Friday, March 4, 2011

The Passing of Jean Ray Laury

Jean Ray Laury  1928-2011

(photos of Jean Ray Laury's work taken by
Karen Alexander at AQSG Seminar 2009)
from the quilt "Listen to Your Mother" by Jean Ray Laury

It is with deep sadness that TQHF shares the loss of another of its Inductees. Honoree Jean Ray Laury passed away Wednesday, March 1, 2011, in Northern California. Click here for more details.

Photo by Pat L. Nickols 
Above, Jean Ray Laury at the Grand Opening of The Quilters Hall of Fame July 2004 in Marion, Indiana. (The great-granddaughter of Marie Webster and her daughter sit behind Jean.)

 Photo by Bob Johnson.

Jean Ray Laury being introduced to the crowd at the Grand Opening of The Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion, Indiana in July 2004. (Also in the front row L-R with Jean, with their backs to the camera, are Cuesta Benberry, Joyce Gross, Jinny Beyer, Karey Bresenham and Donna Wilder.)

It has been suggested by more than one quilt historian that the pivotal person in quilt history whose influence bridged the "pre-1970s" quilt world and the "post-70s" quilt world was Jean Ray Laury of California.

Jean Ray Laury's first book - 1966

Books from 1970 and 1974.

While studying art and design at graduate school at Stanford University in the late-50s, Laury made “Tom’s Quilt” for one of her Master’s classes. It was her first quilt and it became the catalyst that launched a long productive career that spanned many aspects of the art and feminist world, as well as the quilt world. 

You can see Laury's very first quilt --"Tom's Quilt" --  here and read about the events that quickly followed in her life (click here) that, in my opinion, was a pivotal key in the late 20th century Quilt Revival. Laury entered her first quilt in the Storrowton Village/Eastern States Exposition in 1958. Though she didn't win a prize she caught the attention of Roxa Wright, the creative editor at House Beautiful at the time. As a result of this fortuitous meeting with Roxa Wright, Laury's career as a quilt desinger, teacher and author was launched, with her many articles appearing in Woman's Day, Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Cosmopolitan, Needlecraft as well as many others.

Jean Ray Laury started designing and making "modern" as well as whimsical quilts in the late 1950s.  Naturally, books followed. Her Sunbonnnet Sue Goes to the Quilt Show poked gentle fun at the changes the modern quilt world was bringing into quilters' lives.

Sue sees her first contemporary quilt.

In May and June of 1982 (Issues #142 and 143) Bonnie Leman featured Laury as a guest columnist in the pages of Quilters Newsletter Magazine for the first time. 

Eventually Leman wrote in her editorial (January 1983-Issue #148), "I am happy to tell you that Jean Ray Laury is back with another column, and the really good news is that she will be with us in nearly every issue this year. The two columns she wrote for us last year drew so many letters from you that it seemed clear to me you wanted more of her wit and wisdom. So she will be with us regularly for awhile." And so she was for over 20 years. 

So much of Laury's work was tongue-in-cheek humor with a message. She often delivered her message with "spoonful of sugar" that left you smiling and remembering the message long afterwards!

Click here to order this book by Jean Ray Laury

 Her book The Creative Woman's Getting-It-All-Together-At-Home Handbook created no small stir in 1975 when it first appeared. A room of her own? Just how far would these mere quilters go?

In 2005 San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles did the first major retrospective anyone had done of the life and work of Jean Ray Laury. 

~Four Pioneers of the late 20th century Quilt Revival~

TQHF Honorees left to right: Jean Ray Laury with her signature red glasses, Yvonne Porcella and Bets Ramsey. TQHF Honoree Joyce Gross is seated in front. Photo by Karen Alexander

The above photo was taken at the San Jose Textile and Quilt Museum, San Jose, California, Oct 2009 during the AQSG 2009 Seminar.

The Alliance for American Quilts selected Laury as one of its "Quilt Treasures" and filmed her in her home for posterity. She is one of only 14 people to date in the quilt world to be thus honored.

(Right:) Her series on aging on display at the 2009 AQSG Seminar in San Jose, Califorina is one of Laury's more recent pieces.

In 2003 Laury donated her personal papers on children's books to the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Henry Madden Library California State University, Fresno. These papers are available on-site for research.

Here are just some of Jean's many books on display at the 2009 AQSG Seminar where Jean was the Keynote speaker.

Take a few minutes to view her colorful website and enjoy reviewing her many contributions to late 20th century quiltmaking.

I suspect there will be much more written about Jean Ray Laury over the years as new generations of women discover her art, her humor and her wisdom.  In the meantime, be sure to read Colleen Hall-Patton's AQSG paper Jean Ray Laury in the 1960s: Foremother of a Quilt Revival in Uncoverings 2005.

You may leave a tribute or a story about Jean below in the comments field. We will see that the family receives them.

For more tributes, see Barbara Brackman's blog, Lesley Riley's blog and SAQA's blog.

Karen B. Alexander
Quilt Historian
Past President
The Quilters Hall of Fame


Jean's obituary, which she wrote herself, was published in the Fresno Bee.

