I hadn’t planned on writing a book. My Tribute to Celia Thaxter was to be just a quilt, a quilt that told the story. But I was urged by many who saw my quilt to tell the story behind it, to tell of Celia Thaxter’s life and garden and the peace and beauty of nature that I felt through Celia’s own words and her flowers.

    This book is the story of that quilt, why it was made, how it was made, and for whom it was made. The quilt tells the story of Celia Thaxter’s life, (1835 – 1894) and her treasured island garden. Although Celia lived over 100 years ago, her legend and lore have not died. Her thoughts, her words, her poetry, and her garden still live on.

    I have tried to capture the essence of Celia in a quilt that depicts her life and her garden, and to share her again with the world through her words and flowers. Techniques and patterns for many of the flowers in the quilt will enable the readers who quilt to re-create these with their own hands. Also included are Celia’s poetry, prose, garden wisdom, and her life as made known to us through the many letters she wrote to her family and friends.

    The actual making of this quilt is also quite a story. I kept a sketch book/journal of its progress from its conception to its completion. Many strange events contributed to the making of this quilt. It’s almost as if Celia herself were helping.

    The retelling of Celia’s story in the form of a quilt was influenced by three events in my life. The first was the gift of An Island Garden written by Celia Thaxter. This birthday present from a very special friend in the early 1980’s was the perfect gift for gardening inspiration and 10 years later, for Celia’s quilt.

    The second event occurred in August 1992. I was spending my first week on the Isles of Shoals, Star Island, as part of a conference, LIFE ON A STAR I, sponsored by the Unitarian/Universal Church and I was teaching Celia’s Bouquet as a five day quilting class to the conferees. This miniature appliquéd wall hanging of dimensional blooms was inspired by Celia’s An Island Garden book. I had been assigned a sleeping room under the eaves on the third floor of cottage A. I soon found out that this was Celia’s brother Oscar Laighton’s room during his retirement years on Star Island.

    Oscar was the last old man of the Isles of Shoals and lived to be ninety-nine years and nine months old. Since I was sleeping in his room, I became very interested in finding out more about Celia’s brother. I purchased his book Ninety Years on the Isles of Shoals at the island book shop and read it as soon as I arrived home.

    Near the end of the book, I read the brief paragraph Oscar devoted to Celia’s death. One sentence jumped out at me and touched my heart: “As I saw Celia lying there, the thought came to me that surely anyone so gifted and beloved could not be lost forever.”1

    I answered (to myself...and to Oscar) that she is not lost! Celia’s spirit has never really died in the seacoast area of New Hampshire and southern Maine. Through her books, her poetry, her painted china, her garden, she is still here.

    The third event occurred several months later when C&T Publishing Company announced their Baltimore Album Revival Contest in the fall of 1992. This contest was based on the series of books, Baltimore Beauties and Beyond, written by Elly Sienkiewicz. There would be three categories in this contest. The first was “Revival of a Classic Style”; the second, “Beautifully Innovative”; and the third “Reflective of Particular Lives and Times.” I knew as soon as I read the third category that I would enter the contest and make my Baltimore Album quilt as a tribute to Celia Thaxter.

    Many strange events and unusual coincidences occurred while I was making this quilt. For example, I started sewing the blocks on the first day of spring, March 21, and finished the completed top on Celia’s birthday, June 29. I hadn’t planned this coincidence; it was just the way it happened.

    At times it was almost as if Celia herself were helping me. Whenever I was unsure as to my next step in the quilt’s construction, I would relax and reread Celia’s An Island Garden book or look at photographs in Childe Hassam: An Island Garden Revisited, by David Curry Park. Before too long a solution to the problem would present itself and I would then execute it in cloth.

    August 26, 1994, was the 100th anniversary of Celia’s death. By my making this quilt and retelling her story in various classes and lectures across the country, her story is again being told. She had a gift with words. Many of the explanations and descriptions in the book are Celia’s own because her words are so eloquent. Only two of her books are available today, An Island Garden and Among the Isles of Shoals (reissued on the 100th anniversary of her death, 1994).

    Celia’s words and flowers gave many moments of joy and comfort to her family and friends over one hundred years ago. Through the quilt and this book, I hope her words and flowers will continue to give comfort and inspiration for the next hundred years.

    In my journal, I recorded inspirations for blocks – and the possibilities, problems, questions that my reading and thinking brought to mind. My journal became my project confidant. Slowly the design for A TRIBUTE TO CELIA THAXTER (1835 – 1894) emerged.

Journal Notes – The Beginning….

January 1, 1993

Intense border of Celia’s flowers! Sky blue background, five-block set on point.

I had recently finished a commission quilt and liked its set of five blocks on point. This set became my starting point for the design of my quilt. I would surround the blocks with a border of Baltimore flowers. As I got into the actual design process, I became intrigued with a photograph and painting which viewed Celia’s garden through an arch of flowers. I tried to incorporate that arch design into the border.

I spent every free moment I had reading and rereading Celia’s An Island Garden book and other books about her life and island for inspiration. Inspirations for blocks came fast and furious. I kept a journal beginning on January 1, 1993, of these inspirations (quotes, descriptions, etc.) for potential block designs.

Soon I had enough potential blocks for three quilts, but had to limit myself to one quilt’s worth, for the moment. At first I thought about setting the blocks with a sashing of vines between the blocks. This changed to simply blocks without sashing, because I wanted the blocks to stay as a unified area. The five blocks on point needed filler blocks to square off the set. Quarter corner blocks and half blocks were incorporated into the design. I now had thirteen possible sites to tell Celia’s story.

January 26, 1993

Have come up with a basic plan. The border will be the most dynamic part of the quilt. Besides being filled with flowers, it will have banners of poetry and cameos of people, etc... Filler triangles?... Separate border with fence detail?... Width?