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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Quilt Historian Interview with:

Meg Cox
Quilt Journalist

Contact information:

Meg Cox
meg@megcox.com
www.megcox.com
http://www.facebook.com/meg.cox1
609-924-9135

1) How do you prefer to be described as, within the field of textile history?

"Quilt Journalist.

"I’m an author/journalist who happens to think the current quilt boom is an absolute barn-burner of a good story. I love to give quilters a deeper understanding of the amazing state of the quilt world, and serve as an ambassador to the non-quilting world via lectures and articles. I think quilting deserves good journalism: if major media outlets have regular columns on rock music, poker and wine, why not quilts?"

2) Please tell us about your work or business in the field today

"My interest in telling the story of quilts brought me to the nonprofit Alliance for American Quilts, which I currently serve as president.

"I write regular columns in three quilting publications: The Quilt Life (Look Who’s Quilting Now, a profile of an unexpected quilter); Quilter’s Home (a gossip column called The Skinny) and Fab Shop News (a business column called Trade Talk).

"I also write a free monthly e-newsletter called Quilt Journalist Tells All.

"Most importantly, I’ve become known for my book The Quilter’s Catalog: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, published in 2008."

3) When and where did you begin your serious interest in the history of quilts?

"My mother taught me to quilt (by hand) more than 20 years ago but I didn’t truly dig into quilting as a topic until I began reporting my third book, a resource guide for 21st century quilters. When I began quilting, I worked fulltime as a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal in NYC, and the only person I knew who quilted was my mother, in coastal North Carolina.

"I left the Journal in 1994 when my son was born to take up freelance writing, including two books about family traditions. While considering what topic to take up next, I decided to go to the AQS show in Paducah in 2002 for research on the quilt scene. I was blown away by the size of the industry, the artistry of the quilts, the high-tech aspect of quilting and the amazing entrepreneurial vibe. I spent 5 years researching and writing the 600-page book, The Quilter’s Catalog. It’s been widely praised both within and beyond the quilt world and has so far sold more than 60,000 copies."

3) What “known” individual (or group) influenced you most and why?

"I was very much influenced by the nonprofit Alliance for American Quilts (AAQ), especially its co-founder Shelly Zegart, who was one of the first people I interviewed for my book. As a quilt collector and the founder of the first state quilt documentation project, in Kentucky in 1981, Shelly really understood how important it was to save the stories behind quilts. All these amazing quilts would come pouring out of attics, bedrooms and garages, and a group of dedicated volunteers would capture and catalog the stories before the quilts disappeared back into those hidden places!

"Eventually, many of those state documentation projects would be archived on the Quilt Index, a database of more than 50,000 quilts jointly run by the Alliance for American Quilts, Michigan State University’s Museum and MSU’s MATRIX: Center for Human Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online. Thankfully Shelly and her co-founders, including Karey Bresenhan, founder of International Quilt Festival and a pioneer in quilt documentation in Texas, decided that the best repository of the resources they were creating was the web, which was much less of a tool at the time the Alliance was founded in the early ‘90s.

"Early on in my reporting, Shelly asked me to join the AAQ board: she liked that I was a quilter but also had an up-to-the-minute understanding of the major individuals and companies behind the quilt boom, due to my book research. After several years of her urging, I joined the board in 2005. Shortly after that, Shelly decided to launch the Alliance into the world on its own: stepping back from her long, active years at the helm, moving the AAQ from her home in Louisville, Ky. to its current location in Asheville, N.C.. I stayed on the board, working hard for the organization, writing its newsletter and other materials, serving as vice president, and in August, 2010, the Alliance voted me president.

"The organization continues to be a major force and focus in my work: it’s a uniquely good fit for me because it emphasizes the stories of quilts and quilters, both past and in the present. Also, the board echoes the nonprofit’s emphasis on what it means to have allies, to build an alliance: it brings together historians, curators and collectors, but also every type of quiltmaker and representatives of the quilt industry. I get enormous inspiration from serving on a board that includes everyone from the CEOs of HandiQuilter and Moda fabrics, to a 25-year-old prize-wining male art quilter.

4) Who became your personal mentor as you began your learning?

"In some ways, it’s hard to have a mentor as a journalist in this field, when it comes to the writing itself.

"As far as people who provided guidance as I researched my book, I would single out Liza Prior Lucy, the quilter and entrepreneur who co-writes books with Kaffe Fassett and teaches with him as well. Liza actually got Kaffe, who was a star in the knitting world, to try quilts. She’s a great networker and cheerleader and she helped me immensely, contributing everything from suggesting people for my chapter on the Top Quilt Teachers in the U.S., to helping me pick fabric for some of the 12 projects in the book. I still get her advice on a regular basis. She has her finger on the pulse.

"I also got a lot of mentoring early on from Karen Musgrave, a real stalwart within the AAQ when I arrived, who conducted hundreds of the interviews in the Alliance’s oral history project and has a solid knowledge of contemporary quilting. She was always available as a sounding board, even if we didn’t always agree on specific points. (We even had a debate on the use of the word “quilter” versus “Quiltmaker.”)

"If you ask who inspired and inspires me as a writer, I would name a number of individuals, including historians Laurel Horton and Barbara Brackman, who both do good original research and write in a lively manner. I’m also impressed by the hard work and passion of Kyra Hicks, who has written a number of books about African-American quilters and quilt history. Frankly, I have also been inspired by Mark Lipinski, aka “the bad boy of quilting,” the irreverent founding editor of Quilter’s Home magazine. Mark showed that there could be a lifestyle magazine about quilting, and he showed writing on the topic could be witty and fun."

