Teresa Duryea Wong: where competence joins passion

Teresa Duryea Wong is a quilter, blogger, writer and expert in quilt history. She worked in the world of Art Journalism for more than twenty years and traveled incessantly for work. Thanks to this she had the chance to enter in contact with different cultures, growing an interest for quilting contaminations in Japan, studying and writing about this subject. Very committed to social issues, she has given voice and continues to give voice to initiatives against racial violence

Teresa Duryea Wong and Masako Katagiri walk through the monthly temple market at the Kitano Temple in Kyoto. Open air temple markets are a great local place to find precious textiles.

After such an uncertain and destabilizing period from which it seems that we are slowly coming out, you are again very active and have a lot of news and satisfactions regarding your work. You have joined the board of directors of the International Quilt Museum. It is a great honor and ArteMorbida would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you and give you our warmest wishes. Can you tell us what this appointment means for you and what your contribution will be to this great international institution?

First, thank you for your interest in my work and outreach. I am so honored to be invited to join this prestigious board for the International Quilt Museum. I truly believe that IQM is living up to its name in terms of international preservation and cultivation of quilting arts. My contributions to IQM will be working in concert with other International Advisory Board members to support exhibitions, acquisitions, fundraising, and related activities. No one person can act alone, but one thing I hope I can accomplish is to be able to share my expertise in Japanese quilt history and my understanding of the contemporary quilt community with the curators and staff at IQM.

In your books and articles you are always attentive in the search for the roots and history of quilting. Why is it so important to make a link between past and present?

History becomes so fascinating when we bring it alive with stories from the past. The people who made quilts a century ago, were just like us. They had everyday life stuff to deal with, yet in their spare time they chose the same art form as us to express themselves, to find joy, and to fill the time. Understanding who these people were and the times in which they lived makes us all smarter about our own lives and how we choose to live, and how we choose to spend our time. We must learn from those who went before us, and as for quilting arts, there is so much to learn. The quilts made 50, or 100 years ago, or even before, have so much to tell us aesthetically. And by studying the stitches, fabrics, and techniques, as well as the lives of the makers, we can learn a great deal.

Shoppers frantically searching for fabric during a quilt festival in Yokohama. 2018

Cotton & Indigo from Japan by Tresa Duryea Wong

You are a great expert in Japanese quilting. Where does this passion for this particular typology, capable of personalizing and giving a decisive character to such a strongly American art and transforming it into something else without distorting it, come from?

Japan has a long history in needle arts and when quilting was first popularized in the mid-1970s, it quickly took hold. The three-layer quilt and its patterns and styles were all imported from America and for me, intense research on how this transference took place has been fascinating. Like many people around the world, I am personally drawn to the Japanese aesthetic and way of life, and I am deeply interested in the ideas of exoticism and how artistic ideas flow from one culture to another. In the case of American quilt styles in Japan, it is even more interesting because this art form came from a new country to a very old country, the opposite of most artistic transferences.

Teresa Duryea Wong and Quilt Master Yoshiko Katagiri stand next one of her exquisite applique quilts during an exhibition in Yokohama in 2018

Your question about adopting a style without distorting it is right on point. In the case of Japanese makers, they spent about one decade – the 1980s – replicating American quilts. By the time the 1990s arrived, a truly Japanese aesthetic emerged, and the art form became its own domestic style. For this to happen in just one decade is something that caught my attention and the quest to discover how this transformation happened so quickly has been a focus of my research.

Before the pandemic, I traveled to Japan every year and I am anxious for a return to normal within this beautiful country.

Off white quilt on floor – Teresa Duryea Wong visits the home of revered quiltmaker Yoshiko Jinzenji in Kyoto, Japan

Stitching Stolen Lives, by Sara Trail, Teresa Duryea Wong. Amplifying Voices, Empowering Youth & Building Empathy Through Quilts; The Social Justice Sewing Academy Remembrance Project

Sei fortemente impegnata nel sociale in diverse iniziative. La tua voce si fa sentire e i tuoi libri fanno da amplificatore ad iniziative come quella di The Social Justice Sewing Academy Remembrance Project, sulla quale hai scritto un libro con Sara Trail. Puoi dirci cosa ha rappresentato per te questo libro? Hai altri progetti imminenti di questo tipo?

L’America ha un’incredibile libertà e stile di vita, ma, come molte culture, abbiamo anche molti problemi. Il razzismo sistemico, la violenza domestica e tanti altri problemi sociali sono ovunque nella nostra società. Per me, il problema della brutalità della polizia è particolarmente difficile da accettare e sembra peggiorare ogni giorno. Quando ho incontrato per la prima volta Sara Trail, la fondatrice della Social Justice Sewing Academy, abbiamo iniziato a parlare di questi problemi e dei modi in cui potevamo comunicare il problema e utilizzare l’arte del quilting per condividere i nostri messaggi con il mondo. Il nostro nuovo libro, Stitching Stolen Lives, condivide innumerevoli storie di vite perse a causa di questo e delle loro famiglie. È un tentativo di aiutarci a ricordare quelle vite e, cosa più importante, un progetto di arte pubblica che creerà contemporaneamente empatia e ci aiuterà a guarire. Personalmente, sono estremamente orgogliosa di essere coautore di questo libro, perché mi ha permesso di condividere il mio tempo e le mie competenze in un modo che credo fermamente stia aiutando a fare la differenza.

