Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Passing of Virginia Avery

Virginia Avery 
Sept 29, 1912 -  Sept 6, 2012

Teacher, Jazz pianist
Inducted in 2006 at The Quilters Hall of fame Celebration
Marion, Indiana
by TQHF Research Associate Karen B. Alexander
(All photos by Karen B. Alexander unless otherwise noted.)

Virginia Avery at her Induction jazz jam session-Marion, Indiana
It is with sadness that I update the biography of a dear friend for Virginia Avery passed away this morning, Thursday, September 6, 2012, three weeks shy of her 100th birthday. With but a very few changes, here is what I wrote about Jinny, as her friends and students called her, when she was inducted into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006 in Marion, Indiana.

The following photos of the traditional New Orleans Second Line dance says so much about who Jinny Avery was and 
how she inspired others to celebrate life. 

                              photos of dancing by Sue Jones of Virginia

Born Virginia Cox September 29, 1912 in Greenwood, Indiana, Virginia Avery graduated from DePauw University with a degree in English Composition and went to work at Indianapolis News. She would soon marry, move to New York and raise four children. In New York she pursued both her love of fabrics and clothing as well as her love of jazz. This talented renaissance woman showed a very early interest in what would become a life-long passion - materials and fabrics, colors and movement. "We are all surrounded by designs every day of our lives," is her answer to where her inspiration came from. "We just have to learn to open our eyes and see."

Totally self-taught in clothing construction, Avery made her first dress at age 12 not realizing one was supposed to use a pattern. In the early 60s, Avery approached two fabric shops and landed herself two clothing-construction teaching jobs. Around that same time she realized quilting was beginning to make a comeback. Although she had never made a quilt, she thought of them as simply another form of sewing. It never occurred to her that she couldn't teach quilting just because she had never made one yet. With some family quilts as a guide, and a couple of magazine articles, she gave herself a crash course and planned a series of lessons.

August 21-27, 1976, Avery attended the Finger Lakes Bicentennial Quilt Conference in Ithaca, New York, the first quilt conference of the new "quilt renaissance". It became a turning point for her career. Not only were quilts the major topic, but patchwork clothes were very much in evidence, giving her the confidence to begin teaching clothing classes along with quilting classes. 

Music was another great love of Avery's. As an accomplished jazz pianist, Avery played with the King Street Stompers for more than fifty years. This lively dedicated group of musicians once had the honor of playing on the Today Show and played for the United Nation's Delegates, as well as many other events. 

Her traffic-stopping art clothing outfits that she is so well-known for are: "Don't Shoot the Piano Player She's Doing the Best She Can," on the cover of Wonderful Wearables, A Celebration of Creative Clothing "(Collector Books, 1991); Midriff Lilies, which is the reverse side of "Don't Shoot the Piano Player She's Doing the Best She Can;" and Purple Passion on the cover of Quilts to Wear (Scribner, 1982). Her outfit for Fairfield Fashion Show's 10th anniversary was "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," a garment titled with an old jazz tune.

Avery 2006 Exhibit
"Virginia Avery: A Flair for Life"
photograph by Amanda Little of Marion, Indiana

In her forty-plus years in the wearable art and quilt world Virginia Avery amassed a considerable body of celebrated work, as well as a reputation as a teacher for inspiring and motivating her students in a self-affirming, creative learning environment, richly deserving being named one of the 1000 most influential women of the 1990s by Mirabella magazine; selected as the 3rd recipient of the 1996 Silver Star Award for Lifetime Achievement by the International Quilt Festival. She richly earned her selection as the 36th Honoree in The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2006. 

At her induction Jinny was once again in top form walking the public through the retrospective "Virginia Avery: A Flair for Life." In addition she performed in a lively jazz jam session at the Community School of the Arts the night of July 15th. Her official induction took place Saturday, July 16, 2006, in Marion, Indiana amidst heart-felt testimonies, as well as tears and laughter, among her many friends and 17 family members present. 

Click here to see a video interview of Jinny Avery at the Quilt Alliance website.

Click here to see my personal tribute to Jinny Avery on my personal Quilt History Reports blog, as well as more photos of Jinny's art clothing.

TQHF 1998 Inductee Yvonne Porcella presenting
Jinny Avery with "portrait of Jinny"
Porcella made as a gift for Avery's induction.

In December 2007 The Quilt Show, produced by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, released their interview of Virginia Avery filmed in Avery's New York home. Click here to learn more about this interview.

Never had so many Honorees been present at one Induction as we had when Virginia Avery was inducted in 2006. One previous Inductee said she had so much fun she wanted to do her induction over again and do it just like Jinny's.

                                               photo by Sue Jones of Virginia

L-R: Yvonne Porcella (1998 Inductee), Donna Wilder (1990 Inductee), Bets Ramsey (2005 Inductee),  Jinny Avery (2006 Inductee), Karen Alexander (then President of TQHF), Hazel Carter (Founder of TQHF), Georgia Bonesteel (2003 Inductee) and Rosalind Webster Perry, granddaughter of Marie D. Webster. (Marie D. Webster, in whose restored historic home TQHF is headquartered, was inducted in 1991.)

The restored Marie D. Webster House in Marion,Indiana,
 headquarters of The Quilters Hall of Fame

PS: It was pure joy to have the opportunity to hear and see Jinny play the piano with a Dixieland-style band, including my husband Gary on clarinet, at her Induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006. Gary, a jazz musician all his life, admired her talent so much and enjoyed exchanging emails with her occasionally.  He told me after the jam session that Jinny was clearly the best musician on the stand that day!  

Gary is also a jazz and classical DJ on our local radio station.  Today he just played the New World Symphony at 2:15 (Pacific Time) on his classical program, and then played a solo jazz piano version of “Going Home” (from that symphony), dedicated to Jinny. Later he played music from Jinny’s 2011 album, “It’s OK” (recorded when she was 98 !) during the first 30 minutes of his jazz program, from 3:00 to 3:30 Pacific time. He will also honor her on his radio program on Sept 28 at 3pm PST, the day before her birthday since he is not on the radio on August 29th.

Please feel free to leave a comment here on the TQHF blog to honor Jinny. The family is aware of it and will check it from time to time.

Jinny, we salute you, grand lady that you were and are!

Karen Alexander