5) What aspect of study were you most passionate about at first? How has this changed over time and why?

"At first, and for a long time, I was most fascinated by all the different reasons for the continuing quilt renaissance. It amazed me to think that lots of quilters today make as many quilts in a year as 19th century women made in a lifetime: that changes everything. I love to study contemporary quilting within the context of modern American culture. The coming together of computers and patchwork has taken modern quilting to such a diverse, rich, global place.

"As a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal I’m fascinated by the business aspect of quilting, how many people have made (or tried to make) a living from quilts in one way or another. I think even most quilters don’t realize that Eleanor Burns has more books in print than Martha Stewart!

"Right now, I’m also getting more immersed in the thread of quilting and other needle arts through the whole arc of America’s history.

"I'm in front of a quilt I made (right; click to enlarge). I was interviewed for the Alliance's oral history project, Quilters' S.O.S. -Save Our Stories, in Asheville, NC. For each Q.S.O.S. interview, the interviewee brings a "touchstone quilt" to discuss her or his quilt history. This quilt is my homage to my 17-year career at the Wall Street Journal and is called "Black and White and Read All Over." (In my day, there was no color in the Journal.) I feel compelled to add that it truly was an accident that my outfit matched the quilt. What can I say? I love black and white.

"These days, I'm becoming more involved in doing interviews myself for the AAQ's oral history project. My recent interviews include Kaffe Fassett, and Caryl Bryer Fallert, and I’m scheduled to interview television host Alex Anderson and historian Barbara Brackman."

6) What is your current “Pet project”

"I’m researching a new quilt-related book for Workman that I can’t talk about yet, but this one is much more a history book than The Quilter’s Catalog (which included 12 patterns and tons of practical sidebars as well as recent history). Also. I’ve been asked by the publisher, Running Press, of my second book to write a revised/expanded version of The Book of New Family Traditions (2003).

"My other main project is helping to grow the amazing resources of the Alliance for American Quilts."

7) What about quilts and quilting as effected by technology has fascinated you the most and why? How has this influenced your articles written for magazines today?

"I think what continues to fascinate me is how unlike the stereotypes modern quilting actually is, so I want to continue trying to tell that story to the majority of Americans who are clueless.

"That goes back to my Wall Street Journal roots and loving an untold story: I sometimes say quilting is “the biggest invisible cult in America.

"So one area of writing I am trying to pursue is to get the mainstream media to cover the real state of quilting, including the tech piece: I recently contacted the head tech editor at the Wall Street Journal, to write a story about the new mobile phone app created by the Quilt Index. For 99 cents, people can have a quilt documented on the Index downloaded to their phone every day."

8) Within this arena, what would you like to do, but haven’t done yet?

"There is so much I would like to do!

"More books, more articles, more notice in the mainstream media. I would especially like to work more in new media, both for my own work and to get more audio and video and interactive galleries introduced to the Alliance website. That’s all part of the organization’s 5-year-plan.

"One of my goals is to get the Alliance’s Q.S.O.S. oral history project as well known as the Story Corps project, which has a spot on NPR every Friday."

10) Please describe (in a list) the contributions you have made via books and articles, presentations, exhibits, contests, articles, fabric lines, and research papers

Books

The Quilter’s Catalog: A Comprehensive Resource Guide
(Workman Publishing, 2008)

Book Foreword to Journey of Hope: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama by Carolyn Mazloomi (Voyageur Press, 2010)

Articles - These are in addition to the regular magazine columns cited at the beginning of the interview.

Stitching Up the Future," The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2008.

Stops Along the Summer Quilt Trail,” The Wall Street Journal. May 23, 2009.

Quilts for Obama,” Daily Best news website. May 16, 2009.

“Selling Quilt Books in a Crowded Market,” SAQA Journal, Summer 2009.

“The 26 Most Influential People in Quilting,” Mark Lipinski’s Quilter’s Home, May/June 2008.

“The Broadway Quilters,” The Quilt Life, December 2010.

“Behind the Scenes at the Museum,” (profile of Elizabeth V. Warren, a curator at the American Folk Art Museum), The Quilt Life, February, 2011.

“A Window Into Quilting Opens at the Mall,” Fab Shop News, April 2010.

Lectures and Workshops:

“American Quilts: Then & Now,” Newark Museum and various historical societies, libraries and guilds.

“What is a Quilt? And Why You Should Make One”
Lecture presented at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ) and the American Folk Art Museum (NYC), among other venues.

"Quilt Journalist Tells All”

Exhibits
I helped the Alliance put together the “If These Quilts Could Talk” exhibit at Houston’s Quilt Festival in 2010, which included 14 quilts from the AAQ’s oral history project, Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories. I am very much interested in helping create future exhibits for the Alliance, both virtually and in exhibition spaces around the country.

Website: www.megcox.com
 


Thank you Meg for letting us know that it is possible to come from as far on the other side of the earth as Wall Street to find yourself quite comfortable and cozy writing about quilts, the women who make them today and their past history. Cultivating a reporter’s mind and an education in journalism can go far in documenting today’s quilters, quilting and technology’s massive impact on quilting. I look forward to your next book too.


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© 2001 - 2015 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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