Every quilt tells a story
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser staff writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Tears welled up in Patricia Lei Murray's eyes as she talked about a Hawaiian flag quilt she had made in honor of Queen Lili'uokalani, Hawai'i's last reigning monarch.
"Ku'u Hae Aloha Mau," or "My Beloved Flag Forever," is a 71-by-68-inch quilt with a vibrant red and yellow crown and the state motto as a centerpiece, bordered by four Hawaiian flags; in the blue stripes, Murray hand-embroidered in blue thread the lyrics to a song the queen wrote while imprisoned in 'Iolani Palace.
The elegantly simple quilt tells a story about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the enduring pride of the Hawaiian people, and Murray can't help but become emotional when she shares this piece of history of her people.
"This is my way of making a statement about being Hawaiian," said Murray, 63.
"Ku'u Hae Aloha Mau" is among 30 Hawaiian quilts Murray made over the past 18 years that will be displayed at "Hawaiian Quilt Inspirations," an exhibit March 15 through May 14 at the La Conner Quilt Museum in La Conner, Wash.
It's the first time that the museum — established in 1997 in the historic Gaches Mansion — will focus a Hawaiian quilt exhibit on a single Hawai'i artist.
"We always look for different things," said Kathy Ives, the museum's business manager. "I think her quilts are very inspiring."
In Murray's 'Alewa Heights home, her quilts were stacked on a sofa in neat piles, ready to be packed and shipped to the museum. They are a colorful mix of traditional and contemporary Hawaiian quilts in a variety of fabrics and sizes.
One by one, Murray unfolded her quilts, eager to tell the tales behind them.
"I've always enjoyed telling the stories about what inspires us to quilt, why we choose to send a message or why we choose to express ourselves in this particular way," Murray said.
There was the placemat-sized "Sheyla's Garden,"a tribute to a floral painting made by Murray's 5-year-old granddaughter in Michigan fashioned out of hand-dyed fabrics, and the wall-sized "Monstera & Fern," with a free-form design made of silk fern leaves, tulle and holographic thread.
"I always incorporate something Hawaiian in my quilts because that's who I am and I'm making it my own," said Murray, who's also president of the Hawaii Quilt Guild.
PART OF HER LEGACY
Murray began quilting more than 30 years ago as the mother of five young children.
"As I was raising my family, I always had a little stitchery or some applique with me as I waited at doctor appointments, soccer games, volleyball games and things," she said.
Now that her children have grown up and moved away, Murray has found even more time to devote to quilting, a venue for self-expression she takes very seriously.
"I think of this as part of my legacy for my family, and there are little lessons to be learned from the quilts," she said.
Murray finds inspiration for quilt designs all around her — in nature, especially the ocean and mountains; in flowers and plants treasured by loved ones, such as her mother's favorite African tulips; even in quilting classes, after learning new techniques.
Following Hurricane Katrina last year, Murray felt compelled to send her "best wishes" to the families affected by the disaster. Murray spearheaded a drive that moved residents, schools and churches statewide to donate 750 quilts and bedding to the victims.
"It was so devastating," Murray said. "It was like another 9/11 event in our country and I just felt that even if we live so far away, we could find something that we could do."
SHARING HER SPACE
In addition to exhibiting quilts at the Academy Art Center at Linekona and Mission Houses Museum, Murray has exhibited her quilts at a quilt exposition in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in California, and the Kokusai Art Exhibit in Japan.
While Murray's collection will be the main display at "Hawaiian Quilt Inspirations" in La Conner, Murray has also invited other Honolulu artists to each display a quilt at the exhibit.
Charlene Hughes of Nu'uanu will exhibit "Na Pua o Hawai'i," a 62-by-56-inch green and white quilt fashioned out of upholstery samples featuring orchids, gingers, plumerias and other local flowers, and embellished with insect buttons.
"I'm really excited about it because anytime an artist is invited to show work, it's validation and recognition of your work," Hughes said.
Other invited local artists include Gussie Bento, Margo Morgan, Lincoln Okita, Millie Hayden, Sharon Nakasone, Janet Yokoe and Mary Cesar, as well as former Hawai'i resident Sarah Kaufman, who will have two quilts on display.
But Hughes said Murray's quilts will definitely be the main attraction. "It's going to knock their eyes out," Hughes said. "She is just a wonderful quilter."
Back in her home, Murray continued to unfold her quilts, smiling like a mother adoring her children with each unveiling.
"This is the pathway that I've chosen to express gratitude for the land and this beauty that surrounds us, and for our ancestors who came before us and honored the land," Murray said. "... It also gives me a way to be happily occupied in these latter years, that I feel purposeful and I can be involved in something."
Reach Zenaida Serrano at email@example.com.