You are strongly committed to social issues in various initiatives. Your voice is heard and your books are the amplifier for initiatives such as The Social Justice Sewing Academy Remembrance Project, about which you wrote a book with Sara Trail. Can you tell us what this book has meant for you? Do you have any other upcoming projects of this type?

America has an incredible freedom and way of life, but, like many cultures, we also have a lot of problems. Systemic racism, domestic violence, and so many other societal problems are everywhere in our society. For me, the problem of police brutality is particularly hard to accept, and it seems to get worse every day. When I first met Sara Trail, the founder of the Social Justice Sewing Academy, we began talking about these issues and ways we could communicate the issue and use the art of quilting to share our messages with the world. Our new book, Stitching Stolen Lives, shares countless stories of lives lost and the families left behind. It is an attempt to help us remember those lives and more importantly, documentation of a public art project that will simultaneously build empathy and help us heal. For me personally, I am extremely proud to be a co-author because this book has allowed me to share my time and talents in a way that I firmly believe is helping make a difference.

How does all your past experience in the world of journalism in the field of art affect your activities today in the world of quilting? You haven’t stopped traveling, albeit with a different motivation. Do you base yourself on what you have seen and learnt in choosing your destinations or are they different experiences? 

I once had a boss in the corporate world who told me my background as a journalist was “classic training” and I believe that is an apt description. Journalism teaches you to think hard about the world and how to communicate stories that move people. I am able to channel that classic training into my research and communicate a ton of historical facts and knowledge in a way that hopefully, people can absorb and relate to. I do not write like an academic, I write in a way that is more readable.

As for travel, I am extremely motivated to travel to see quilts. If there is a particular quilt that grabs my interest, I will go just about anywhere to chase that’s quilts story. How could I not? Fortunately, I have a very accommodating husband who has joined me on many quilt adventures.

This handmade dress with Marimekko fabric was the perfect outfit for her first post-lockdown visit to New York City. Teres is standing in front of a Mark Rothko painting inside the Museum of Modern Art

Despite being so active as a writer, blogger and now also as a board member of the International Quilt Museum, can you find some time to dedicate to your quilts? I have read that in addition to a Bernina 820 you also have a Longarm Q20. Is it a way to relax or does it push you towards new projects?

My own time as a maker is definitely a time to relax and recharge my creative energy. I have a wonderful studio in my house with a Bernina 820 and a Bernina Q24 longarm, which I love! I also have a Bernina serger and a large, industrial leather sewing machine. I mostly make quilts, but I also sew garments and leather totes and purses. For several years I sold my handmade leather bags to boutiques, but I stopped once it became too tiresome. Now I enjoy sewing with leather just for fun. As a quiltmaker, I have had quilts accepted into juried exhibitions and I will continue to pursue this, but most of the quilts I make are to use and give away.

Black and White quilt – Teresa Duryea Wong makes quilts for the couch, the walls, and the closet shelves

Our magazine deals with textile art, where do you think Art Quilting has greater circulation and appreciation besides the United States?

Japan is a very large market for quilting arts. In addition, France, the UK, Australia, Northern Europe, and many other countries are becoming popular places for quilting. In the past five to ten years, even China has begun to build a community of quilt makers and textile artists.

What are your future projects? I guess the list is very long … 

I continue to lecture to quilt guilds in the U.S. and Canada via Zoom, and I truly love doing this. I am very interested in several new research areas, including Native American quilt history, as well as the evolution of modern art and minimalism and how these ideas were expressed in antique quilts, and how they influence contemporary makers today.

Emanuela D'Amico

English version Mi sono avvicinata al quilting nel 1992, da allora ho frequentato diversi corsi in Italia e negli USA per approfondire le tecniche del patchwork, passando dai disegni tradizionali o geometrici alle tecniche artistiche con cui posso esprimere la mia creatività. Insegno le tecniche base e avanzate dal 1998. Ho fondato la Scuola Romana Quilting nel 2015: e dal 2014 organizzo a Roma la mostra di ArtQuilting: ArteMorbida. A partire dal 2018, con la collaborazione di Maria Rosaria Roseo e altre colleghe/amiche abbiamo iniziato la pubblicazione di ArteMorbida Textile Arts Magazine. Oggi ArteMorbida è anche, finalmente, una rivista cartacea. Parola d’ordine: Divulgazione!