Imagine, if you can, an enormous five-panel tapestry, worked on by more than a thousand “stitchers” over the course of five years. Imagine the varied and intricate detail such a tapestry would contain. Then imagine that only one town in Tennessee was chosen to display it before it’s retired to its permanent home in Louisville, Kentucky.
That’s right. This stunning work of art—“America the Beautiful”–which has toured the nation since its unveiling in 2008, is hanging now in our very own Cumberland Arts Society Gallery. It’s been there since April 1. But time is running short for anyone who wants to see it. This time next week, it will be too late.
The tapestry is not the only thing on display in the gallery. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the local Iris Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America is featuring more than 250 amazing pieces of needlework created by its members.
Cross-stitch. Needlepoint. Cutwork. Quilts. Canvas work. Crewel. Smocking. Embroidery.
And lots, lots more.
There’s a gorgeous bridal gown. An Oriental pocketbook. The duplicate of a Christmas stocking that hung on the White House tree. Tea towels. Bookmarks. A christening dress. And perhaps the piece de resistance—the “drawn thread” tablecloth made by the late Lola Belle McCormick that won a blue ribbon at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.
I made my way to the gallery earlier this week and was given a wonderful tour by Nancy Pardue and Gwen Ray, president of the EGA Iris Chapter. Both women have a number of pieces in the collection and both have earned the EGA rank of Master Craftsman.
We began by perusing the guest book and discovered that visitors had come from near and far. Monterey. Baxter. Sparta. Livingston. Several were from North Carolina. A few from Georgia. Kentucky. Mississippi. But it gets better. We were about to declare the visitor from Vermont “farthest travelled” until we came upon an illegible name from a place that was clearly the winner. Turkey. Sure, that visitor might have been a Tech student. But we were impressed nonetheless.
Sensing my ignorance about such things, Nancy and Gwen patiently explained the various kinds of needlework to me as we made our way around the galley. When we finished, as good hostesses are wont to do, they invited me to an Embroiderers’ Guild meeting.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Thank you…” I stammered. “But I don’t sew.” Then I said something lame like that being married to a surgeon means you don’t even have to sew a popped-off button back onto a shirt.
But the whole truth is that I haven’t willingly picked up needle-and-thread since I qualified for my Girl Scout Needlecraft badge back when I was nine years old. I earned all the fun badges first. Books. Cyclist. Foot Traveler. Indian Lore. Pen Pal. Rambler. Storyteller. Water Fun. Writer. Only then did I dive into the “have to” badges. Needlecraft was way down on the list, lower even than Cook or Housekeeper. But I completed all the requirements, leaving my mother– who was delusionally optimistic that once I tried darning and hemstitching I would come to love them–temporarily satisfied.
Looking at all the beautiful needlework on display made me wonder if perhaps I’d made a mistake all those years ago. But no. Truth be told, I don’t feel much different about stitching now than I did when I was nine. I just don’t have the interest or the patience or the fine-motor skills to make it work.
But hooray for those who do. And hooray that I got to see so much of what they’ve created. You should see it, too. The gallery, located at 186 S. Walnut Avenue, is open today from 1:00 until 4:00 and Monday through Friday from noon until 4:00. Admission is free.
(April 22, 2012)