Edna's art and imagination are a hit in China

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

Art takes Edna Patterson-Petty on all sorts of adventures.

Her most recent was a trip to China.

The East St. Louis contemporary quiltmaker represented the United States and Illinois.

"I did 11 workshops," said Edna, 68, whose quilts have been exhibited around the world. "I had four interpreters. They followed me around. An embassy driver picked me up. I didn't have to worry about getting from one place to another."

She was treated like a celebrity, interviewed by newspapers and TV.

What was the highlight?

"Going on the trip, period."

The 10-day tour coincided with a traveling exhibition of American quilts conceived and sponsored by the U.S. Embassy-Beijing and jointly developed and managed by Arts Midwest and South Arts. Chinese clothing company Fujian Septwolves also provided funding.

"The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quilt Makers in 21st Century America" features contemporary quilts from the Midwest, the South and Hawaii. They showcase a range of styles and techniques and give Chinese audiences a way to connect with American culture.

A South Arts representative called Edna in April with an invitation: How would she like to go to China?

"Two years ago, when they asked me to put a quilt in, I never dreamed I would be going," she said.

Edna's quilt, "Out of the Box" was named appropriately. The quilt, 25 by 35 inches, is as far from a rectangular shape as you can get. She used a collage layering technique to create the original design of purple and orange ethnic print fabrics.

Her workshops, "In-To-Me-I-See," continued her out-of-the-box theme. She taught in Beijing and Xi'an, a city two hours away by plane.

"I am real flexible," she said. "When something didn't go the way it was supposed to, I went with the flow.

"In every workshop, everybody created something. They had materials ready. Every kid and adult got a packet that included a 12-by-12 (inch) square of paper. They did gluing with fabric scraps. Kids are the same no matter where you go in the world: They like to have a good time."

Edna, who has liked art since she was a child, has bachelor's and master's degrees in art and art therapy from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The mother and grandmother teaches, lectures and continues to create quilts and mosaics. Her work has been on display near and far, at the St. Louis Art Museum and in Washington, D.C., one of 50 "Quilts for Obama."

Closer to her home, and to her heart, is a Jones Park mosaic project involving East St. Louis children.

Her husband Reggie is her biggest fan. Her daughter Angela Alexander accompanied her to China.

One of Edna's memorable stops there was an English-speaking school in Beijing.

"When I went inside, I was overwhelmed," she said. "There were 40 children sitting in the center. There were three rows behind with parents. In front was a welcome wall. My daughter went with me. She said, 'They have got your art on the wall.' They printed if off from the Internet.

... It was a really good feeling to be welcomed like that."

Edna's busy schedule did allow for a little sightseeing.

"We saw the terra-cotta warriors," she said of the Xi'an sculptures depicting armies of China's first emperor. "You just see so much around, period. Art is everywhere. It's just a part of the culture."

An adult workshop took her up six flights in an apartment building.

"I was out of breath," she said. "We sat around the dining room table. They were so excited about it. In Asian culture, everything is rigid. Connect A to B, that type of thing."

"I said, 'Just let your imagination run wild.' They said I allowed them to play. One group was a professional sewing group. They came to three other workshops. I knew they enjoyed it."

So did Edna.

"It gave me a sense of value in what I do.

"When you do something at home, you don't know if people appreciate you or take you for granted. We didn't speak the same language, but feelings and what we want out of life are the same."

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