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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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
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Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
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Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
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Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
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Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
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Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
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Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
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Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
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