Column #67

Righting Old Wrongs

Righting Old Wrong
Beatrice (Bea) Kabler

In the 1930s when Beatrice (Bea) Kabler was growing up, Oklahoma had been a state for only a couple of decades. At that time, it was still thought of as "Indian Territory" in the minds of many and prejudice against Native Americans was deep-rooted and widespread there.

"I was terrified of Indians as a little girl in Oklahoma," Bea recalls. "The society I grew up had a negative attitude about Indians, and all I heard about them were bad things. But I've been around the bush a few times since then and I've learned that they put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else. I've had the opportunity to get to know many Native Americans and I know that that they have not had a fair shake in life. I guess that understanding has made me sort of a crusader on their behalf. If I can do something to make a difference for them, I'm going to do it."

Bea is a quilter, so it is perhaps not so unusual that the way she has chosen to make a difference in certain Native Americans' lives is through quilting.

At 84, Bea is more vibrant and involved than many half her age, and her life has been dedicated to helping others. She met her husband while attending nursing school in Kansas. He was studying to be a doctor and after World War II, he found his true calling in academic medicine at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The couple happily settled in and raised their family there. Bea got active in politics, serving first as a County Commissioner and then as a citizen lobbyist, traveling frequently to Washington, D.C., working on causes she believed in. Active in the civil rights movement, she marched with Martin Luther King Jr.. Later on, the couple became "snowbirds", spending the winters in warm climates—first in Florida, and then in Arizona—and returning home to Wisconsin in the spring. Bea continued this tradition after her husband passed away.

It was in Arizona one winter that Bea first attended a Hopi Indian quilt lecture. She met well-known author, quilt historian, and Native American quilt expert Carolyn O'Bagy Davis, and through her began to forge relationships with Hopi quiltmakers.

Realizing that the Hopi quilters had little means with which to buy quilting supplies, Bea came up with a plan. She began taking Hopi quilts back to Wisconsin with her in the spring with the intention of selling them there among her extensive contacts to raise money.

"I'd get out the Waterford crystal and the good silver and throw a tea party," she laughs. "I invited everybody I knew and admission to the party was some sort of fabric or quilting supplies for the Hopi. The guests would buy quilts too, and every penny went to the Hopis. For more than 15 years, I hauled quilts and supplies back and forth between Arizona and Wisconsin in my Surburban. I'd ship things, too, and even though I don’t do the tea parties anymore, I’m still selling Hopi blocks and wallhangings and promoting Hopi art!"

In 2009, Bea decided to move to Arizona permanently. She bought a home near Tucson, and began volunteering at the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus. As she got to know the museum staff and noticed how much visitors enjoyed Native American exhibits, Bea suggested that the museum mount a display of Hopi quilts.

Although the staff liked the idea, they were only able to find partial funding for such a show. "They said they would need $12,000 more in order to do the exhibit," Bea remembers. "I let that turn over in my mind a little bit and let it sink in and finally I told them,  ‘I can do that.’" With Carolyn O'Bagy Davis acting as guest curator, an exhibit of 20 quilts made by Hopis from the past 40 years entitled "Hopi Quilts: Unique Yet Universal" opened at the museum in January. It runs through September 24.

The Arizona State Museum's website states that, "From the 1880s on, both Hopi women and men have embraced quilting. Over the past century the craft has become a fixture in Hopi society. The Hopi have a long history of producing beautiful cotton and wool blankets, robes, belts and ceremonial sashes. Traditionally, men were the weavers among the Hopi, with their looms set-up in kivas, or ceremonial chambers. Hopi women quilt for many of the same reasons as other women from different cultures—for wedding and baby gifts, for family use, for personal satisfaction, and sometimes, for sale. While many typical American quilt patterns are evident—“crazy quilt,” “log cabin,” “nine-patch”—a uniquely Hopi aesthetic is expressed with katsina or butterfly imagery, as well as with basket motifs."

Like many other quilters in Arizona, Bea celebrated the state centennial by entering a quilt in the "100 Years, 100 Quilts" exhibit, which is on display throughout 2012 at the Arizona History Museum in Tucson, just across the street from the museum where Bea volunteers.

Entitled Katsina, a traditional spelling of the more common kachina, which refers to spiritual beings central to Hopi religious life, the quilt features blocks made by a Hopi artist, Wilmer Mahape, a man severely ill with diabetes who Bea had come to know. She purchased the blocks from him and made them into a quilt, saying, "My work is insignificant. His hand-painted art is what's important."

There are many who would argue that Bea's work is anything but insignificant. Through her tireless efforts, she has supported and encouraged Hopi quilters and has helped enable them to create their art. In the process, that little girl from Oklahoma who was "terrified of Indians" has spent a good portion of her life working to overcome the prejudice that instilled her fear.


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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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