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.