Yvonne Porcella: A Remembrance

As many quilters already know, art quilt pioneer and member of the Quilters Hall of Fame Yvonne Porcella died on February 12 after fighting cancer for six years. In addition to obituaries in local newspapers the Modesto Bee and the Calaveras Enterprise, Yvonne has been eulogized by many leaders in the quilt world, among them Quilts, Inc., the Quilt AlliancePokey Bolton and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), which she founded in 1989.

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Yvonne Porcella photographed on May 12, 2013, which was both Mother’s Day and her 77th birthday

Prior to International Quilt Market 2014, I must confess that I didn’t know much about Yvonne’s work. Yes, I definitely knew her name and had read her bio in my desk copy of The Quilters Hall of Fame honoree book, to which I refer often. But I didn’t have a true sense of her art or of her impact on the quilt world.

That changed in Houston, and I have Victoria Findlay Wolfe to thank for it.

I had set up a coffee meeting with Victoria, with whom I was working via email on an article for our Best Tradition with a Twist Quilts 2015 special issue. During our conversation the topic moved to Yvonne, who was at Market to promote her self-published memoir.

“Have you met her?” Victoria asked.

“No,” I replied.

“You have to,” Victoria said. She went on to tell me about Yvonne’s zest for life and amazing attitude, particularly in light of the fact that she was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer and was getting around the convention center on a motorized scooter. She practically made me promise I would visit the Mistyfuse booth, which was Yvonne’s home base during the show.

When I did have a few minutes to swing by the Mistyfuse booth, Yvonne wasn’t there. So I made a mental note to try again, even though I really had no idea what I’d say to her in person aside from, “Uh, Victoria sent me. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

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“Go Tell It at the Quilt Show!” interview with Yvonne Porcella at 2014 International Quilt Festival in Houston. Photo from Quilt Alliance.

It might have been later that afternoon when I was taking some time between appointments to look at the quilts on display that I found myself in a long aisle that displayed a retrospective of her work, quilt after quilt of exuberant, saturated, unapologetic color and pattern. I glanced down the aisle and what did I see but a small woman wearing a hat and glasses, rolling toward me on a motorized scooter.

“Excuse me, are you Yvonne Porcella?” I asked. She was, of course, so I introduced myself as being from Quilters Newsletter, and we proceeded to talk for about a half-hour I believe. She pointed out details on some of her quilts, told me about her memoir, and even interrupted herself to point out a fabric she’d designed a few years prior that had been used in a quilt by someone else hanging on the wall behind me.

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detail of Fiesta in Fabric by Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli; the striped inner border and binding were made with a print designed by Yvonne Porcella

A couple of times during our conversation I marveled at the serendipity of it all, to be standing there having a private conversation with such an influential artist and major player in this industry surrounded by her work. And she was so nice and gracious on top of it all. Being from QN might have raised my profile in her eyes, but I have no doubt she would have taken as much time with anyone who had happened to meet her in the same way.

I also found that Victoria’s description of her was spot-on; she was so full of energy, so full of spirit, despite the fact that most of us in those circumstances would have felt fairly wretched. If she felt under the weather, she never let on. It was all about the quilts, and to be honest, the business of quilts, as that’s what Market is for. We discussed the possibility of excerpting her memoir in QN, which we ended up doing in our August/September 2015 issue. I was very happy to be the assigned editor for that feature.

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We closed the article with an excerpt from the final page in her book, titled “Gratitude,” which perfectly encapsulates the energy she projected in life, in her books and through her quilts.

I have enjoyed a life of travel to exotic destinations, meeting extraordinary people, experiencing more joys than sorrows. After reading this book I hope you understand how I work and Why. … I am forever grateful to those who made it possible for me to live life to the fullest.

To learn more about Yvonne Porcella and to see a gallery of her work, visit her website at www.yvonneporcella.com. Her memoir is available through her website.

As always, to find out about Quilters Newsletter’s giveaways, quilting news, tips, techniques and more, visit us on Facebook,  Twitter,  Google+,  Pinterest,  Instagram,  YouTube,   QNNtv.com and our website. Plus, see  Web Seminars on  QuiltAndSewShop.com and classes, courses and workshops on  Craft Daily.com and  CraftOnlineUniversity.com.

About Mary Kate Karr-Petras

Mary Kate is an associate editor at Quilters Newsletter. If you ask her what type of quilter she considers herself, she'll answer, "Slow." Favorite techniques include hand quilting, both traditional and big stitch, but she also loves her walking foot and keeps meaning to get better acquainted with her open-toe embroidery foot.
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