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Fiber Feminist

Photo: Watamura

BRIGHT IDEAS: Laury at work.

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By Wendy Jalonen Fawthrop, '78

In the rolling fields of America's heartland, many people see tradition. Iowa native Jean Ray Laury saw the vibrancy of life and depicted it in quilts that evolved into contemporary art in her hands. She wrote books that taught how to make fiber art and advised women to take over the dining room table to do so.

Laury, MA '56, died March 2 of respiratory illness in Clovis, Calif. She was 82.

Jean Ray was an art and English major at the University of Northern Iowa, where she met her future husband, Frank Laury. They entered grad school at Stanford, where art professor Matt Kahn helped shape Jean's vision. Her first fiber project, "Tom's Quilt," depicted the life of her 2-year-old son—with dozens of appliquéd images including a toy train and an ice cream cone. The quilt hung at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, caught the eye of a magazine editor who hired Laury as a columnist, and helped establish her as a leader of a '60s and '70s quilting renaissance. Laury's 30 books include Applique Stitchery, The Creative Woman's Getting-It-All-Together at Home Handbook and Sunbonnet Sue Goes to the Quilt Show.

"She was inspired by her appreciation of nature," daughter Lizabeth Laury says, "but also by her immediate surroundings—a kitchen, a window—and such a keen support of women, women's work, their need to express themselves, their frustration with that and their need to set themselves free." She wasn't happy unless she had a project, but her domesticity hid a rebelliousness. "She really had a streak of fire in there."

The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles mounted a retrospective of Laury's work in 2004. Jane Przybysz, executive director at the time, says Laury "made artwork that was determinedly accessible. . . . And she was a prolific writer and lecturer whose pointed sense of humor was informed by a keen feminist sensibility that she was always looking to share." Both were reflected in such works as "The Housewife's Fantasy #6"—in which a winged, wineglass-holding woman floats above an ironing board.

Survivors include her husband, Frank, MA '56; two children; and two granddaughters.

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