It's always sad when a good person dies, but it's always heartening to read a good obit. It's comforting to realize that the accomplishments of a lifetime are summed up accurately, gracefully and in the proper context. Those of us who are or were practicing journalists always have a fondness for obits, when done well, and one of the best places on the planet to find such stories is the New York Times.
And so it gave me great pleasure to open the paper this morning and find an obit on Ardis James, the collector and lover of quilts who created the Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska. I bet it would give you pleasure to read this story too, so why don't you do so -- but promise to come back so we can talk about it.
I liked the way the obit discussed the quilt study center as a good thing, a place where serious people can do useful work. Not mentioned was the flap in the Nebraska Legislature when Ardis James and her husband tried to give the money -- and the quilts -- for this institute, and some legislators did their damnedest to refuse it, trotting out the most patronizing and sexist terms in which to denigrate quilts as sissy stuff. Fortunately calmer heads prevailed and the center became a reality.
I liked the description of the studio art quilt movement, presented as part of the American quilting tradition but given the respect it deserves as something different -- and I liked the way the writer understood the importance of knowing the artist's name, missing from so much of the tradition.
And the way the writer evoked the magic of the old quilts, the old pattern names: "For Mrs. James, the hypnotic pull of quilts lay in their tangible links to the past, to the land, to makers known and unknown." I don't think I'm the only one who shares that feeling.