A bright light went out in the quilting world this week. Gwendolyn Joy Marston passed away on Wednesday at her home on Beaver Island, Michigan. All around Instagram and Facebook there are messages of grief and photos of her, but I felt a need to do one more blog post about Gwenny. She radiated joy to all who knew her and she loved teaching. Encouraging the younger generation was something she took terribly seriously and I am so lucky that I was able to benefit from this mentoring.
If you would like to make a donation to honor Gwen, here is link to a favorite charity of hers: Oil & Water Don’t Mix.
I was lucky enough to call Gwen a friend and it all came about because of the Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, Oregon. I actually first came to know Gwen’s work when I lived in Hawaii in 2002. The local quilt shop on Maui happened to have a couple of Gwen’s books and I knew I’d found a kindred spirit as soon as I started reading her first Liberated Quiltmaking book.
If you ever see this book, pick it up. It is a treasure and really, more comprehensive than the later books. I remember reading this one over and over in those early years. When we moved to Bend in 2004 I had no idea how having the Stitchin’ Post nearby would change my quilting life. By that time I had taken tentative steps at some liberated quilt projects. Imagine my delight when finding out at that Gwen would be at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show in 2006. I saw her and Freddy Moran give the lecture at the picnic that year. But I didn’t actually meet Gwen until I took my first class with her in 2009. I eventually did finish that first quilt (below) and it’s named A Tribute to Gwen.
Over the years I took every workshop I could with her and met so many great quilting friends that way. Gwen was the most encouraging quilt teacher I ever had and I knew I was on the right track when she was around. After a while we kept up an email correspondence and I was thrilled when she asked to have some of my quilts in two of her books- Minimal Quiltmaking and Free Range Triangle Quilts.
Two friends that I met because of Gwen are Jan and Marion. We first met at a Gwen and Freddy retreat in 2010 and became fast friends. At a later workshop Gwen suggested we three come to the Beaver Island Quilt Retreat in 2013 which was the 30th and final year. We decided to go for it and had the most wonderful time! Even though, by that time, the retreat wasn’t actually on Beaver Island it was so wonderful to see Gwen in her element.
Gwen came to the Stitchin’ Post several times in 2015 and 2016 and I took every workshop she did. Her workshops are always fun, but these were especially sweet as we knew that she was planning to retire and we’d be unlikely to see her again.
In 2016 Gwen was honored by the Modern Quilt Guild with a special exhibit. I made plans to attend mainly to see her exhibit and went with my friend Marion. It was so nice to see Gwen again down in Pasadena. Her exhibit was beautiful and it made me so happy for her work to be introduced to a whole new group of quilters.
I was thrilled to have Gwen there when I won a ribbon at the show. I think she was just as proud as me. It’s totally liberated. Gwen had so many groupies at the show that it was lots of fun. We did a big dinner out and met for lunches on the patio.
Later that year in April, Gwen came to Sisters for her final workshops and a presentation called Gwenny’s Night Out. It was bittersweet knowing she would not be back to teach again.
In April 2016 Gwen presented her last workshops at the Stitchin’ Post and then did a Gwenny’s Night Out with all her friends. Gwenny was well known for her little stories and jokes and we delighted in them all. She talked about her more recent quilts and life on Beaver Island. It was such a fun night.
That April I had my first gallery show at Twigs which is part of the Stitchin’ Post. It will always mean a lot to me that Gwen was there for workshops and took the time to come to the reception. Without her mentorship I may not have been there in the first place. What fun!
The very last workshop Gwen did here was this Free Range Triangles workshop. She kept up her good humor and excellent teaching right through to the end. We all gave her big hugs thinking she’d be back at some point if not to teach, just to see the quilt show or something. Alas, it was the last time I saw her.
We did keep exchanging emails, cards, and letters though and I was terribly saddened to hear of her cancer diagnosis last year. She remained cheerful even when her treatment was clearly debilitating. Gwen went to Ithaca, New York for her treatment and to spend time with her children and grandchildren. It makes me happy to know that she had so much quality time with family at the end. I am also comforted to know that she was finally able to get back to her beloved home on Beaver Island just before she died. I know that place meant the world to her.
I feel like I’ll still be consulting her in my mind over the coming years. I’ll certainly be going back to her books on a regular basis. Most of all I will treasure all the memories of this vibrant, funny, creative lady.