In a rather coincidental way, two women decided to pay tribute to their beloved fathers by creating quilts to honor their memory. Barbara Rucket from Sandy Springs and Maxine Hess from Woodstock created works of art using fabric, needle and thread. About 50 years ago, when they were young mothers in their 20s, their fathers died unexpectedly. These quilts serve as a tribute for them and as a way of remembering their legacy.
Rucket is known for her beading, weaving, knitting, needlepoint and mixed media, and as a person open to learning new needlework techniques. She answered a call for quilters for a “Connecting Threads Quilt Show” titled “The Immigrant: The Immigrant’s Journey through the Eyes of Quilters” at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford, Conn., where she grew up.
“By using fusing techniques, incorporating heirloom linens and transferring photos to fabric, I have enjoyed creating several memory quilts and pillows,” Rucket wrote in her artist statement for the exhibit. “‘The Immigrant’s Journey’ is that of my father, Julian Gross, who immigrated at age 6 with his mother, brother, and sister from Strzemilcze, Austria, in 1912, joining his father and older brother in Hartford.
“The eyes of the quilter are my eyes, those of a grateful and loving daughter. His Arsenal School picture from 1915, along with the ship manifest, were the basis for my quilt. My father was a visionary – what was he dreaming in that picture? With the support of the Hartford community, he was able to achieve many of his dreams.”
One of those fulfilled dreams included him building the first ultra-high frequency television station in New England, operated it until 1956, when it was sold to NBC. Rucket’s quilt accepted into the juried exhibit, “To Daddy with Love and Gratitude,” will be on view at the Mandell JCC from June 30 to Aug. 30.
An only child, Maxine Hess remembers her father, who owned a business selling variety goods and groceries in the South End of Boston, as being “unassuming, quiet, soft spoken, and kind.” Those memories soon were overshadowed when she lost her father in a senseless and tragic murder in 1969, what today would be called a “hate crime.” For most of Hess’s life since that horrific event, she has wanted to pay a fitting tribute to the father she and her mother loved with deep devotion “You know, my mother and I hardly ever talked about what happened, but as she got closer to the end of her life, it weighed heavily on her mind.” She would often tell the nurses and staff at The William Breman Jewish Home, “‘My husband was killed.’ I think she missed him more as she got older. I know I still miss them both, but I think that’s true even if your parents die a natural death.”
After learning more about the technique of making a “mosaic quilt,” a fiber art quilt, and how to transfer photos onto fabric, Hess last year created “In Memory of My Dad.” It was a way to finally give a tangible tribute to her father. She entered a juried exhibition with this new work at the Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts’ first fiber arts show “Techniques and Tradition,” where she received Best in Show. Hess describes her process: “Photo software was used to create the mosaic pattern. The poem printed on silk organza became the quilt top. Free motion stitching and thread painting. Sixteen different fabrics, 1,900-plus three-quarter-inch squares.”
Hess wrote about the quilt in a statement for the upcoming show “Sacred Threads” at Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Va. “In Judaism there is a saying when a person dies, “May his/her memory be a blessing.’ In 1969 my father was
murdered. It was a story of race and loss, mine and my family’s, that continues to shape me and my art to this day. I wrote the poem to remember my father, to say the things I didn’t get to say to him before he died, and to heal. The portrait is of my father when he was a young man. I want him to know I will never forget him and that I love him.”
Both Hess and Rucket said they regret not having their father to share the many personal and family joys and blessings in their lives. Their art quilts preserve the good memories and thoughts of their cherished fathers.
By Maxine Hess
Where are you Daddy?
Where are you now?
Would you recognize me?
Me, Maxine, your daughter.
The one who didn’t get to say I love you.
The one who wasn’t there when you died.
The one who returned home believing you’d survive.
The years have gone by and I still think of you.
I wonder if you watch over me.
Over your grandchildren and great grandchildren.
I have never forgotten you.
Or the way you died.
I have never forgotten your quiet way of being.
Your kindness to others.
Your gentle manner.
I have never forgotten how you stood up for what you believed was right.
Not one day has gone by without me thinking of you.
I remember how you tossed me up in the air.
Our trips to the shore.
How you had to protect yourself from the sun.
How proud you were of me.
Would you be proud of me now?
I told the story of how you were murdered.
I told it in my art work.
So no one will forget how innocent people are killed.
How they can end up paying for the sins of others.
In my dreams I talk to you.
When I am alone in my studio I talk to you.
When I’m driving in my car I talk to you.
I believe you are always just a breath away.
I hope you and Mom are together now.
Know that I’ll always remember you.
I’ll never forget you.
I love you.