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The Great Aunts Remembered

The Great Aunts Remembered

By Phyllis Moore

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Who are they? These women in old family photographs: the great aunts of my childhood, always peripheral figures, now silent and faded: a feathery trace against the blue sky of memory.

I began to make a series of abstract art textiles representing my great aunts after I heard myself referred to as great aunt. A jarring realization! My reaction on that occasion was Who, Me?

It happened at a family reunion. I had nestled my lemon bundt cake onto the dessert table between my sister's apple pie and a chocolate cake that must have been made from Aunt Verda's recipe. As I stood there, I heard my niece Lisa say to her two young sons, "Look, there's your great aunt."

I turned to see who this great aunt might be. Then I realized that I was the aunt of whom she was speaking. So, I began to think of my own great aunts and I wanted to do something to honor them. Thus began this textile series for Great Aunt Ruth and Eva and Delia and for Maude, Sudie, Gertie, and Mabel.

Ruth had to be included because she was six feet tall. I never met her, but she became an iconic figure. Because I grew quickly in adolescence to be taller than my grandmother, my mother, and my older sister, and because I did not want to be tall, my father tried to comfort me by saying, "You're going to be just like your Great Aunt Ruth." Not something I wanted to be.

However, all these years later, I made the textile of Ruth to be as tall as she was in real life, six feet tall. The other aunts were less impressive. At least in size. Delia was thin and wispy; Eva and Maude were substantial, but not tall; Sudie was small and stooped; and Gertie and Mabel were tiny, bird-like women. Maude was short and chunky. She had a flag with a gold star on it in the front window of her house. There were other aunts, but the fiber images I made represent the great aunts I hold most dear.

I made newspaper patterns first, then used these patterns, modified, to construct the series of abstract textiles in the shapes of the aunts. I had a very thin Twiggy shape (remember the emaciated Brit). That became Great Aunt Delia. Then I had an Oprah (pre-diet). She became Aunt Eva. On and on, until I had seven, floppy, life-sized great aunts. I attached a felt backing to each of the aunts to make them easier to hang on a wall. Finally, I made a piece with great aunts marching for the right to vote.

The Aunts would probably have been startled to find themselves in an art gallery on a university campus or on a website. Maybe even uncomfortable had they known that they were the subject of a show.  However, they have presented themselves well. I am proud of them.


Phyllis Moore

Phyllis Moore is the proud descendent of twenty-some great aunts, many of whose lives centered in the blue-stem grass country of the Flint Hills of Central Kansas. Listen through the prairie wind to a litany of given names: Susan Mary, Gertrude, Mable Alice, Bertha and Nettie, Ruth, Evan and Delia. Maude and Mary. All of these ladies lived in or near the village of Parkerville.

Moore has a Master of Arts in English from Utah State University, with additional work at Columbia University in NYC. She also studied the writing of poetry with Hilda Raz at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Phyllis is the author of a quilt memoir called The Space Between the Stars. A second quilt memoir called Beyond the Stars is in progress. She has one daughter who lives in Buffalo New York. Phyllis and her husband Harlan Heald, the photographer, live and work in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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