By: Heather Lenz
Mary Sibley, born in 1916, has created and hand-quilted nearly two hundred quilts since her retirement at the age of sixty-five. Sibley typically gives her quilts away as soon as they are completed; most remain within the extended family. The author of this essay, Heather Lenz, is Sibley’s granddaughter. In college Lenz studied art history and sculpture within a dominant paradigm: fine arts (painting and sculpture) are superior to crafts (glassblowing and metalsmithing); quiltmaking ranks even lower, a skill in which a legitimate degree cannot
During quilting lessons with her grandmother, Lenz learns from Sibley’s wisdom, perseverance, and generosity and is opened up to a gentler paradigm which revolves around gift labor. In addition, Sibley’s traditional quiltmaking is contrasted with the work of established contemporary female artists; parallels become obvious. Methods include: oral history, field study, and an analysis of critical writings on contemporary art.