playing. I was like, alright, I will show it to them and they loved it. One class applauded, they were just so excited about it. A girl had her camera, and she took a picture and [a few.] wanted to buy it. I said, 'Sorry, you can't buy it.' I don't know, I think I will try bringing it into the Art Club because it is a small group of kids that are there because they really do like art and see how it goes from there.

KM: What do you think makes an artistically powerful quilt?

JT: I can give you many different answers to that. It could be because when you look at it you have a reaction that touches an emotion in you. You could respond to that and connect with it, or it can just be, you know, a quilt that has all of the principals of art done right. That they chose the right colors, and the right shapes, and it is just a good composition that you respond to it because it is aesthetically pleasing. Or you think it is aesthetically beautiful, and you connect something to it that you like. An emotion, because there is an emotional reaction, or just, you like it, and it is pretty, or you are impressed with another artist's skill. [what they are able to do.] with fabric and quilting. It is sort of individual.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

JT: That the art world hasn't realized that it's an art. That they are looking at it like a craft or looking at it like it is just blocks and a blanket that you put on a bed. But, I do think that is changing, and I think that is because there are so many art quilters out there, and that the community is so strong and united. I think people are going to start to realize more, other artists are going to start to recognize it more, as a real art. Have you ever heard of the Chicago Artists Coalition?

KM: Um hum.

JT: I was looking at their website last night, and put in textile artists, and put in fiber artists, and put in quilts just to get an idea of what is out there, at least in my community. And there really weren't very many that were actual art quilters. Maybe one or two that I would consider. I think it is great that they are on there, because I think that is the kind of stuff we need to do, get ourselves out there, and get our work shown and not just quilt shows, and not just quilt challenges, but in other exhibits, and try to get people to see it, and experience it, [learn to.] appreciate it.

KM: You mentioned the challenges a couple of times. Tell me what have been your favorite challenges.

JT: I did the Grab Bag Challenge.

KM: With Tomme Fent?

JT: Yeah. I thought that was great. I think that is a great artistic experience. To be sent materials that are probably not materials that you would usually use, and figure out how to make something with them. I wish, I wish there was a way to do that with other art forms, you know. I don't really know what other art form could do that besides textile or fiber artists. I would definitely do that one again. I like the journal quilt challenge. I did the Hoffman Challenge this year. I ended up getting in the traveling show, or one of their traveling shows, so that was great. I really liked the fabric that they chose.

KM: Tell me more about it.

JT: I don't know if you are familiar with the fabric that they had this year. It was purple and blues and it was like a peacock, and it had big flowers on it. It was one of the first challenges that I actually found out about and wanted to enter. I ended up finding an image of, I believe it could be by Michelangelo, I never actually found out. It was just like a pencil rendering of a male figure sort of bent, sitting down with his arms kind of wrapped around his legs, with his knees up, and kind of just looking over slightly, and he justhad this expression, or the emotion from him, I just really responded to. I took that image and enlarged it, then kind of broke down the values to just a couple of values, maybe four, and did a very simple image of him with just some browns and tans. Then for the background, I used the Hoffman fabric in a more traditional block quilting, kind of cutting up the Hoffman fabric so that each block had a certain image from the fabric. So each square had an image, depending on the shape and direction, and I put him over that and cut out all of the flowers, and kind of put him, so he is sitting in this bed of flowers. Free motion quilted over him. Did binding so the top three edges had binding on it and the bottom I finished it so the bottom was shaped like the flowers. I was very happy with the way that came out. It was a big achievement for me as far as developing my skills and making a bigger art quilt and I was very happy when it made it into the traveling show.

KM: Are there any others?

JT: That Yahoo fiber group [] that I'm a part of, they had a My World in Black and White Challenge, and for that one I did two pieces. Actually, those are pretty big too. I would say they were about 2 feet by 4 feet. I was reading Eckhart Tolle's "New Earth" book and he talks a lot about in the book about this concept of 'I am.' Like anything that happens to you in your life, you are just supposed to get to this point that I could never get to, where you just feel like, 'I am.' So if you are driving in traffic, or driving home on a day like today, where there is all this snow and it is frustrating, instead of getting frustrated, you are just supposed to be like, 'I am.' That anything in life, like gossiping, or anything negative, you are supposed to go back to this concept of "I am" and just you exist. That is it. 'I am.' And [I just couldn't get.] this concept, and still struggle with it. I incorporated those letters into the quilt in big block letters. The left one said, "I AM," with a female figure that was in the rectangular shape [of the quilt.] and she sort of looks like she was struggling. There are some other images; there are some curvy, wavy lines, and some circles, and other stuff and all that overlaps. Then every other shape is either black or white, so that you can see those images if you really look at it. The black parts of the figure are sort of a gray crackling looking fabric, and the outside of the figure is a black fabric with a grayish pattern on it. Where the figure is, I painted over the white with the Luminar Sparkle paint. I just did some very simple straight stitching over the letters on the white part. The left [panel.] said, "I AM," with a figure, and the other one was a mirror image of that, but said, said AM I. The concept was, in life we are always asking ourselves, we might say, 'I am an artist,' but, then there are days that are bad, and you might be like, 'Am I an artist?' Or you are either like, 'I am a good wife.' Or 'I am a good friend,' and there are other times when you are like, 'Am I good friend?' 'Am I a good wife?' So those questions that we ask ourselves.

KM: Very nice.

JT: That one won second place.

KM: Congratulations. How did that make you feel?

JT: It made me feel great, because it is really hard to come home from work, almost every day, and try to put effort into this. I would say, for probably the last year and a half, I've really dedicated myself. I get six weeks off for the summer and that was my studio time, and I worked every day, got up every day and tried to get to work by 10:00 and usually worked until 6:00 or 7:00 at night. So it was really nice to get some recognition for dedicating myself to it.

KM: How do you want to be remembered?

JT: As an artist?

KM: Um hum.

JT: I'm not sure. I'm not sure where I hope to go with this. It is something that I've thought about recently, sort of wondering what is the point, why are you doing this? I think most artists would agree that they do it because they feel a need to do it, and they have to do it. For me it helps keep me sane. It helps me deal with, and get out stuff that I can't get out any other way. I don't know where I want to go with it. I would like to start to get into shows that aren't just quilt shows. Maybe eventually down the road, have an exhibit. I don't expect to be a big name in the art quilt world. I don't expect to make it into the "Master's" book. I would like to meet some great people, make some great friends, have a quilting community. Continue to do it, and continue to grow and change as far as what I can do with the art form, break out into more options as far as being able to express what I want to express. I'd like to have a real studio at some point. I don't know. I'd just like to be remembered as someone who made some quilts that touched people and they connected to.

KM: We are almost at our forty-five minute mark. Is there anything you would like to share that I haven't asked you?

JT: No I don't think so. I think you covered it all.

KM: You have done a great job.

JT: [laughs.] Thank you.

KM: Thank you so much for taking time in your evening to share with me.

JT: No, no thank you for doing this for all the quilters of the world. Save our stories, I mean that is bigger than my forty-five minutes.

KM: I don't agree with that at all. We will conclude our interview and it is now 6:57.