Touches of Angels
Joyce Gross and Cuesta Benberry at work in the Point Bonita research room, 1996. Joyce organized retreats for quiltmakers and quilt historians at Point Bonita, California beginning in 1981. The retreat became an annual event dedicated to quilt research and study. (Photo number di_05721 from the Joyce Gross Quilt History Collection, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.)
Sometimes, things happen that are so serendipitous they almost have to be magical. The eminent quilt historian and collector Joyce Gross calls these fortunate events “touches of angels.” Joyce has experienced many such “touches” during her career, but certainly one of the most momentous would be her friendship with fellow Quilter’s Hall of Fame member Cuesta Benberry.
Cuesta, who died in 2007, was Joyce’s mentor in all things having to do with quilts. The two shared a passion for history (particularly as it relates to women), for meticulous research and documentation, and for the thrill of the chase, so to speak, as it relates to recognizing great talent and rescuing it from obscurity. When Cuesta and Joyce became friends, the world’s knowledge of masterpiece 20th-century quilts and the women who made them increased exponentially.
Rose Kretsinger, Bertha Stenge, Dr. Jeanette Throckmorton, Florence Peto, Charlotte Jane Whitehill, Emma Andres, and Pine Hawkes Eisfeller are names certainly known to most of us interested in quilt history. Without Joyce and Cuesta, however, these (and other) quiltmakers might never have received the attention they deserved.
During their 30-odd years of friendship and collaboration, Joyce and Cuesta spent hundreds of hours tracking down these quilters, meeting or corresponding with them if possible, documenting their efforts, writing about them, featuring their work in exhibits, collecting their quilts, and generally ensuring that they be held in due esteem.
“I knew virtually nothing about quilts until Cuesta taught me,” says Joyce. “My mother was not interested in needlework at all. When she married, she told my father that she did not intend to ever ‘darn socks or sew on a button.’ Cuesta taught me everything.”
Of course, Joyce is being a bit modest (click here to read more). By the time she met Cuesta, Joyce had owned a small boutique that supported the sale of garments designed and made by teens for teens in the Bay Area of California, and was a founding member of the Mill Valley Quilt Authority—cleverly named so as to command respect at a time when quilts received little—during the early 1970s.
But it was Cuesta who served as Joyce’s quilt history muse. Together, the two of them worked tirelessly to elevate the status of quilt artists they championed, which culminated in the publication of their exhibition catalog, 20th Century Quilts: 1900-1970: Women Make Their Mark, published by the American Quilter's Society in 1997.
In 2008, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin acquired a substantial portion of Joyce’s extensive collection of quilts and related ephemera (see Kindred Spirits). In November 2009, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin opened the exhibition A Legacy of Quilts: The Briscoe Center's Joyce Gross Collection.
Joyce attended the opening and was thrilled with the exhibit. During her remarks before the opening-night crowd, Joyce acknowledge Cuesta for her important influence as it ultimately led to this exhibit. In private she told the curator, Kate Adams, that she (Kate) had performed miracles with the show, and asked if she couldn’t please perform one more by resurrecting Cuesta so that her old friend could be there to see it. Who knows? Cuesta’s spirit was certainly present that evening, and touches of angels have always been a part of Joyce’s life.
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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