Q&A Guest: Muriel Feldshuh
Muriel Feldshuh, Elementary School Classroom and Library Teacher, Early Childhood Board at Books for Kids Foundation, Author/Storyteller, and 2017 Picture Book Champion.
Muriel’s quilts and textile work with Children’s Book Week posters and other children’s book art, as well as her work and dedication to education and the importance of reading for young people is inspiring.
How did you get started with quilting? What called to you about textile work?
As far back as I can remember I enjoyed some form of textile and craftwork. I began knitting when I was very young. My mother was a fabulous knitter. She taught me how to knit and sew very early on. I can’t remember when I didn’t have a project that I was working on. Quilting came to me much later in life. I created my first quilt with children as a teacher when we entered a Women’s History Contest. I was first a classroom teacher then a Library Teacher in an Elementary School in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It was the same one I attended as a youngster. I always incorporated the arts into all the book projects we did. It was a fun way to learn and have children use their imagination. I guess you could say I put the A in STEM long ago and found that STEAM was a more innovative way to learn. Getting back to the quilting…one year the theme for Women’s History was A Patchwork of Women. After each child read a biography about a woman of their choice from history, we culminated the lesson with sharing and each child created a square on muslin fabric using magic markers. It was sewn together using batting and a background, and we had a winning citywide project. It was a huge quilt. We made a follow-up Big Book to go with it. We made lots of large felt banners but that was our first class quilt. When I retired from teaching I joined up with The Books for Kids Foundation first as a volunteer then on their Early Childhood Board and created 15 small library storytelling centers in housing projects in the five boroughs. I was able to be a role model and continue doing lots of book follow-up activities with teachers and students. In 1998, I created my first Literary Quilt tying in my love of Children’s Books and my love of crafting. I reached out to many Children’s Book Illustrators asking them to contribute a square related to reading and twenty-six of them responded. I taught myself how to cut the sashes, select the fabric and create some embellishments. Thus my first quilt, Celebrate Reading with Children’s Book Illustrators, was created…all hand-stitched and embellished by me. It was displayed at The Bank Street School, then the Donnell Library, and even at the Plaza Hotel for one of the Books for Kids Luncheons. It was so exciting. Over the last two decades, I’ve created eight large Literary Quilts with the exquisite squares created by 220 Children’s Book Illustrators and quotes from Children’s Book Authors. The quilts have been exhibited across the United States and have visited sixteen Children’s Museums with outstanding reviews. You can find many of your favorite illustrators and authors on the quilts, many Caldecott and Newbery winners as well as winning other prestigious awards. Each square is a true work of art!
One of the first museums that two of my quilts visited was The Carle. For almost one year, those quilts hung in the entranceway. I was so proud of that experience.
I still continue to create projects that bring joy to learning and try to engage children to do creative follow-ups to some of the books they read. Many of my Poetry Felt Banners have been exhibited at libraries in Brooklyn.
What is your process? How do you create these textile masterpieces?
It takes about a year to create one of these wonderful quilts. They are each huge and the last one I did, Picture Books Are HOT!, containing 35 wonderful art squares is 58” X 80”. It takes time and patience to cut the 10” muslin squares and prepare an envelope for each illustrator or author I invite to be on the quilt. It is a costly project as I also send a stamped self-addressed return envelope along with a letter and instructions. I can tell you that when a return envelope comes to my mailbox I just can’t wait to open it up and view the artwork. Each square is truly amazing!
I send out many invitations because many of the illustrators are working on books and, although they usually respond and let me know they would like to complete the square, they need extra time. The illustrators/authors are remarkable people and their book characters become our friends. I then decide on the design and what color the quilt background will be. I hand stitch the entire quilt which takes time. I have a small framed quote on my desk that says “Sewing mends the soul”…Anonymous. This is true for me. I take photos and then can work on where I will exhibit the quilt. When the exhibit goes to a museum or library I prepare a guest book for people to sign. I love reading the comments when my exhibit is returned to me.
Which is your favorite literary-related place in the world?
Living in Brooklyn, N.Y. I have found it easy to get into the city to see many wonderful book exhibits over the years. I’ve visited The Morgan Library and Museum many times to see their book exhibits and have enjoyed them. I also enjoyed many book exhibits at The 42nd Street Public Library and the Central Library in Brooklyn. The exhibits at The NY Historical Society are done so well too. Every time they have an exhibit featuring one of my favorite children’s book authors/illustrators I have tried to go and see those exhibits. Of course, I am in awe of the wonderful Exhibits at The Carle, NCCIL, and the Arne Nixon Library. I can view the virtually. My quilts have been on exhibit at these three wonderful places.
CBW’s theme is Reading is a Superpower. What is your superpower or the one you wish you had?
Reading is a Superpower! I think that my Superpower is now, and has been throughout my life, being able to be a GOOD ROLE MODEL for children, teachers, and parents that I come in contact with and have had the pleasure of interacting with. It has helped me reach out and guide so many youngsters. The joy I get today hearing from former students who are raising their own children and sharing their stories and what they remember from the many projects they did with me in the school library really delights me. Being a good role model is my superpower and I hope I can continue this for years to come.
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