The art quilt honors the family’s past, present and future



Reviewing Journalist

A new dimension has been added to Navasota’s diverse community of artists. Joining illustrators, musicians, painters, poets, comedians and writers is award-winning and internationally recognized master quilter Barbara McCraw. His colorful and exquisitely detailed artwork hangs in private collections, has been exhibited in nearly every state in the Union and in Africa, Canada and Europe. His journey is well documented in newspaper and magazine articles, in video interviews and on websites.

discover the magic

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

Fast forward to 1980. The couple got married and Barbara graduated in medical technology, but Ernie’s promotion to regional manager of 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 experience was the bridge to quilting.

Barbara said: “There was a non-profit organization called Aids Services of North Texas. I decided to do a blood test for them. One night I heard laughing and talking in another room, so I peeked inside and there were three women and two guys and they were all sewing.

She learned that the group made quilts for the NAMES project which began in 1985 in memory of those who died of AIDS and to help people understand its devastating impact.

Barbara said: “The duvets were supposed to be the size of a coffin.”

Turns out the women were members of the Denton Quilt Guild.

She continued, “Again, it was a bit like magic. Everyone was so nice and they embraced me like family. I just dived. Every time they needed a volunteer, I raised my hand. I took all the courses they had. I was really impressed with the people who did the appliqués. I didn’t know you could take pictures with fabric. When I saw it, I fell in love with it.”

heart at hand

Barbara’s work caught the eye of Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, textile artist and founding member of the Women of Color Quilters Network. Mazloomi had contacts in museums around the world and invited Barbara to join and quilt for the exhibit. Its themed exhibits depict African-American heritage and contemporary experiences. Ernie said, “We went to these different events across the United States and met so many great quilters that Barbara kept saying, ‘I need to teach,’ so she would come back and teach.”

The McCraws built a fully equipped studio in their Denton home that could feed and accommodate 20 quilters.

He continued, “She ended up teaching a lot and getting great national recognition. I kept encouraging her to take part in contests and shows. His quilts have been around the world.

Although Barbara continued to contribute to Mazloomi’s exhibits, 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 passed away 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, using Clip Art and technology to scale the dimensions of her applique.

Ernie describes Barbara as a perfectionist, which he attributes to his background in medical technology in cyclosporine testing labs for kidney transplants where measurements must be precise and accurate.

He said: “She won Best Handwork at the Dallas Fair for the Family Reunion Quilt. When you look at the detail work, you can see why. This precision is what emerges from his work.

Maybe Barbara’s hand applique should be called the heart applique because that’s where it comes from. For Mazloomi’s 2014 “And Still We Rise” exhibit, Barbara’s The Loving Quilt told the story of the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia regarding her own interracial marriage.

Celebrate the family

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

She said: ‘When I researched my ancestors and found my great-grandparents, I found their marriage certificates. I found out he paid $100 for it when it was 1872 and slavery was abolished.

Barbara’s great-grandmother was the daughter of the owner of the Oakdale plantation in Louisiana. Not having the $100, the parish priest signed a promissory note for Barbara’s great-grandfather.

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

Barbara said: “I think at times my prayers went into that fabric. I solved relationships with my family through this quilt, just in my head. Often when I was working on the Family quilt, I would find myself crying because I thought about who this block represents. It healed me a lot. McCraw’s plans include renovating 216 W. Washington Ave. for a gallery and a studio. The gallery will feature many of McCraw’s more than 150 collectible quilts currently on display in museums across the United States and the studio will provide space for Barbara to teach and introduce the 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 a personal exhibition at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.


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