Voices in Cloth 

By Joan Sextro

EBHQ will present its 13th biennial exhibition entitled “Voices in Cloth” at Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, in 2016. Voices began in 1991; the following reminiscences are from several past event chairs and key volunteers, explaining how the event started and how it evolved to what it is today.
Another lovely placement of garment with quilt.


Edy Brady begins the story for us. She attended the very first planning meeting at Marge Fudenna’s house in the Oakland Hills. Everyone was really excited about the idea, and participants left the meeting with to-do lists. It was the night before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake–not an auspicious start to what would become a rewarding 20+ year ride for EBHQ.

Voices emerged out of two very successful symposiums at Mills College (1982 and 1988). The year or two before, the San Diego guild had sponsored the first Visions in Cloth, which influenced the naming of Voices in Cloth. Jan Allen and Kris Volker were co-chairs for the first Voices event.

Mabry Benson, a charter member of EBHQ, was involved in Voices from its inception. She reminds us that the original concept was a show in which every member who wanted to show his or her work would have a place; the entries were not juried or judged. The initial idea was to have the income from the vendors cover the rental of the hall.

There were many firsts that came out of the 1991 show. Held at the Oakland Convention Center, it filled the entire space and lasted three days, from Friday to Sunday. Friday’s focus was to bring school children to the show. Organized by Lynn Richards and Gwyn McMillan, over 500 children visited the show that day.

Quilt display frames were purchased out of the proceeds of the symposiums, with the total expenditure in the range of $40,000 dollars. Edy, who served as volunteer coordinator, said 125 volunteers offered to help and all 125 actually showed up! Activities included a live auction with a professional auctioneer, which turned out to be a very expensive “experiment.” Because the show was over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, a “Dare to be Green” contest was held, which created blocks that would be donated to the Children’s Quilt Project. Also, an extensive catalog was published, which included the descriptions of each quilt (these are now hung with each quilt). 194 member quilts were shown. A fashion show was presented as well. Black and white photos of the quilts were published in a subsequent issue of the Friendship Knot.

Jennie Alexich reminisced that this was the first quilt show she had ever attended, and it started her on her quilting journey. At the time, she wasn’t a member, much less a quilter, but she worked in downtown Oakland. She went to Voices on Friday at the urging of a non-quilter colleague who happened to wander into the convention center earlier that day. Jennie was stunned by the contemporary and art quilts. She had no idea that quilts were part of the fiber art world, having
only seen quilts with traditional designs. On her way out of the show, she picked up a brochure for Quilt Surface Design Symposium, organized by Nancy Crow in Columbus, OH. She went to QSDS that summer for a workshop with Susan Shie, and then came back and joined EBHQ. Jennie subsequently was involved in planning and co-chairing several shows.

There was a three-year gap between the first Voices in Cloth and the second show –from 1991 to 1994. It was clear that the event needed to make money, and the lack of a chair was preventing the committee from forming. Part of the problem was finding someone to chair the committee. Edy stepped forward at an EBHQ board meeting, and work began for the 1994 show. For the second show, the guild bought a second set of display frames. Efforts were focused on a silent auction, instead of the live auction, to enable members to sell their quilts. Over 200 quilts, 40 garments, 40 quilts made as classroom projects, and 28 quilts commemorating the Oakland/Berkeley hills Firestorm were shown. Over 40 vendors sold their wares.

According to Edy, by the third show the guild was steadily in the black. The event was reduced to two days and the catalog content was changed to provide only a listing of the quilts in the show. Without being able to remember the exact year, Deanna Davis and Ann Rhode told a fascinating story about a sudden shift in plans. Deanna said, “My most vivid memory as Show Chair was the year I discovered, two weeks before the show, that the Convention Center had only scheduled us for their West Hall instead of both the West and East Halls. None of us knew that the big hall we had used for years could be divided into two spaces. Was I ever surprised to find that we would only have half as much room. Just imagine calling up our VIC committee and saying, “Guess what I just found out today?” Being the wonderful people that they are, everyone pulled together and redesigned everything: quilt layouts, vendor booths, eating spaces, etc. It was amazing...and such a lovely show, that we continued to use the single hall for all our following years at the Convention Center.” Ann added that they tightened up the rows, and it actually made a better use of space.

When Claudia Alldredge and Ann Rhode retired from doing EVERYTHING – from receiving the entry forms, sending acceptances, writing up the entries in the program (Claudia), designing the show, receiving the quilts, transporting the quilts, hanging the show, taking down the show, and finally returning the final quilts (whew) – they divided the job into many smaller jobs by writing manuals for each part of the job, which are still used now.

JoAnn McMahon co-chaired the Voices shows five times–twice with Lynn Crook, once with Gwen McMillan and twice with Jennie Alexich. The number of quilts submitted over the years remained stable. However, many things were changed and upgraded , and Voices in Cloth earned it’s place as Northern California’s premier guild show.

One of the biggest changes occurred in 2012 with our move to the new venue at Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. Cochaired by Jennie Alexich and Diana Berry, the guild took a deep breath and opted for what has turned out to be a fantastic change.

Jennie tells us that moving the show was a daunting proposition. The Convention Center would not give us confirmed dates until 6-12 months out, and we had to have a longer planning cycle that would permit setting dates at least two years in advance. With JoAnn’s help, they set up a site selection committee that included Jane Herlihy, Mabry Benson, Deanna

Davis, Margo Weeks, Jo Magaraci (who was EBHQ president at that time), Giny Dixon, and Suzi Stone. In terms of site costs, Craneway Pavilion was comparable to OCC. The beauty and natural light of the Pavilion were a huge advantage, and Craneway was willing to give us dates two years out! With assistance from Jo Magaraci, Jennie and Diana wrote a Request for Proposals covering show specifications and sent it to both venues in October 2010. The Convention Center’s response was to thank us for our past business and to decline to commit to a timetable before the following summer. Craneway sent a proposal which met all our specifications.

The massive undertaking to move the venue required the planning committee to conduct a complete rethinking of nearly all aspects of the show including; Show Design, Vendors, Special Exhibits, Silent Auction, Publicity, Frame Crew, Volunteers, Quilt and Wearables Acquisition. In addition, there were some new show elements planned from scratch–food

service, an exhibit of quilts and projects from EBHQ workshops, a bed turning of vintage quilts from the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and fabric postcards made by members. The postcards were sold out before the end of the first day! In spite of contending with a major winter storm on set-up day, everyone was thrilled with the outcome, and our

2012 show was one of the most successful in terms of attendance and fund raising. The spectacular facility filled with beautiful quilts bathed in natural light was wonderfully memorable.

Planning for the 2014 show got a boost from the excitement our 2012 show generated. Susan Lambert and Mabry Benson are the co-chairs. Jennie expressed for all of us that one of the most wonderful things about Voices in Cloth is how many EBHQ members are involved in big and small ways. Without broad participation by the membership, it would be impossible to do a show like Voices in Cloth, and it’s truly astounding that it’s all done by volunteer effort.

Voices is a labor of love on many levels. The best “heritage” is that each show is built on those that came before, along with a healthy dose of new energy and creativity.

Contributors – Edy Brady, Deanna Davis, Jennie Alexich, JoAnn McMahon, Ann Rhode, Mabry Benson