Arts? Crafts? All in the Family

This is the kind of thing my house is full of. It’s a very large needlepoint of pansies that I did when my kids were young, The canvas is from an Irish artist.

One thing my genealogy forays didn’t turn up is the fact that I’m descended from a long line of artists, mostly fiber arts, but many other types as well. What got me thinking of this was looking around my Bobcat Lair rooms and realizing that most all of the art is by someone I know, much of it by relatives. Granted, some of it may be “crafts” to some of you (needlework kits and such), but it’s all art to me, because the makers had lots of design decisions to make, even in a kit.

Let me introduce you to a few of my talented family members, then I’ll share some art by friends and acquaintances in another post. Note that most of the pictures don’t go with the text, since some of the things I talk about don’t have photos to go with them.

This is my prized tatted doily from Aunt Susie. It’s one of the larger ones I have.
Susan Canova

My maternal side in Florida was a bunch of crazed crafters/artists. The foremost in my mind was my great-aunt Susan Canova. Because of her mental health issues, she was mostly confined to her home (she liked to take stuff). But she made a living for herself by creating amazing table cloths, beadspreads, blankets, curtains and trim. I am happy to have a number of pieces of her tatting, a linen tablecloth with filet crochet borders, and other treasures. She was very productive, and I think it’s really cool that she made a good life for herself despite her problems.

A typical crewel kit Mom made.

I know Aunt Susie’s twin sisters, my grandmother and Aunt Belle, did handwork, too. I still remember watching Aunt Belle knitting away on a simple, striped lap blanket, which she said she made “for the old people.” At the time she was in her early 90s.

I always loved this modern flower kit in crewel wool, by Mom.

My grandmother (Sid, AKA Mrs. O. M. Anderson) made many, many shell-stitch afghans, and she is the one who taught me to knit and crochet (I still have my first granny afghan, somewhere; the first squares are huge and they get smaller and smaller as I got better at crochet).

My first little crewel kit, done some time in the mid 1960s.

Crochet was also popular with my paternal grandmother, Berta Butts Kendall, who lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She loved to buy kits to make ripple afghans from Herschnerr’s. My fondest memories of her are crocheting together and watching television comedies. When I was a lovesick teen, she took me to the dime store and bought me a kit for an orange and brown striped afghan, which I made for my high school boyfriend. That made the vacation pass more quickly!

This quilt by my grandmother doesn’t hurt my eyes as much as some of her others, but it does not exhibit a “sophisticated color palette.”

Granny also made quilts, though I never ever saw her working on one. I know she must have done a lot of her sewing in the 70s, because some of them had some very scary double-knit fabric in them, in vivid greens and oranges. The one I use on our guest bed, a Drunkard’s Path quilt, isn’t quite so bad. Oddly, no one else in the family quilted until I did a couple.

Mom and I both loved pansies and violets, so this one is a favorite of mine.

My mom, Canova Anderson Kendall, also had her share of demons to fight, but took refuge in art and crafts. She attended the Ringling School of Arts in Sarasota, Florida, where she focused on watercolors (I have one at the ranch house). By the time she married my dad in her late 30s, she was not working outside the home and ready to try any craft that came up.

I loved the deer too much and kept poking its eye out.

My favorites were her crewel embroideries, all done from mostly Elsa Williams and Erica Wilson kits (weird that they had such similar names). I would stand for hours and hours looking at the wall hangings of Jacobean trees and animals. It’s no wonder that the second embroidery I ever did was a little piece of crewel-work (it’s the bunny pictured earlier).

These things must have just taken a day or two to make. She made lots (pitcher in front is from Seagrove, NC).

Mom also did many, many simple embroidery kits involving very long stitches and dark backgrounds, which she did in frames. These were very popular in the 1960s or 1970s (I’m not sure when she did them), because they were quick to do and cheerful. Somehow, I seem to have inherited most of them, and they fit well in the decor of the Bobcat house, so they’re everywhere! I can’t find any information on what these were called or who made them. Maybe these were Erica Wilson.

Here’s another one of those quick embroideries, sitting on the wicker basket where Mom always stored her sewing supplies.

There was a significant decoupage phase at our house in the 60s and early 70s, too. If it could be cut out, it was slapped on a piece of wood and covered in shellac, or whatever they used. She also did a couple of projects where she glued intricate pictures inside of lamp bases and then painted the inside a background cover. Then my dad would wire the lamps up.

This pansy is the only piece of Mom’s decoupage I still have. Behind it is a Lula Moser plate, and in front is a pine-needle basket. It’s on a loud discloth I knitted.

In her later years, mom couldn’t really do fine hand work, but she wanted to keep her hands busy when they weren’t holding a cigarette or a cocktail. She began to crochet and crochet and crochet. She bought the absolute least expensive acrylic yarn, crocheted rectangles out of them, then made those into pillows, which she stuffed with newspaper wrappers! You can just imagine how comfortable those were. All were in the olive green, burnt orange, and harvest gold of the decade. Bless my dad, he’d lay on those pillows on the couch. You could hear the crinkles every time he moved.

Sadly, none of those pillows have survived in the 34 years since her passing. But I love looking at the things Mom made. It’s like a part of her lives on. Thanks, Mom.

Tomorrow I’ll share some art by the next generation, and then some of the artists my mom and I loved.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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