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Art quilt honors family past, present, future

August 24, 2022 - 00:00
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Examiner reporter

A new dimension has been added to Navasota’s diverse community of artists. Joining illustrators, musicians, painters, poets, thespians and writers is award winning, internationally recognized Master Quilter Barbara McCraw. Her colorful, exquisitely detailed handiwork hangs in private collections, has been exhibited in almost every state in the union and in Africa, Canada and Europe. Her journey is well documented in newspaper and magazine articles, in video and website interviews.

Discovering the magic

In June, Barbara and husband Ernie settled into their newly renovated home on Blackshear Street. The Chicago native recalls the day she went to a neighbor’s to baby sit and was introduced to sewing. She said, “I can’t even explain what I felt when I saw that sewing machine. Something in me knew I had to learn how to do that. I asked her if she would teach me if I babysat for free.”

Fast forward to 1980. The couple married and Barbara completed her Medical Technology Degree but Ernie’s promotion to regional director for Sally Beauty Supply meant a move to North Texas. There Barbara continued her career working in labs at UT Southwestern, the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University. Ironically, her lab background was the bridge to quilting.

Barbara said, “There was a nonprofit called Aids Services of North Texas. I decided to draw blood for them. One night I heard laughing and talking in another room so I peeked my head in and there were three ladies and two guys and they were all sewing.”

She learned the group was making quilts for The NAMES Project which originated in 1985 as a memorial to those who died of AIDS, and to help people understand its devastating impact.

Barbara said, “The quilts were supposed to be the size of a coffin.”

As it turns out, the women were members of the Denton Quilt Guild.

She continued, “Again, it was kind of like magic. Everyone was so nice and they embraced me like family. I just plunged in. Every time they needed a volunteer, I raised my hand. I took every class they had. I was really impressed with people who did applique. I didn’t know you could make pictures with fabric. When I saw that, I just fell in love with it.”

Heart to hand

Barbara’s work caught the attention of Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, fiber artist and founding member of The Women of Color Quilters Network. Mazloomi had museum contacts worldwide and invited Barbara to join and make a quilt for exhibition. Her themed exhibitions depicted African American heritage and contemporary experiences. Ernie said, “We went to these different events throughout the U.S. and met so many great quilters that Barbara kept saying ‘I need to teach,’ so she’d come back and teach.”

The McCraw’s built a fully equipped studio in their Denton home which could feed and accommodate 20 quilters.

He continued, “She ended up teaching a lot and got a lot of national recognition. I kept encouraging her to enter contests and shows. Her quilts have been all over the world.”

Though Barbara continued contributing to Mazloomi’s exhibitions, she said, “I started doing a lot of my own things that meant a lot to me. I guess it was because my family had all passed and the memories I had were so strong, so hurtful and beautiful at the same time. I wanted to express that in my art.”

Barbara taught herself how to design portrait quilts, utilizing Clip Art and technology to resize dimensions for her applique.

Ernie describes Barbara as a perfectionist, which he attributes to her Medical Technology background in Cyclosporin testing labs for kidney transplants where measurements must be precise and accurate.

He said, “She won Best Handwork at the Dallas Show for the Family Reunion Quilt. When you look at the detail work, you can see why. That precision is what shows in her work.”

Perhaps Barbara’s hand applique should be called heart applique because that’s where it originates. For Mazloomi’s 2014 “And Still We Rise” exhibition, Barbara’s The Loving Quilt told the story of the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia as it relates to her own interracial marriage.

Celebrating family

The Family Reunion Quilt, the Best of Show winner in the World Quilt Competition XXIII, is intensely personal for Barbara. She said, “I want my quilts to be remembered in some way, not just for me, but for family to understand why, and the things that inspired me to make the blocks.” The center block and heart of Family Reunion depicts the marriage of Barbara’s great-grandparents.

She said, “When I researched my ancestry and found my great-grandparents, I found their marriage certificates. I found out he paid $100 for her even though it was 1872 and slavery had been abolished.”

Barbara’s great-grandmother was a daughter of the owner of the Oakdale Plantation in Louisiana. Lacking the $100, the parish priest signed a promissory note for Barbara’s great-grandfather.

Family Reunion blocks honor past, present and future generations and the history of each block is documented in her book, “My Family Reunion Quilt, A Sentimental Journey in Applique.”

Barbara said, “I think that at certain times that my prayers were going into that fabric. I have resolved relationships with my family through that quilt, just in my head. A lot of times when I was working on the Family quilt, I’d find myself crying because I’d be thinking about who this block represents. It was very healing to me.” The McCraw’s plans include the renovation of 216 W. Washington Ave. for a gallery and studio. The gallery will showcase many of McCraw’s 150-plus collector quilts currently on display in museums across the United States and the studio will provide space for Barbara to teach and introduce this art form to new generations.

progress, ribbons and family. Pictured are wall hangings of her grandmother and the grandfather she never met. She is currently preparing for a solo exhibit at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.