Monday, August 3, 2009

Ami Simms 2008 Favorite Quilting Philanthropist and loving daughter

Is there anyone in the universe who doesn't know Ami Simms?

She (right after Mom and Grandma) influenced my love of quilts and all things fabric. She demonstrates that a quilt is first about love.

Her "Underlying Current" quilt (shown here) gave me goosebumps when I began reading the various blocks. They describe the behaviors that the Alzheimer's Disease brought about in Ami's mother, Beebe Moss. Like many who have seen this quilt, it brought back memories of a loved one. For me, I think of my father, Ben Stump, who battled Alzheimer's for more than ten years.

When it comes to quilting, Ami encouraged alot of us to make our first quilts and her 'Worst Quilt in the World" contest gives us someplace to show them!

Ami provides the answers to questions posted below. And she lets us get to know her and her mother and the charity that grew out of her mother's battle against Alzheimer's Disease. Like Ami's quilts, her fight to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease is all about love.

Get your coffee, kick back, and give a warm welcome to Ami Simms. --Dawn

First introduced to quiltmaking in 1975 while conducting research among the Old Order Amish, Ami is the author of nine quilting books, numerous patterns, and is the creator of the infamous Worst Quilt In The World Contest®. Ami has designed two fabric lines, appeared on five different television shows, and was invited to the White House in 2004 along with other artists who participated in the Art in Embassies program.

Ami is the founder and Executive Director of the
Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative and the curator of "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece." Ami was named Favorite Quilting Philanthropist by Quilters Newsletter in 2008. She blogs and writes a free monthly e-newsletter read by more than 16,000 subscribers. She is the creator of

1. What was your mother like or who was she before the disease?

My mom was one of the most creative women I ever met. She was a potter when I was a kid. We had a kickwheel and a kiln, and she sold her bowls at small art fairs in the Detroit area for several years. She gardened like no other. Her whole hand was green, not just her thumb. She was into orchids big time, and after she retired she traveled all over the world with other "orchid nuts" attending conferences and collecting the plants in the wild. She had a greenhouse and used to rent blooming orchids (they do that infrequently and they look pretty boring the rest of the time) to people whom she couldn't convince to grow their own.

Mom had a loom, she made all her own clothes and most of mine too. She could knit and crochet, loved to read, volunteered with the Art To The Schools program at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and went back to school when she was in her 70's. She went to Clown College---so she could entertain the old people. She designed a line of quilting fabric for Marcus Brothers after that. [See photo of Beebe and some of the images she created for her quilting fabric line below.]

Mom was my best friend. We lived overseas for 3 years, spread out over my growing up years, and as an only kid I was very close to my parents. I hung out with adults a lot. Until my teen years I was probably more comfortable with people four times my own age than I was with my age mates.

Back in the States we were very close with my Mom's side of the family, and for a time my great grand mother lived with us. She and I shared a bedroom. My father passed away in 1984 and when Mom got tired of living by herself the plan had always been that she would move in with Steve and I. Together we had added on an "apartment" for her, but she wanted her independence and refused to move in! Her diagnoses with Alzheimer's in 2001 pushed the issue and she moved in with us later that year.

Mom lived with us for almost four and a half year before I had to move her to an assisted living facility. It was during the last six months or so that the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative was born. Her constant, unrelenting decline was death in slow motion. I had to do something. My skill set being what it was, I did what I knew how to do.

She never grasped what I was doing, but for a time I used to bring the Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts to her at the assisted living place for her to unwrap. She thought they were all beautiful, even when she closely examined the wrong side or the paper they were wrapped in. She loved anything I ever did, no matter what it was and that stayed with her almost up until the end. She was my biggest cheerleader and that is one of the things I miss most about losing her. She was never objective, and that bugged me from time to time; but she loved me to pieces. She passed away in November of 2008 for the most part having forgotten who I was.

2. What quilts have you made for the initiative?

I made my exhibit quilt, "Underlying Current," which I started the day I moved Mom into the assisted living facility. Mine was the last one done, way beyond the deadline and into the "I May Not Make It In Time" zone. As curator, it was very intimidating to see the other quilts before completing mine. I remember that every single thing that could go wrong with my quilt did. I also made 23 Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts and Little Treasures Quilts, but that was mostly at the very beginning of the Initiative. I have very little time for my own quilts as the AAQI takes up an inordinate amount of time. It's the best work I've ever done, but it is work, and there is a lot of it. It seems to never end.

3. Does the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative help you cope with your mother’s and your situation?

