Getting It All Together

Getting It All Together

Getting It All Together: Jean Ray Laury’s Quilts and Education

Jean Ray Laury had it all together, so it seems, and she taught other women how to live a balanced life in the roles they chose, making room for everyday creativity. 

This was Laury’s feminist viewpoint, one that appealed to women for whom a radical change in lifestyle was neither practical nor desirable.

The works of Laury’s hands and mind reveal a woman who—as an artist, quiltmaker, feminist, mother, wife, homemaker, teacher, mentor, and author—combined the many ingredients of her life, along with a dash of humor, into an integrated whole. She “had it all together.”

Jean Ray Laury: Getting It All Together features Laury’s quilts, artworks in other media, and her personal and professional records selected from the IQSC Collections and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Archives and Special Collections.

Laury donated her art and papers in 2010, a few months before her death on March 2, 2011. Unless otherwise noted, all items are drawn from this generous gift

Featured Media

Featured Media
Featured Media

Artist and Designer

Artist and Designer
Artist and Designer

“Art has less to do with the material used than with the perceptive and expressive abilities of the individual. Any difference between the ‘fine’ and the ‘decorative’ arts is not a matter of material, but rather what the artist brings to the material.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Appliqué Stitchery (1966)

Beginning with the first quilt she completed in 1956 for her Master’s degree in design at Stanford University, Jean Ray Laury sought to blur the lines between fine art (painting and sculpture) and decorative art (fiber, wood, glass, ceramic), bringing an artist’s approach to all her work in many media. As she developed her own artistic vision, Laury not only participated in the late 1950s revitalization of American craft, but also became a role model for her own and future generations. Although she continued to work in other media, by the late 1970s she was focused primarily on quiltmaking.

Throughout her career, Laury advocated for original design. Between 1970 and 1980, she wrote or co-authored ten books showing how original design could be applied to any medium. She used unexpected materials: lace, pantyhose, wood and fabric to make wall hangings, dolls, tote bags, rugs, clothing and quilts

Quiltmaker

Quiltmaker
Quiltmaker

“If we can retain the structural integrity of the traditional quilt, and add to it a contemporary approach in color and design, we will achieve a quilt which merges past and present.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Quilts & Coverlets (1970)

Jean Ray Laury was drawn to the quilt medium for its links with the past, the pleasure of having a handmade object and the joy of creating something that provided physical and spiritual warmth. Her own work “merged past and present,” combining traditional quilt references with contemporary design. Laury also used quilts to share her artistic vision and opinions. Perhaps no other traditional design captured Laury’s artistic imagination more than Sunbonnet Sue, whom she saw as the nemesis of any quiltmaker aiming for originality.

Laury and her work were recognized widely. She was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1997 she received the prestigious Silver Star Award from the International Quilt Festival in recognition of her past and continuing contributions to the quilting industry and community. Laury’s influence extended to quilt history; she was active in the California Heritage Quilt Documentation Project during the 1980s and wrote Ho for California, bringing to life the 101 quilts and 99 makers included in the book.

Perhaps Laury’s greatest contribution to late-twentieth-century quiltmaking was to recognize and promote quiltmaking’s potential as an art form, paving the way for the emergence of studio art quilts. She encouraged all quiltmakers to apply art principles: pattern, color, texture, rhythm, line; to quilts, and to incorporate painting, printmaking and photographic techniques in their work

Feminist

Feminist
Feminist

“There is a lot of sifting and stirring going on in kitchens today and not all of it goes into the muffins. … The combination of roles in which a woman performs as artist/mother/homemaker/wife requires a tremendous amount of ‘getting it all together.’”
— Jean Ray Laury, The Creative Woman’s Getting It All Together at Home Handbook (1977)

Jean Ray Laury intentionally positioned herself to reach the primarily female quiltmaking audience. Her writing, teaching, and artwork appealed to those struggling with changing female roles in the 1960s and 1970s. Her quilts addressed the same issues that concerned radical feminists—women’s bodies, housework, sexuality and the right to choose. But by combining the familiar, non threatening nature of quilts with her trademark sense of humor, Laury presented a message in a format accessible to everyone.

