Story and photos by Jondi Gumz
Once you’ve seen Rachel Clark’s beautiful, vibrant, one-of-a-kind coats, your first question might be, can I order one for myself?
Unfortunately not now – because she has a book deal and a deadline to meet.
The next best option is to hear her talk about her passion in life 2022 Pajaro Valley Quilt Association Exhibitionreturning to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday, February 26th and 27th, with the theme “Good Vibrations”.
Clark, the featured artist, will be doing a fashion show on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Clark, a longtime Watsonville resident, had packed suitcases full of her colorful coats and had traveled and lectured.
After Covid arrived two years ago that stopped.
So Clark, 75, has proven she’s unstoppable.
She learned how to give presentations using PowerPoint over Zoom, with her granddaughter Vittoria providing technical assistance.
Over on Zoom, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Clark has given each coat a name – an adorable name written on the garment.
Like “Just another black girl having too much fun”.
The pattern: A little girl sliding down a watermelon – and having fun.
You might want to linger over a print like watermelons – one of her favorites – or marvel at a silky soft lining or the vibrant patterns. This is only personal.
As an optimist, Clark looked on the bright side: She was able to PowerPoint more pieces, some of her favorites – like the blues – the ones she couldn’t fit in the suitcases.
Showgoers will see a collection that shows how her style has evolved – some inspired by African wax tie-dye fabrics – becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Clark grew up in Tallulah, Louisiana.
She learned to quilt when she was young from the elders in her family.
Her early works show fields, pigs – and cakes.
An inspiration: Anna Williams Jones from Baton Rouge. An African American housewife passionate about quilting, she began using leftover fabric to create masterpieces. She died in 2010, but Clark stuck her autograph on the back of a quilt that hangs in her living room.
Another inspiration: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who spoke at UC Santa Cruz about 30 years ago.
Clark still remembers her message: “Free to be me.”
She met her husband Gary in Los Angeles when they both worked in the insurance industry; They married in 1968. He transitioned into teaching, into special education, and two years later his work brought her to Santa Cruz County.
In Watsonville, she was a stay-at-home mom to son Kincy and took up sewing again.
She and Gary spent some time in Germany. He taught at an American school. She learned to knit and crochet. Eventually she taught quilting.
After 22 years of marriage, Gary died in 1990.
Again, Clark looks on the bright side. Of course she misses him, but as a widow she has had time to devote herself to quilting and creating her coats in many colors.
She took lessons and found that she knew more than the teacher. When she took a class to learn a new technique, she would inevitably ask, What can I do with it?
Her granddaughter Vittoria is 18 and grandson Sanders is 17, but when they were young “they were in my sewing room,” Clark said.
They learned about scissors, needles and pins — “none of which was put away,” she added.
For Clark, who is tall, her brilliantly patterned coats over a monochromatic gold top and trousers give her a regal look. And she wears a fedora with ease.
As for the book, she said, “It was on my bucket list.”
With more years behind her than ahead, she wondered what to do with her sleek and eye-catching collection—and not burden her son, who retired from the US Army after 28 years as a lieutenant colonel. (He’s now at a startup in San Francisco.)
She plans to give something to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at San Jose State University in San Jose, where her work is part of an exhibit being hosted by the Africana, Asian American, Chicano, and Native American Studies Center through March 19.
She wanted to share what she knows – hence the book suggestion.
With that, it was accepted: “I did a merry dance to full of panic,” she said.
Her expertise lies in design, she said, not in writing, not in photography.
As an optimist, she leads the way. She will find out.
Look for this book in 2023.
The 2022 Quilt Show follows government guidelines that require participants over the age of 18 to present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test prior to entry. The security staff of the exhibition center will check this. Masks are compulsory indoors. Admission is $10. Opening times are 10-5 Saturday and 10-4 Sunday.
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