Touch of Life: Quilts at San Antonio’s Texas Cultural Center

don springer headshotBy Don Springer

Each year while I am visiting with my son Dave in Crosby we make our way to several of the Texas cities and towns. We did again this year-my 15th winter to be spent in Crosby. Almost all of those years we have found our way to San Antonio, one of my favorite American cities. The winter of 2015 was no different.

We went to San Antonio last week for about five days and found our way to the usual haunts. On all of our trips we have visited two of the SA sites, The Alamo and Riverwalk. We visit the Alamo for obvious reasons-out of respect of those who fought and died there. As for the Riverwalk, I go because I have always found it enjoyable and Dave, perhaps because he knows I want to go tags along. We always take a leisurely stroll along the river, usually take a boat ride although that was not so this year, and then pick a restaurant, for a fine evening meal.

We have never been disappointed with our choice of an evening meal there nor have we ever been disappointed with our visits to San Antonio. It is a great place.

On two or three occasions we have taken the trolley to the Texas Cultural Center but hadn’t for three or four years so we went again in 2015. It is located on the site adjacent to the Tower of America so we went there as well, rode the elevator to the top and spent some time looking down on this great Texas town.

Entering the cultural center we began the trip around the circle on a selfguided tour and viewed once again many of the exhibits we had seen previously. As we made about 1/3rd of the circle we came upon a live exhibit that took me back to my childhood. There were several women spinning, weaving and quilting, something I had watched my grandmother, mother and aunts doing many years ago on my grandparents farm in rural southeastern Ohio. This was a familiar sight three or four generations ago and once was a recognized occupation. Today it is more of a hobby for those participating and they find it an enjoyable one.

We spent a good half-hour talking and photographing these six ladies and thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought back vivid memories of my elder family members doing much the same. I still have about five quilts that came off of quilting racks of that era. Three of those were my grandmothers and two belonged to my mother-inlaw that had been handed down to my late spouse, Linda. I’m sure in my preteen and teen years I slept under more than one of these on the farm.

Frances Rios was working the spinning wheel where she took raw cotton, removed it from the seeds by hand, curried it a few times and when it was clean and very soft spun it into thread. Frances told me she had been working with spinning wheels, looms and quilting racks since 1955. I mentioned I was 84 and she replied, “I got you by three years.” Like I heard from the others, she said she was doing this now as an exhibit for the center “as a labor of love” and had been there since 1981. During the time we were there she entertained at least two school age groups as she explained the art of spinning to them.

As I moved on I found four ladies working on a beautiful piece of work attached to the quilt rack. Gail Cardon, Geneva Gusman, Arminda Lopez and Susan Linville each talked to me and never missed a stich as their fingers moved smoothly, stitch by stitch, across the piece of work beneath their fingers. Cardon explained to me they were the Friday group working on the quilt “from 9 a. m. to 12 noon.” She and Linville explained that a group such as they were there every weekday morning working on quilts and showing visitors such as me how it is done.

Of course, one of the obvious questions is, “how long does it take to complete a quilt?” Lopez said, “that various based on the type and size of the quilt, but we probably will complete one about every 350 to 400 hours” They explained the quilts they work on are usually owned by a friend or associate and are not sold. However, I can well remember quilts sold at church auctions back in the 1950’s that went for more than $1,000. They would be worth far more today. With that much work in them they are worth every cent.

There were two looms in the area and sitting toward the back of the exhibit at the larger of the two, weaving away, was Sherry Duringer. I interrupted her effort for a few minutes and found out she and Rios were the two that did much of the loom work. “We usually use salvaged material on our looms as that is our choice.” She told me the work she was doing and showed me three or four pieces that varied widely in size. One was a small piece she was wearing around her neck and another was as large as a throw rug or small lounge cover. This weaver said she had been weaving for “more than 30 years,” and again called it “a work of love.”

As I moved on I was quite refreshed, my thoughts returned to the present rather than the days of my youth. My chances of ever seeing any of these six women who reside some 1,500 miles from my West Virginia home are slight. However, I shall never forget this visit and the information I received from all six as they practiced their “labor of love.”

Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my home!