Denton master quilter Barbara McCraw didn’t travel to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the World Quilt Competition XXIII.
“I wasn’t expecting to win anything,” McCraw said at her home studio in Denton.
The quilt she’d submitted to the international competition, Family Reunion, ended up winning the Best of Show title and a cash prize of $2,000.
“Ernie came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got to come look at something,’” said McCraw, a retired teacher and pathologist. Ernie McCraw, her husband, fields emails for his wife — who prefers to spend her time designing and sewing and not on the computer. The McCraws read the email together.
“I saw my name as the winner, and then I saw that I beat Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry. She’s a major person in the quilting world. I couldn’t believe it,” McCraw said. “I was like ‘I’m so sorry!’ No, I’ve admired her work for years.”
Family Reunion depicts McCraw’s relatives — an African American family with roots that run deep and cross an ocean. She started the quilt in 2014 and finished it in 2017. The hand-appliqued quilt tells the story of her family in 12 blocks.
The center medallion depicts her grandparents Peggy and Bill Banks on their wedding day. The couple was wed at Oakdale Plantation in Louisiana. The remaining 11 blocks depict or symbolize McCraw’s family. A black butterfly references Irish, Celtic and African folklore that claim black butterflies represent the souls of the dead.
Another block depicts a vase of roses, with the names of her six siblings stitched on the leaves. Other blocks show images of her family — her maternal grandparents; a trio of cotton sharecroppers — with flags representing the countries identified by a DNA test: Great Britain, Nigeria, Ireland and the United States.
A particularly precious block shows the silhouette of her two sons, Kenny and Joseph. And there is a block dedicated to her marriage to Ernie McCraw, who is white. The quilt also honors her mother, her father and her granddaughter.
Barbara McCraw’s quilt is full of intention. The stitches, the fabric, the colors and the textures harmonize in a sort of sermon about family.
“A lot of family issues I had, I solved with that quilt. There was a lot of bad with my family,” she said. “But there was so much good. And with every block, like with my brother and sister’s blocks, I solved those issues. My brother and sister were both alcoholics, but after I finished those blocks, that was healed. It was really a healing piece.”
The same quilt was part of the solo exhibit McCraw had in the Greater Denton Arts Council’s Gough Gallery last year. The smaller of two dedicated gallery spaces at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center was lined with her handiwork. In that solo show, McCraw’s quilts ranged in topics from personal stories to quilts depicting iconic figures like the Obamas, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
McCraw’s pieces are in numerous collections including the Smithsonian, the Denton County African American Museum, the county’s Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum, the University of Michigan and North Carolina Central University.
This is the first international Best of Show award she’s won. The World Quilt Competition has sent Family Reunion and the other winning quilts on a tour to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza and the Pacific International in California this month. Typically, the Best of Show winner is then given to the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. However, the McCraws decided to keep Family Reunion.
“Oh, we couldn’t give that quilt away,” Ernie McCraw said. “It’s too special to us to let go of.”
Family Reunion was one of more than 200 quilts that made it into the juried World Quilt Competition. Entries included quilts from Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Barbara McCraw is currently working on several quilts.
“I think everything I do is part of a continuum,” she said. “I have a dream or a thought, and I have to do it. Put it in a quilt. ... When I work on a quilt, I think. I pray. It’s a way of working through things. I don’t know that I’ll make another quilt about my family quite like this. But everything I do is part of a continuum.