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  • Writer's pictureCyndie Katz

My Painted Patchwork Muse

I met my husband's grandmother long after she was dead. I was cleaning out my in-law's attic, and way in the back was this quilt made by Neva Goodrich. Pinned to the quilt was a note explaining that she made it when she was between the ages of 8 and 12 with swatches from her dresses. That was in the first decade of the 1900s.

She sewed with her cousin and friend Esther Goodrich who died of "brain fever" when she was 11. Esther's silver thimble was then gifted to Neva. Years later Esther's sister Elva married Grover Katz but died during childbirth. Neva then married Grover and brought up her cousin's child and also bore her own son who eventually became my father-in-law.

Because I used to be a quilter and am a women's history buff but don't have any family history with quilt-makers, Neva has become one of my muses. Although she had a decent marriage, at least by family accounts, after her husband died she ended up living her final years in a mental institution.

For much of my life, I have wished I lived in a time when making things -- things like clothes and blankets and bread -- were essential. I believed I would have thrived when those were requirements and there was time set aside for them out of necessity. But can I reimagine my childhood braided and laced up like Neva there in her chair, sitting and sewing for hours and with the expectation that I'd grow up with no rights and expected to do what the men-run society demanded of me? I can't!

"It's Saturday Night" 30x40x1.5 in. / mixed media on canvas

When I make a painted patchwork like this one, Neva and her handsewn quilt come to my mind, and a little anger rises in me about women's rights of the past and then more anger about the rights women are losing right now. But the anger exists alongside gratitude for my present freedom of expression which I try never to take for granted.

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