Lessons from the Quilt Show

I just returned from the Pacific International Quilt Show. Every year it seems there is a special exhibit that really touches me. This year it was an exhibit of 23 quilts called The Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work, by artist Carol Larson. I had heard the story behind these quilts before I came to the show. But to see the quilts, and read the stories behind each one touched me in a very deep way.

Here is Carol’s explanation of the series:

in 1965 when i was 17 years old and 78.5 inches long, i was surgically shortened 6 inches with the intention of giving me a “normal” life. so begins the introduction of the “tall girl series: a body of work.”

this series highlights the 40+ years since the three surgeries that broke my body, nearly crushed my spirit and forever changed my life.

This quilt portrays Carol being tormented by a bully in middle school. He would wait for her, throwing rocks and insults at her. Carol's sense of humor comes through--the boy's caption says "how is the weather up there?" And Carol is replying "Fabulous."

This quilt portrays Carol being tormented by a bully in high school. He would wait for her, throwing rocks and insults at her. Carol’s sense of humor still comes through–the boy’s caption says “how is the weather up there?” And Carol is replying “Fabulous.”

Can you imagine being given the responsibility of making such a horrendous decision when you were 17 years old?

I know its a stretch, but what it made me think of is how many of us with “weight issues” are willing to go way too far in order to achieve a body that we think will make us “fit in” and be “happy.” Every day people undergo unnecessary surgery (and not just us weight control people.) Surgery is serious business. If people had to watch it like I did as a student nurse, they would understand a little better why it hurts so much, and why it takes so long for your body to heal. And why, oftentimes, it just exchanges one kind of long term pain for a different kind of long term pain. I am always surprised when people seem to go casually into major surgery.

Carol's quilt about her experience with pain. On a trip to the ER in excruciating pain, she was asked what her pain was on a scale of 1-10. She replied that it was 14.

Carol’s quilt about her experience with pain. On a trip to the ER in excruciating pain, she was asked what her pain was on a scale of 1-10. She replied that it was 14.

And then of course, there are the “lesser things” that we do to achieve that magic “goal weight” and/or body image. Like the woman I just talked to today, who is thinking about (ON HER DOCTOR’S RECOMMENDATION!) going on a 500 calorie a day diet. Even though she has done it before, and she has experienced re-gaining all the weight lost on such a restrictive diet, she is still considering it.

I am glad to tell you that Carol is an extremely talented and successful artist with a wonderful sense of humor.

From Carol’s blog:

I still believe this is a story that needs to be heard. Every single one of us has something in our past which has molded us into who we are in the world today;  and for so many these truths are painful, tragic things that happened to our bodies.

The purpose of the series was my personal healing. It’s purpose today is to encourage others to do their own healing, to speak of and expel their own story from their body. Believe me when I say it takes a huge toll to hold on to old sorrows.

I was blessed with a very sensitive spirit and also the courage to tell my story.  I am also blessed with the intuitive sense that the story can go on now to inspire others, without my active involvement.

Maybe this will make you think of something else that is a deep seated problem in your life. Something worth spending the time to work through, as Carol bravely did. I wish you could have seen the whole exhibit, with the unbelievably painful things that she experienced during her life. Here is a link to an article that tells a little more about her story. 

Thank you, Carol, for sharing your story with us. As difficult as it is to hear comments from insensitive, unthinking people, I hope you know that there are at least as many of us who heard, and are trying to understand, and that it has done a great deal of good for us.


7 thoughts on “Lessons from the Quilt Show

  1. I too was very moved by Carol’s quilts. Her image of suicide vs surgery in black & white was incredibly powerful & incredibly sad. Her story is both heartbreaking and a beautiful testimonial to her ability to heal herself.

  2. What an amazing story. I agree with the writer of the article: her work has a beautiful and haunting edge to it. Thank you for sharing this, Debby. I hadn’t heard Carol’s story before now.

  3. What a compelling story, and what a barbaric thing to have experienced. Amazing how things have changed over the years; I’d like to think nowadays, Carol’s tallness wouldn’t be such an odd thing. Really interesting quilt stories, and her portfolio is full of gorgeous quilts.

  4. Wow. I can’t imagine what one would have to do to a body to make it shorter! I never even knew a surgery like that existed.

    What a wonderful thing to be able to express pain and healing through art like this. What a gift!

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