Academy Member Spotlight: Beth Cunningham

Enjoy this interview with AVT member Beth Cunningham

Lisa: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Beth: My undergraduate work was in clothing and textiles, and then I went on to get a Master's in studio art. I've always been entrenched with fabrics. My mother was a seamstress, my grandmother was a quilter and I've been doing work in it since 1970. That'll tell my age! I took my first weaving class in Charleston, West Virginia, and the lady that taught it only did traditional weaving. I told her I didn't want to do that, and she said, “well, I can't help you then.” So I stayed off in the corner in this workshop and I did pieces for the wall. So that was my first real introduction to fibers, and since then, it's always been fibers and textiles. I moved to Houston and met a wonderful woman, Mary Ruth Smith, who has been my mentor my whole life.

I come to quilting as sort of an outsider. I taught elementary and middle school for 42 years. I retired in 2014 and I decided that I would spend my time in the studio, became a full-time studio artist.

So I came to quilting through the back door. Even though I had all these people in my life that quilted, I had never thought about it.

Lisa: Tell us about the quilt behind you.

Beth: This quilt here is only my fourth quilt, but it was a means of expression. I started it in January right after I was diagnosed with cancer. It’s called “Chaos.”

After the diagnosis, I couldn't think. I felt like I was floating. And my mind was spinning. For a few days I just sat there, and then I said, I can't do this. I have to do something else. And that's when I started pulling pieces. I've got a room full of fabric. I pulled out a quilt that I started in 1999, which had four squares, just four squares of it. That started it, because I never could do anything with it. I didn't like the colors. I didn't like anything about it and I just built on it. I had to go through all of the fabric to find the things that I didn't like. Because that's the way I was feeling. I thought the colors were acid and right in your face, and it’s just total chaos because that's what cancer does to your life. It throws you into a whirlwind as to what you're going to do and how you move forward.

I'm a pastel girl. I would never tell the children this, but I don't like orange and I don't like yellow. I love red, I love red. And with this orange and yellow I had to throw the red in, so it's just all warm colors. It also symbolizes the belief that you'll get through, you'll get through this and you'll be stronger for it. So, that's why I pulled all these colors together and the louder, the better!

So I pulled them out and just started cutting pieces and then sat down and started putting pieces together. It was about just moving my hands. All you had to think about was picking up the next piece of fabric. You didn't have to be involved with the thought process because I was just joining squares or strips and it was calming and very forgiving, I think that's the word.

I would just sit down and put pieces together. It didn't matter what they were. I'm an optimist, an optimistic person, so I wouldn't allow myself to get really dark with this. And I was able to pull these pieces, pull the colors.

So it was interesting just the way it came together. And then it just sort of took over my life. I still have piles of strips and the quilt keeps getting bigger! At some point I'm going to have to stop, but it was necessary to have this outlet, with the diagnosis. I felt like I was floating, that I wasn't anchored in reality and I couldn't believe that this was really happening to me.

As always, fibers and textiles have been therapy for me, and this is the way I work through things. It's been that way since I was a little kid. So, just working through this was very, very therapeutic and it always has been and I'm sure it will be in other hard times. So it's been an experience that I hope others do not have to experience, but it's certainly grounded me and brought me forward.

Lisa: Do you plan on teaching online when you feel up to it and have gone through this whole program?

Beth: I have done two online classes and that was before I took the class with Lyric. The first one was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare! If it could go wrong, it went wrong. And the person in charge of the technical aspects was not a technical person. She was delightful, but throughout the workshop, my video disappeared. It just disappeared. The students could only hear me. And that was not good for teaching a class online!

So, I had to schedule another three-hour class the following week. So, that was pretty scary. And I vowed after that to learn more. I realized that I needed to be in charge, I can't be at someone else's mercy. So, that was when I signed up for the Masterclass.

There are so many pieces that I had for teaching, but I wasn't online. And I had started getting equipment so that I could figure out how to make videos on my own. And then this class popped up and I said, it's there, it's right there in front of me. I just need to take this class.

It was good. Lyric’s personality and her caring and kindness is just the best part. She includes everyone, you know, when we do the round-tables. And she's just pretty remarkable. I would suggest this class to anyone who’s desire is to learn how to teach online. This is it, it's right there for you. You don't have to go look any place else. It's pretty amazing. And there's so many things I haven't put to use yet, but I plan on doing that.

I do want to go ahead and get my class done so that, that I can get my certification. I put that on hold too, but every day I'm better. And that's all I can ask for. I'm very blessed. Very much so.

Categories: Member Spotlight