I Write This For My Many Friends 

Don't mourn for me. I have had a long and happy life, a wonderful family, and an exciting and satisfying career. My family includes Frank, my husband for most of over 60 years, who has always been incredibly supportive, helpful, and fun to live with. Our son Tom is a voracious reader, and for more than forty years a beekeeper. Tom's wife, Dr. Ritva Laury is a linguist who divides her time between Fresno and the University of Helsinki, Finland. Our daughter Lizabeth Laury works with horses and writes. Mike Brown teaches chemistry and physics at Washington Union High School. Ritva and Mike are very special additions to our family. Our granddaughter Anna Laury, M.D. completed her final boards in 2010 and pursues her career in Boston. Her sister, Emma Laury, J.D. graduated in May 2010 from law school, passed the California Bar and now works at OSHA in Washington, D.C. 

Among my most cherished friends of many years are partner and co-author on several books, Joyce Aiken; the talented and remarkable Stan Bitters, a diamond covered in clay dust; and Ruth Law, Los Angeles toymaker, and friend for over sixty years. It's been wonderful working with fellow artists and writers. My Book Club, which has met for over forty years, has been special, and I've enjoyed our discussion group, Dry Creek Seminar, and my writing groups. I have always loved writing, and have had numerous books published, and many articles, parodies and essays. It has been a constant in my life. I recently completed a collection of stories, titled "Growing up in Doon, the 1930's: A Quilter's Memoir" about life in Iowa with my sisters, Jackie, Joan and Joyce. 

My quilting career gave me the opportunity to travel the world: Japan, Australia, Canada, Norway, France, England, South Africa and many other countries. Quilting friends from across the United States have been an important part of my life, having always been enthusiatic and supportive in whatever I did. I was never far from home when I was with quilters. As wonderful as teaching and traveling were, getting back to Fresno felt like coming home. It has been wonderful being here with you. To all of you, thanks for being with me on this journey. 

Remembrances may be made to Hinds Hospice; Marjaree Mason Center; or at jeanraylaury@... NEPTUNE SOCIETY Of Central California 1154 W. Shaw, Fresno (559) 222-7764 


Cheryl said...

This is such a warm retrospective of Ms. Laury's work - thank you Karen.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Jean Ray Laury was a treasure. She will be missed.

Kim Wulfert said...

This is such sad news. I will miss her unique energy very much. Her spirit lives on in many of us. I laughed so much when she spoke at my guild in the 1980s; she was so funny. Her handbook for getting it all together was life changing for me. This book was her topic that day. I have felt a kindred spirit with her ever since since. Thank you Jean Ray for all you gave the the quilt world and the women in it. Peace and love to you.

sunflowermorning said...

Sorry to hear this sad news about Jean...I have been an admirer of her work since the 70's when she came and spoke at the college I went to (UW-Stout). She will be very missed.

Alice A. said...

Jean Ray Laury was the first person that I heard speak on quilting in the 1970's. I was in awe and inspired by her work and knowledge of sewing and of quilting. She shared her knowledge with wit and enthusiasm with everyone that embraces the art of sewing and quilting. This post is a wonderful tribute to her spirit and to her work.

Alice K said...

In celebration of JRL's life and all that she contributed--several years ago at the UNL/IQSC Symposium, I was honored to tell her how much it meant for her to be there as the Mother of such a legacy of quiltmaking and as a feminist...she was SO modest, and I was touched as we all should be as she gave from her heart in everything she did for women.

Sandy S. said...

No one will ever replace Jean Ray Laury! Her books, her quilts, her talents will forever be remembered. I was lucky to take two of her classes some years ago. Just to be in her presence was a huge treat.

Pat Flynn Kyser said...

In 1968 I saw "Tom's Quilt" when it was on display at a shop in Redondo Beach, CA and was blown away at its freshness and contemporary nature. It inspired me to make my first quilt, "Jeff's Quilt" for my then seven-year-old son. When Jean's applique book came out, I drove with friends to Sherman Oaks to a shop where she would be signing her books. I took the quilt to show Jean and my five-year-old daughter, who was making her first quilt, took a box with her finished blocks. The shop was filled with admiring women, but when Diana said, "Mrs. Laury, I have a quilt," Jean put everything aside and sat with the child and inquired about every stitch in every block. I said to myself, "There is a great lady!" And over the years, into the 21st Century, anytime I saw Jean, she recalled "Diana's Quilt."
We have indeed lost a Great Lady.

Gayle Pritchard said...

Thank you for posting this wonderful encapsulation of Jean's amazing contributions. Although my book was about Ohio's art quilt pioneers, Jean had to be included. Here is what I wrote about her, in part: "Clearly anticipating the sentiment of the emerging art quilt pioneers, she wrote: 'At its best, a quilt is a personal expression--not a mimic of the ideas or designs or color preferences set down by someone else.' " True to her own words, Jean's personal expression came through in all of her quilts. She was indeed a great lady, and a world-chaning role model.

KarenQuilt said...

posting for Hazel Carter.

Jean Ray Laury was the banquet speaker at my first convention – the Continental Quilting Congress held in Arlington, Virginia in 1978. For many quilters it was the first time to attend such a large gathering and Jean quickly had that audience spell bound. In 1982 we inducted Jean into the Quilters Hall of Fame at my convention held in Virginia.
When the Quilters Hall of Fame opened to the public in 2004 in Marion, Indiana Jean gave a lecture on sewing machines. Some in attendance commented “what is there to learn on this subject” but learn we did and her humor on the subject was delightful! At the same event she read from one of her books but my attention was drawn to her attire – a primary yellow t-shirt under a primary red jacket that highlighted her red horn rim glasses…charming! Two years ago when the American Quilt Study Group was held in San Jose I was delighted to once again visit with Jean and also to meet her daughter. Her contributions to quilting are without parallel. She will be missed but her legacy will live on.