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 busy when 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, 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 independence, hard work, self-reliance, the law of the harvest, and self-confidence in a new environment.

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.

Family tree

The Gunther family-tree quilt is truly a linking of generations. Paul and Lynda, pictured in the ovals, were married in the Salt Lake Temple (top right) in 1966. Their eight children’s names wrap around the trunk of the tree. The acorns contain the signatures of Lynda and Paul’s siblings and their spouses. The branches of the tree represent the Gunthers’ ancestors. Lynda quilted their ancestors’ signatures onto the quilt, or if signatures were not available, she printed their names. The houses bordering the tree are representations of the places Lynda and Paul have lived.

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.

“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.”

Quilts photographed by Craig Dimond

Photography by Brian K. Kelly

Lynda Gunther says of her quilts, “All are experimental—not perfect.”

For her quilt, Janelle, the oldest child, selected pictures she had drawn of her family, their neighborhood, their home, and a nearby playground. She also included notes she wrote to her mother and a math problem she worked on at age six.

The youngest child, Jesse, age seven, traces her artwork onto fabric as she and her mother begin working on her quilt.

Lynda and her children assemble artwork for a quilt in their New York apartment.

Below, left: A young scientist, Justus, the seventh child, selected his drawings of spaceships, a dragon, a castle with a shark-infested moat, and a self-portrait for his quilt. Below, middle: Jansen, the sixth child, included on his black-and-white quilt a carnival and pirate ship as well as depictions of scripture stories and of Joseph Smith. Below, right: Jordan’s quilt, which Lynda framed in plaid fabric for her second child, includes a very detailed drawing of the pulpit of the Manhattan chapel, probably the result of an observant boy sitting week after week on the front row.

Jenessa, the third child, featured her favorite blue dress on her quilt. Her artwork appears to be displayed on the wall behind her, an arrangement influenced by the family’s trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Right: Julia, the fifth child, appears to be sewing her quilt. Far right: Jilenne, the fourth child, appears to be sleeping in a bed strewn with her own artwork.

The details on this quilt, which the children get to use during the week of their birthdays, all represent stories that are important to the Gunther family. The chicken represents a story about Great-grandmother Gunther, whose childhood job was to get up early to feed the chickens. The quilt also includes Jonah and the whale, a favorite scripture story; the Salt Lake Temple, where Paul and Lynda were married; and an envelope from Paul’s mission in Germany.