“From Insects to Elephants” (and Crocs)

Visiting “Stevie” at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Art

In September my husband Tom and I sent our only child off to college.

Hello, empty nest.

In October, I sent my quilt “Crocodylus Smylus” off for it’s premier at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts.

Hello, empty studio.

WI Visit1
Me and Stevie

Our son’s college is only an hour away, so we get to visit fairly often, enough to soothe even this needy mom’s emotions. “Stevie” the croc, however, traveled all the way to the midwest from Maine, so I hadn’t seen her until this past week, when I flew into Milwaukee and drove north to the quaint village of Cedarburg, not far from the shores of Lake Michigan.

WI Visit2
Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts

Accompanied by my friend and fellow artist, Darlene Determan, we arrived on Wednesday, a day before I was scheduled to give a talk on “The Making of a 20-Foot Saltwater Crocodile” at the museum. We added extra time to view the exhibit, a collection of quilts and fiber art depicting animals. What an amazing show!

WI Visit4
Darlene and I with two of our quilts: her elephant “Ellie” (upper left) and my “Tickled Pink” (above).

When I received the invitation to participate in this show, the curators—Linda Reuss Benson and Linn Woodard (pic below)—wanted “Tickled Pink” and “Polka Dodo” (the second of which was already committed to another show). My husband, eavesdropping on the phone conversation poked me in the ribs and whispered, “See if they have room for a twenty-foot crocodile.”

Guest curators Linn Woodard and Linda Reuss Benson seemed relieved that Stevie made it to the show after months of anticipation.

Even though it existed primarily in my mind at that point, they said yes. I am grateful that the museum had faith in me. As the deadline for delivery loomed, they must have had second-thoughts about reserving a whole wall for Stevie.

She looks beautiful on that wall, by the way. The museum’s converted-barn gallery is big enough to show her off nicely, while still reserving space for all the other wonderful pieces in the show.

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ABOVE: A slide show of the exhibition. It starts as you enter through the gift shop, then you turn left and continue clockwise through the space.

In the three decades since I began making images in fabric, there’s been a big increase in the number of animal quilts. As quilters experimented with new techniques, animal quilts have grown increasingly complex and detailed, as is displayed in this exhibit. But what also impressed and interested me was the inclusion of other fiber media such as felted, stuffed, embroidered, beaded, and needlepoint animals. What a talented group of artists the show attracted.

Now, if you’re familiar with the quilting world, there are many names you’ll recognize. Then there are some who may be unfamiliar, like Darlene, whose work deserves the attention this show is bringing. If you are near enough to visit the museum, I really recommend it. It closes on January 10th (in about 3 weeks), so don’t delay!

But for now, or if you just can’t make it, take a look at some of the pieces below. I don’t have pictures of all of 100+ of them. And I don’t really have any penetrating insight. All I can say is that these are just a few that caught my (somewhat eclectic) eye. About all I would just add one word: Wow.

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Full house at my lecture. One of the best audiences I’ve ever had. Well-informed and curious. As a speaker I really appreciate that energy.

My talk highlighted the making of my crocodile quilt. Just as this was Stevie’s premier, so it was for this lecture. It went great (even if I say so myself). And I know much of it was the positive vibe I got from the audience. I could feel myself almost feeding off it. I do believe they asked more questions in the end than any group I have ever lectured for in my years of doing this. Thanks to all who attended the sold-out event. It made my trip!

Former students from Wisconsin: Betsy, Becky, (Me), and Nora.

Three students of mine from a September class on the western side of WI, showed up for support. Betsy, Becky, and Nora. Darlene and I saw Nora again two days later, being invited to stay at her house overnight for an easy morning trip back to the Milwaukee airport. Thanks again Nora!

After my lecture on Thursday, Darlene and I still had a couple days to sight-see. We spent one day just checking out Cedarburg, which at this time of year is decked out for Christmas in just the most charming way. Of course, we also had to pick up some souvenirs. (Does 15 pounds of cheese count as a souvenir?)

No, this hat didn’t come home with either me or Darlene. Almost, but not quite. We went for the real stuff instead.
A great combination of quaint and kitsch on Friday night in Cedarburg: luminaries and neon.
Hobnobbing with local celebrities.

Our final day, on the way to Nora’s for a fabric shop-hop in the afternoon, we first headed east to Port Washington to see Lake Michigan. A foggy Lake Michigan as it turned out. We heard there’s some beautiful views to be seen. Next time.

Smith Bros’ coffee to take off the lake’s chill, though the weather was still quite mild for November.
Darlene found her subject matter for a future quilt.
Selfies take practice.

All-in-all, it was a whirlwind 3-day stay in Wisconsin. Darlene and I were immensely impressed with the Quilt Museum, the amazing exhibit, the lecture attendees that traveled from far and wide to hear about my quilt and collage process, the charming town of Cedarburg, and the engaging people of Wisconsin as a whole.

Stevie the croc, and Albie my pink rhino, both told me they were very happy hanging out with so many new quilted, stitched, beaded, and felted friends. I don’t doubt that, they are in fine company. And when they return home to Maine in January, I’m sure we’ll  still be enjoying our genuine Wisconsin cheese.


6 thoughts on ““From Insects to Elephants” (and Crocs)

  1. Your quilts are amazing!!!….. I can only hope one day to see Stevie!!!….. I am still working on my butterfly,.. working on a big sunflower for her to sit on… my daughter took some amazing pictures of a field of sunflowers so working from that….. you are in inspiration to many!!!…………. and the other quilts in the show… wow… what a great show!! sure wish they would make a little traveling show of many of them…… maybe one day……. thank you so much for sharing Susan


  2. Congratulations once again. I know you must be very proud. Your quilts, including Tickled Pink are absolutely incredible. I am so looking forward to seeing your next inspiration. Can you even top Stevie?


  3. Susan – such fun to have you visit us at the Museum…..and to think that you were in Port Washington! I probably saw you out our condo window!! Linn Woodard


  4. Thanks so much for letting Stevie the Croc come to Wisconsin where I was able to see and be deeply moved by the awesomeness of your creation. My husband and I were staying near Cedarburg for 3 nights and were planning on visiting the museum. I found your husband’s You Tube video documenting how you created the big croc before our visit, so I was anticipating something wonderful and I wasn’t disappointed. I have also been enjoying your blog. Thanks for sharing your art with the world. Sid


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