Yes, it does. It feels good to know that hundreds of thousands of people have seen the traveling exhibit ("Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece") and been moved by it. It helps to know that quilters all over the country are threading their needles and becoming quilting philanthropists. It helps to know that we are supporting research that some day, hopefully, will end this vile disease.

4. Do you have any high points, exalted moments where you can say, “my quilts made a difference”?

I don't often get to travel with the exhibit, but it does work out some times. I have watched people read my quilts (the background is a chronology of Mom's disease direct printed on fabric) and weep. I have seen them laugh through their tears too. As an artist, seeing someone react to my work as I hoped they would is tremendously gratifying. Multiply that by 51 other quilts in the exhibit and you can understand why I feel drawn to it like a moth to a flame. These quilts are so emotionally painful to look and yet because they make their point directly to the heart, people understand what Alzheimer's is all about when they look at them. For those that don't know about this disease it's a way to appreciate why we're working so hard to end it. Those who are walking this journey with someone they love understand that they are not alone. Seeing the quilts can be cathartic, a vehicle to share their story with their friend, with me, with one of our white glovers. We ask that venues provide tissue. Some don't understand why until they need to give it to someone sobbing in front of a quilt.

5. Do you worry about becoming your mother (I think I can answer that one having watched my father disappear before my eyes and wonder if I was looking at my future).

Of course. It's only natural. If you are actively involved in caring for a relative, or even a friend, with a terminal disease it's not a big step to put yourselves in their shoes. You do that as a good caregiver all day long, trying to anticipate their needs from their point of view. Because we know that Alzheimer's probably has a genetic component, I think it's a given that anyone with a parent or sibling with his disease wonders if they're next. Like many people, as I age I have "become my mother!" Will I get Alzheimer's too? Every misspoken word, every time I forget where I put my purse, I used to wonder. Now that Mom's gone, I wonder a little less because I'm not dealing with her disease every moment. Running the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is, to a great extent, like any other work. It's when I step back and remind myself of the reason behind the work that the fear comes back.

7. Who have become special friends or Samaritans or beloved friends through this effort.

Because of the AAQI I have had a chance to interact with thousands of people touched by this disease who have taken my struggle and made it their own. I have witnessed selflessness and generosity in our supporters which inspires me every single day. My life has become so much richer for knowing them. And, yes, there are some incredibly special people who, through this project, have become confidants, and friends. That is pure bliss.

8. What kind of quilts do you need?

We always need Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts.
These little 9" x 12" quilts account for more than half of the $300,000 we have raised so far. From the quilts we receive (more than 4,000 have been donated) I select those that I think will bring in the most money and auction them during the first 10 days of every month. We only have room for 26 quilts each month, so the rest are priced and offered for sale at quilting venues, most importantly at Houston's International Quilt Festival each October.

The Priority: Alzheimer's Quilts are also the pool of quilts from which the quilts for the next traveling exhibit will be selected.

9. How can one participate?
Visit our web site and read the "rules" to make a Priority: Alzheimer's Quilt.

Sign up for the AAQI Update and help (as much or as little as you want) with other things like printing flyers, and sharing information with your friends.

10. How’s the traveling exhibit doing? Where is it now, where is it headed?

"Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece will be hosted by the Mountain Top Quilters at their show in Prescott, Arizona on August 14 and 15. I'll be there for a lecture on the 15th which is open to the public. Check out the traveling schedule.

The quilts will stop traveling at the end of 2010, but there are still a few openings to book the exhibit early in 2010. Most of the quilts will be returned to their makers; however several have asked that I auction their quilts to raise more money for research. Our new exhibit, "Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope" will begin traveling in January of 2011.

11. And what are you quilting right now? What do you do when not involved with AAQI?

My quilting time is pathetically non-existent, however I am trying to find time to work on a new pattern called Dancing Spools. When I'm not involved with the AAQI I basically eat and sleep. My life right now is terribly out of balance. As soon as I get some time, I'm going to try and fix that. Yeah, right.

Note: Ami has also made more than 200 quilts, and perhaps unrelated, has a quirky sense of humor that always makes me smile. Check out her blog for a laugh and maybe even a tear, but always a surprise. And if you aren't familiar with her 'rag fur', it too is worth a look!

[Copyright 2009. All materials on this blog are copyrighted.]


The Calico Cat said...

Great interview!

Mary Williams said...

What a truly amazing woman Ami is! She turned heartbreak into such a wonderful project.

Unknown said...

Bravo, Dawn. And Godspeed to Ami as she continues to do good things in the world.

Unknown said...

Bravo, Dawn. And Godspeed to Ami as she continues to do good things in the world.

Nina Lise@Mrs Moen said...

What a great interview with such a amazing person!