Wife, Mother, Homemaker

Wife, Mother, Homemaker
Wife, Mother, Homemaker

“It takes a little madness and a lot of passion to spend as many hours working in the studio as I do. I couldn’t live without it. But I couldn’t live without my family either.”
— Jean Ray Laury, The Creative Woman’s Getting-It-All Together at Home Handbook (1977)

Jean Ray Laury cherished her roles as wife, mother and homemaker, but also realized her need to create. She balanced these two aspects of her life, aiming for excellence in her art rather than in her housekeeping skills, arguing that “Dust is a great preservative.” Nevertheless, Laury derived lifelong creative inspiration from her surroundings—family, household events, everyday objects and nature—infusing the ordinary with vitality

Mentor & Teacher

Mentor & Teacher
Mentor & Teacher

“I see my role as a teacher as one of giving people confidence, of assuring them, of helping them to see that one’s work must be personally important first—then it can take on importance to other people. … A teacher must encourage or cultivate the uniqueness, not develop conformity.”
— Jean Ray Laury, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (May 1982)

Jean Ray Laury provided a comfortable and supportive environment for her students and encouraged them to develop their own styles. While teaching students a technique, she also reminded them, “At its best, a quilt is a personal expression—not a mimic of the ideas or designs or color preferences set down by someone else.”

Over more than thirty years, Laury taught various workshops that reached thousands of students, nationally and internationally. She based her teaching upon her explorations in fabric surface design with screen-printing, dye sticks, crayons, cyanotype and dye transfer.

From 1976 until 1998, Laury conducted “Quilt Camp,” an annual Surface Design Seminar at Shaver Lake, California, with friend and co-author Joyce Aiken. She continued the retreat with her daughter Lizabeth and friend Susan Macy. Laury’s students formed a devoted and grateful following. In appreciation and to celebrate the artist’s 60th birthday, several friends created a red wooden wagon, imitating Laury’s own wood appliqué technique, and filled it with thank you notes and quilt blocks. She preserved many of the letters from students, poignant testimonials to the artist’s personal and creative influence on their lives

Writer

Writer
Writer

“Putting thoughts and ideas into words give them importance and validity.”
— Jean Ray Laury, “Keep Writing,” Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine (October 1983)

Jean Ray Laury started writing a diary in elementary school and, in one form or another, continued writing her entire life. She kept quiltmaking journals and daily diaries, wrote dozens of poems and short stories and especially enjoyed corresponding with other quiltmakers. Her first two books—Appliqué Stitchery (1966) and Quilts and Coverlets: A Contemporary Approach (1970)—were among the rare how-to books available in the quilt revival’s early years. During the 1960s and 1970s Laury contributed regularly to several national women’s magazines, such as Women’s Day and Family Circle. She went on to pen a regular column in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine during the 1980s and 1990s. Her musings about the art of quiltmaking remind us of how much the field has changed, while still offering advice still relevant to today’s readers. 

Laury’s writing style is conversational and usually tinged with humor. Like her teaching methods, her books and articles describe more than techniques. She intertwines “how-to” instruction with philosophy, encouraging her readers to be original, value their work, explore and take creative risks. Her approach inspired many readers, including young artists who embraced the quilt as their primary means of expression as well as others who wanted to incorporate creativity into their everyday lives.

Laury’s twenty-two books and numerous magazine articles make her thoughts and ideas about life, art, women and quiltmaking “important and valid.” In addition to her quilts, they provide lasting evidence of her legacy.

Selected Books by Jean Ray Laury
Doll Making: A Creative Approach (1970)
Quilts and Coverlets: A Contemporary Approach (1970)
Handmade Rugs from Practically Anything (1971) with Joyce Aiken
Creating Body Coverings (1973) with Joyce Aiken
Wood Appliqué (1973)
New Uses for Old Laces(1974)
A Treasury of Needlecraft for the New Baby (1976)
The Creative Woman’s Getting it All Together At Home (1977, reprinted 1985)
The Total Tote Bag Book (1978) with Joyce Aiken
The Pantyhose Craft Book (1978)  with Joyce Aiken 
Quilted Clothing (1982)
The Adventures of Sunbonnet Sue: Sunbonnet Sue Goes to the Quilt Show (1985) 
Sunbonnet Sue Makes her First Quilt (1985)
Sunbonnet Sue Gets it All Together at Home (1987)
No Dragons on My Quilt (1990)
Ho for California (1990) California Heritage Quilt documentation project
Imagery on Fabric (1992, reprinted 1997)
Incredible Quilts for Kids of all Ages (1993)
14,287 Pieces of Fabric (1997)
The Photo Transfer Handbook (1999)
Fabric Stamping Handbook (2002

Sponsors

Sponsors
Sponsors

Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment

Event Date
Friday, March 2, 2012 to Sunday, September 2, 2012