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Column #33

The Quilt Ambassador

Le Rowell (Photo by Edward Rowell)


Homage to Bourglinster, photo by Edward Rowell. Quilt made by Gudrun Bechet and included in the exhibition "Quilts: A Cultural Dialogue" during Luxembourg's 1995 European Capital of Culture.  Collection of Ambassador and Mrs. Edward M. Rowell.


Liberation Quilt, photo copyright Jochen Herling. The quilt was completed in time for the 50th anniversary ceremonies in Luxembourg City. The project was initiated by Le Rowell. Florence Thilgen (Luxembourg) designed and directed the seven other quiltmakers who worked with her on the project.

According to Thilgen, "The quilt represents a page of a history book and appeals to the viewer not to forget about the events of World War II. The awareness of this is essential to the prevention of similar disasters by future generations."

Original stencils to label World War II U.S. army vehicles were used for the black and white lettering in the center of the quilt that represents the printed historical text. The red B's symbolize the “bodies and blood” that were the price of freedom paid by both soldiers and civilians. The English translation of the Luxembourgish words: “Luxembourg remembers its liberation.” 

At various times during his years of diplomatic service, Le Rowell’s husband served as the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Portugal, and Luxembourg. As the Ambassador’s wife, Le developed a unique career of her own in international relations by introducing American quilts and quilting to the various countries in which she and her husband lived and worked.

Although not a quilter herself, Le inherited a love of fabric and needlework from her grandmother, who was—according to Le—“one of those miracle ladies with magic in her fingers.” As a child, Le enjoyed sorting, by colors, the strips of men’s wool suiting cloth that her grandmother planned to use in hooking rugs. It was this particular memory that resonated with Le when she saw a Log Cabin quilt hanging on a wall at a church bazaar. So moved was she by its appearance that she bought it—the first quilt she owned and the foundation of her collection.

When the Rowells were assigned to Bolivia, Le took advantage of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies Program (whose mission is to create “a global museum that exhibits original works of art by U.S. citizens in the public rooms of approximately 180 American diplomatic residences worldwide”) to showcase quilts.

She was able to obtain a loan of Amish quilts from the American Folk Art Museum and the exhibit was a huge success. She then put together another exhibit of 42 American quilts owned by women in the Bolivian capital. “There were people who thought that all the American Ambassador’s wife could talk about was quilts,” Le laughs. “But the exhibits were so well received. The media picked up on the events and for a while American quilts were all the talk of La Paz!”

In Lisbon, Portugal, Le featured a different sort of quilt exhibit, focusing on a group of contemporary quilts loaned by the West Virginia Division of Cultural and History and made primarily by Amish and Mennonite women in Virginia as a means of providing income for their families.

In Luxembourg, as she was preparing to mount an exhibition of traditional American quilts in a 12th-century castle some distance outside of the capital, skeptical officials warned Le that no one would come. “They will come,” she assured the doubters. And so they did. “It was a phenomenon,” Le recalls. “People were, frankly, amazed. I could see them visibly soften as they stood before the quilts.”

In 1995, Luxembourg was selected as the European Capital of Culture, a yearlong designation during which the chosen city is given a chance to tout its cultural development. Le proposed to show quilts made by women in Luxembourg. With the exception of an exhibit of well-known Impressionist paintings, the quilt exhibition was the best-attended event of the entire celebration.

In addition to mounting exhibits in all the countries she lived, Le would not only teach people how to quilt, but lecture to groups with a presentation entitled "America’s Story in Quilts."

“As the Ambassador’s wife, I admittedly had a bully pulpit, “ she says. “But people were fascinated to learn of the depth and artistry of quilting in America. I felt that I was able to tell the story of my country through quilts.”

In 2001, Le received the Order of Merit from the Grand Duke of Luxembourg for her contributions to a mutual understanding between the people of Luxembourg and the U.S. She also received the Avis Bohlen Award for contributions toward advancing American interests abroad.

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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here


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