Here's the quilt - scroll down for the story and the music.
Simple Gifts by Ricky Tims (1996). 90" x 90" Click on image for full view.
Simple Gifts detail. Click on image for full view.
In 2000, there was a panel of quilting experts that selected the top 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century. My Simple Gifts was not among those chosen, but juror June Culvey selected it as her choice for the 101st Best Quilt of the 20th Century.
Here's the story behind the quilt:
I lived in St. Louis and had been quilting for about four and a half years. On November 1, 1995 and I had traveled to Wisconsin, near Green Bay, to Saint Norberts Abbey, for an All Saints Day concert directed by Dudley Birder. They were doing a world premier of one of my choral and orchestral pieces called Song of Deliverance. The program featured Mozart, Vivaldi, Vaghan-Willaims, and Tims. The piece was received very well and even after the delicate, quiet ending, the audience was on their feet for a standing ovation. I was thrilled and the music critic that reviewed the concert gave glowing reviews to the piece - calling it ’sweeping and cinematic’.
On the drive from Minnesota back to St. Louis, I was counting my blessings - grateful for the music - but also feeling grateful that quilting had come into my world. I was thinking about the Amish and feeling thankful that they, as well as any, had kept quilting alive during the decades prior to the mid-seventies renaissance. Were it not for those who kept quilting going, quilting might not have made the comeback. I might not have discovered it, and my life today would be very different.
While driving it came to me that I could create a quilt in tribute to those who kept quilting alive. I instantly had the vision of a Diamond in a Square quilt (typically Amish), with my own contemporary spin on it. Mind you, this was before I was dyeing fabric on my own - and before I had any sort of a career in quilting. I was a full-time music director conducting a choir and orchestra at a church in St. Louis. Did I mention November 1st? I designed, stitched the quilt top, and machine quilted it on a domestic machine - finished on January 6th, 1996 - just two months later. Did I mention I was a church choir director? Can anyone guess what a church music director has on their plate in November and December? Well… with all of that - I burned the candle at both ends to get this quilt finished in only 2 months.
It won numerous awards at shows including a Best of Show, a 1st prize in Lancaster, PA, and 2nd prizes in both Houston and Paducah. The quilt is made entirely from commercial fabric although some of the fabrics in the small central pink orb were over-dyed with diluted black to get the proper effect I needed. It's fun quilt to study (give yourself some time) because of the piecing intricacies and transparencies. By changing the color of fabrics pieced into the units, the illusion of transparent color orbs is created. There are five orbs total. There are also twelve butterflies quilted into the quilt. None of the quilting thread is variegated. It’s quilted with about 36 different solid colors that were changed as necessary. Notice the binding changes along the edges too. The back is another full size sampled version of the front - but it too is a Diamond in a Square.
I named the quilt Simple Gifts because of the creative gifts that have been given to me - music (a career) quilting (something that became a career) and the tune Simple Gifts is the name of a Shaker Tune which seemed to fit the Amish theme of the quilt.
There’s so much more to tell - but that would be a book - so I’ll stop there.
Here is a recording of me conducting Song of Deliverance in 1998. Performed by the St. Louis Voices United Chorus accompanied by an orchestra comprised of members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Here is the front and back of Simple Gifts moments before I put the quilt sandwich together.
Me, standing between the completed front and back of Simple Gifts.