Bonnie’s Remarkable Legacy

Bonnie at Work 300x197 Bonnies Remarkable Legacy

Bonnie Leman, 1978

I’ve been keeping an eye on the message boards and blogs today as further news of Bonnie Leman’s passing makes its way around the quilt world. Several of those who have expressed their sentiments have painted a truly remarkable picture of Mrs. Leman. Some highlights:

Karey Bresenhan, founder of International Quilt Market and Festival and president of Quilts, Inc.: “Bonnie Leman was a dear friend and a treasured mentor…with an impish wit and a rock solid work ethic.”

Former Quiltmaker editor Caroline Reardon: “Bonnie Leman had great style, a gentle presence, and diplomatic finesse.”

Judy Martin: “Bonnie Leman was my friend and mentor. She gave me my dream job when she hired me over the phone in 1979…she was intelligent, demanding, and focused.”

Carol Doak: “She was a gentle giant leading, inspiring and encouraging the quilt world with her grace and charm.”

Barbara Brackman: “I wouldn’t be a writer without her.”

Virginia Avery: “I am ever grateful that Bonnie laid such a sound foundation in the quilt world…many of my fondest quilt memories are centered around her. She was always gracious and generous in her help, and we are all in debt.”

Although I didn’t know Bonnie well enough to have written one of these lovely tributes, what I can tell you is this: I met her once, about two years ago. Mary Austin had hosted a gathering of the QN staff at her home one chilly autumn afternoon, and when she introduced me to her mother, I felt as if I were being presented to royalty. And I guess I was. Bonnie was elegant, and she carried herself with all the grace in the world. The ”impish wit” Karey mentioned? Definitely. You could see it in the way her eyes sparkled as she laughed. She didn’t say much, but she was the center of gravity in the room. We all seemed to lean in Bonnie’s direction, whether we meant to or not.

For the millions of quilters out there who have only recently taken up the needle and who may not know about Bonnie Leman and her extraordinary impact on quiltmaking today, I offer this brief history of her remarkable legacy:

Bonnie Leman founded Quilters Newsletter magazine in 1969—the first, and for many years only, magazine devoted solely to the interests of quiltmakers—and composed the first issue on a manual typewriter at her dining room table. Today, 420 issues later, Quilters Newsletter magazine is still published, now in Golden, Colorado. During her editorship, Mrs. Leman employed hundreds of women and men in the Denver area and also raised seven children. Her daughter, Mary Austin, took over the magazine when Bonnie retired in 1996, and Mary retired in 2005.

Today’s quilting industry in America alone is worth $3.58 billion, due in large part to the resurgence of interest in the craft around the time of bicentennial in 1976. Many contemporary quilt historians agree that Mrs. Leman almost single-handedly launched this revival by researching and publishing information about a domestic pastime that had fallen out of vogue since the end of the Great Depression and the onset of World War II. Those who cite other catalysts for the revival do not deny that Mrs. Leman shaped and guided it during subsequent decades. Her name will forever be linked to the history of quilts and their making in this country and abroad.

Mrs. Leman was inducted into the Quilters Hall of Fame in 1982 and was the first “Quilt Treasure” profile completed by the Alliance for American Quilts. In addition, please watch future issues of Quilters Newsletter for forthcoming tributes to our unforgettable founder.

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10 Responses to Bonnie’s Remarkable Legacy

  1. Nancy Mattson says:

    So well said. Bonnie Leman was a treasure to the quilt world who will never be replaced.

  2. Jan Millner says:

    Bonnie came each month in the form of QNM to insist that we be the best quilters we can be no matter whether we were traditional, art or other categories. She brought the highest standards to all of us!

  3. Terri Johnson says:

    Bonnie felt like a Mom to me. I started the magazine in the early 70′s and read it cover to cover – and over and over. Her letter in the front was so like a letter from home. I never knew her, but I loved her all the same as a second mom. Condolences to her family.

  4. Pingback: Bonnie Leman 1926-2010 | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  5. Bernice Spanik says:

    For me, as a new quilter in the 70′s, Bonnie Leman was “quilting” and her magazine was my only guide.

  6. Of all the women I have ever met, Bonnie Leman was far and away the most courageous.

  7. Joan Brown says:

    I started quilting in the 70s and snatched up and treasured every Quilters Newsletter I could get my hands on. The passing of Bonnie Leman is like the passing of Eleanor Roosevelt, or Golda Mair or Margret Mead. What a legacy she has left us!

  8. Vicki N. Patterson says:

    Whenever I start feeling discouraged, I think of Bonnie Leman, who started with what she had – a manual typewriter at her kitchen table – and managed to inspire millions of quilters around the world. She was a shining example of what can be done when you believe in what you are doing. I will always be encouraged by remembering Bonnie Leman and the way she united and inspired the quilting community.

  9. Cathy Solemslie says:

    Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine was the first quilt magazine I subscribed to around 1981-82. I subscribed for many years. I still have many back issues. I learned how to quilt from the many articles. I especially loved the news from around the world. My favorite quilts were the traditional quilt patterns. Please pass on my condolences as well to the family. She made me a fanatic as you can see by my email address.

  10. Erin Haugh says:

    When I started quilting in 1975, there were only 2 books on quilting at my library, and then I found QN!! Have subscribed ever since – the best magazine of all! I felt like I knew Bonnie – she was a visionary – thank you to her family for sharing her with us!

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