Sitting on a bench in New York City’s Central Park, Lynda Gunther takes small stitches in a quilt block while her children climb and slide and swing and run. For nearly 20 years she has been bringing her children to the park and stitching memories and values into bits of fabric.
“When Paul and I first moved to the city we had three small children,” Lynda explains. “Very few members of the Church had attempted to rear families in this city, and most people advised us not to try it. I thought of the small town where I grew up, of the independent and self-reliant women and men, and I wondered if I could bring those values into this new environment. I also wanted my children to be able to spend lots of time outside running and playing—so I began to bring them to the park. Sewing became a way for me to keep busywhen I wasn’t playing with the children and also to deal with my uncertainties about living in the city.”
Lynda tried to incorporate the values of the people she admired into her new life in creative ways. Preserving food became for her a symbol of self-sufficiency, so when she couldn’t get fresh fruits and vegetables in the city to preserve, she made a list of all the things she remembered her mother and grandmothers putting into bottles and made quilt blocks representing many of those things. As she stitched, Lynda created a tribute to her pioneer ancestors and a family history for her children to enjoy. She also taught her family hard work, the law of the harvest, and self-confidence in a new environment.
Justus’s quilt reflects his love of spaceships, dragons, and science. Bottom: Cowboy boots remind the family of their western roots. The top and middle quilt squares (right) are from the quilt of Jenessa, the third child. The bottom quilt square shows bottled foods—a symbol of self-sufficiency for the family.
When the bottle quilt was completed, Lynda began working on a quilt featuring family stories. Other quilts have followed, including a memory quilt for each of her children. The tradition began when Lynda’s oldest child, Janelle, was seven years old. Lynda and Janelle collected Janelle’s best childhood drawings, special notes, and even a math problem and transferred them to blocks of white fabric. Lynda then assembled the blocks and quilted them on her kitchen table. By the time Janelle was baptized, her childhood was preserved in a quilt. Six other quilts, each unique and reflective of the child who helped create it, have followed. Lynda and her youngest daughter, Jesse, are now assembling the artwork for the eighth quilt.
The Gunther family tree quilt includes the names of the Gunther and the Chatfield ancestors, the names of the eight Gunther children, signatures of extended family members, and pictures of family homes.
Lynda encouraged the children to include pictures they imagine their own children would like to see. They have included drawings of family homes; self-portraits; and pictures of family members, favorite classrooms, playgrounds, and even the bus stop. The quilts are displayed on special occasions such as birthdays and other holidays.
Left: Oldest child Janelle’s quilt is made up of pictures of her family, their neighborhood, and their home. She also included notes she wrote to her mother and a math problem she worked at age six. Top right: Four quilt blocks from the quilt of the second child, Jordan, including his self-portrait. Bottom right: A creative representation of Jilenne, the fourth child, sleeping in a bed blanketed with her artwork.
“I would like to be able to write,” Lynda muses, “but that requires a cloistered environment, and I certainly don’t have that living in an apartment with a husband and eight children! I can work on these quilts at the park and at home and still be with my family. I was not trained as an artist, so when I began, I didn’t know what I couldn’t do—I was free to experiment and make my own creations. Some have not been as successful as others, but I like fabrics, and I like to work with them and make beautiful things with them.”
Lynda, surrounded by the fabric, the family, and the city she loves, explains, “This is the way I have recorded my own personal history and the history of my family.”