Sunday, April 09, 2023

Sue's Thank You Notes

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes, a series of twenty-four altered Sun Bonnet Sue quilt blocks.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Believe it or not, another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top found its way into my life.  This one came from a Facebook friend, Donna Johnstone Bearden, in Colorado.  Donna and I have lots in common.  We both journal daily, are passionate about mandalas, and have a soft spot in our hearts of old textiles.  Donna sent me a few photos of the textiles she was willing to donate to my stash ... including the Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top.  At first, I was worried that I couldn't come up with another, really good way to alter these obviously very traditional profiles into meaningful modern expressions.  After all, my first Sun Bonnet Sue's became The Feminist To Do List (2019).  The second Sue's became Sue's Environmental To Do List (2020 ... which is finally having its first time in the public eye at my solo show in Martinsville, VA ... blogged HERE), and the third Sue's turned into Sue Goes to the Protest (2021). How was I going to think up another idea for a fourth Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top?

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes.  Each individually framed work measures 15 3/4" x 14 3/4".)

I dreamed about the quilt top.  I brain-stormed ideas while driving to Scottsdale to conduct a workshop.  Finally, an idea occurred to me!  I could transform the blocks into Sue's Thank You Notes. I even wrote down a statement for the future work: 

A woman doesn’t have to vote, go to work, take her husband’s name, attend college, run for office, have an abortion, or conform to conservative virtues but she should be grateful to those ladies who worked hard and are working still to provide these choices.

My idea is all about gratefulness to iconic ladies from both the past and present who will always serve as role models.  It is my way of saying THANK YOU ... by actually embroidering selected names with these exact words:  Thank you!

(Above:  The quilt top from Donna Johnstone Bearden.)

I corresponded with Donna about the idea.  She liked it too ... and suggested a block for all the anonymous women like her mother who was one of the first WAVES officers in WWII (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service ... part of the US Naval Reserve). This branch of the military was established in 1942 and had a peak enrollment of 86,291 members before demobilization at the end of the war. Donna's mother was discharged and had some difficulties adjusting to her civilian life as wife and mother.  Yet, it was these mostly anonymous, pioneering women who changed the navy. On July 30, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act which allowed women to serve in the regular Army or Navy on a permanent basis.  So, I had a plan for this quilt top even before I received it in the mail.

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Naomi Parker and all the Rosie Riveters.)

Yet, the plan required a lot of research. Which iconic women would I thank?  I only had twenty-four blocks.  My list was extensive because I really wanted to include women from all sorts of different eras and backgrounds.  Also, how was I going to include Donna's suggestion regarding the anonymous women from WWII?  One cannot mail a thank you note without a name.  I could have selected Captain Mildred H. McAfee, the first director of the WAVES (1942–1945).  She was the first woman commissioned in the Naval Reserves and later was the first woman to receive the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  But, I really wanted to thank ALL the women who contributed to the war effort ... and the name "Rosie the Riveter" is very well known.  Thus, I selected Naomi Parker who is considered the most likely model for the famous "We Can Do It!" war poster.  If I end up with yet another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top, I will include Mildred H. McAfee ... and lots of other women whose names were on my too long of a list!

(Above:  Detail of Sue's Thank You Notes.)

The quilt top was carefully taken apart with a seam ripper during the first few days I was at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge as an artist-in-residence.  Every day thereafter found me doing the hand embroidery.  The names I selected include:  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; Amelia Earhart; Sojourner Truth; Betty Friedan; Rosa Parks; Florence Nightingale; Oprah Winfrey; Frida Kahlo; Naomi Parker and all the Rosie Riveters; Helen Keller; Gloria Steinam; Rachel Carson; Malala Youafzai; Michelle Obama; Coretta Scott King; Jane Goodall; Angela Davis; Marie Curie; Sandra Day O'Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Maya Angelou; Anne Frank; Eleanor Roosevelt; and Margaret Sanger.

(Above:  A collection of tiny envelopes.)

Upon returning home, I found a template for small envelopes and folded colorful pieces of cardstock.  The buttonhole stitching around each hand was removed.  An envelope was placed under it and I then re-stitched the buttonhole outline right through the envelope.  Thus ... each Sue is ready to mail her Thank You note!

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Rachel Carson.)

I had to remove the piece for Patchwork in order to hang the collection and photograph it.  I really do hope that both these new series will find a place in a future exhibit.  I also hope that another Sun Bonnet Sue quilt top comes into my life ... so that I can thank even more women who selflessly made my world a better, more equitable place!  THANK YOU!

(Above:  Sue's Thank You Notes: Sandra Day O'Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)


Ann Scott said...

This is a fantastic project. Beautiful and clever. I think I've said it before... You are the only person who has helped me learn to like Sun Bonnet Sue.

Alex said...

Another stunning reworking of this iconic image and it was so good to go back and revisit all the other versions too!

Christine said...

What a beautiful idea.
Thank You Susan for brightening my life and taking me on such adventures...... and thank you for having a wonderful son who brought us both together.