top of page

Remembering... Rebekka Seigel

Master fiber artist and longtime Owen countian Rebekka Seigel passed away June 28, 2023, at the age of 75. Rebekka’s work is forever enshrined in numerous books on contemporary quilt-making and can be found in museums and private collections. In 2018, Sweet Owen Editor Molly Haines Riddle wrote the following profile story for The News-Herald. We reprint it here with the newspaper’s permission and in loving memory of Rebekka.


Rebekka Seigel

BY MOLLY HAINES RIDDLE

Sweet Owen Editor

As a first-time expectant mother some 40 years ago, Rebekka Seigel was unsure of the path ahead of her.

“I thought, ‘What are mothers supposed to do?’ I decided making a quilt was what I was supposed to do,” Seigel recalled.

Seigel, now 69, grew up in Cincinnati playing with her grandmother’s fabrics and watching her quilt and sew. Her grandmother supplied her with a pattern for her first quilt, and she soon realized that quilting could become her creative outlet.

Today, Seigel’s quilts are unlike the traditional patterns of her grandmother’s but instead, reflect her interests over the years and tell the stories of the people and places she admires.

Her work has led to numerous awards and recognition, as well as having her quilt art exhibited in museums across the U.S.


The early years

As a child, Seigel said her grandmother always made needles, thread and fabric available.

“I remember making clothes for my dolls and that kind of thing,” she said. “You used to be able to go to the dime store and buy little dish towels that had images on them you could embroider; I did a lot of that. My mother sewed all of my clothes, too.”

Seigel said she never thought of making a quilt as she grew older. Instead, she enrolled at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where she studied French and sociology.

While in her early 20s, she met pottery artist Greg Seigel and the couple soon married, moving to Owen County in 1974.

“(Greg) didn’t want to make pots in electric kilns,” she recalled. “He wanted to fire with wood and oil, so he wanted to be somewhere to build kilns. You can’t build a kiln next to your neighbor in the city; they don’t like that.”

Greg established his studio in Owen County, and Rebekka took to life in the country.

“I always wanted to live in the country, so it was easy for me to be out of the city,” she said. “I think Owen County is uniquely situated because you’re only an hour from three major cities. If you need a city fix, you can get one pretty quick.”


Finding her niche


From an early age, Rebekka said she loved to sew and create art but lacked any painting skills.

“I didn’t go to school to learn to be a painter, but I did have sewing skills, and I realized that for me, quilting could be a way to tell stories. . . . For an art quilt, I do sit down and make what I call a ‘cartoon’ or a sketch of how I think (the quilt) will look, and then I create a much bigger, true-to-scale drawing of the parts of the quilt. If I’m doing applique, I cut the pieces based on that larger drawing. So, there’s drawing skills involved, but everything is stitched instead of painted.”

Following the birth of her first child, Rebekka began designing quilts of her own, often drawing inspiration from personal interests and the interests of her children.

“I made a whole bunch of quilts about snakes,” she said. “My son loved snakes when he was little. He made me look at every snake book the library had. I never have, nor will I ever be a fan of snakes, but I realized that their form is really interesting, so I wanted to make a quilt that he would enjoy having. I made one for him, and then I just got interested in that shape, their form, that squiggly shape—it seeped into my work for a while.”

When the Statue of Liberty turned 100 in 1986, quilt artists across the U.S. entered a competition to create quilts celebrating the statute. One quilt was chosen to represent each of the 50 states. Rebekka’s quilt won and represented Kentucky at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City.

“That was pretty early in my career,” she said. “That made me stop and think, ‘Oh, I guess people want to see my work.’”

Additionally, Rebekka created “a whole bunch” of quilts about ducks before becoming interested in feminism.

She began a body of work comprising 13 quilts highlighting women’s contributions to society. Titled “Women’s Work,” Rebekka created the quilt in a paper doll format.

“I had this idea that I wanted to tell women’s life stories through paper dolls,” she said. “There’s a lot of women that I admire, and I wanted to tell their story through garments and these quilts. Each quilt is one big quilt, but all these little quilts are attached with Velcro, and each one of them is an outfit that the woman would’ve worn, and you can take them off the quilt and put them on the doll and actually play paper dolls with them.”

The women featured in the body of work include Eleanor Roosevelt, Lucille Ball, Maya Angelou, folk singer Jean Richie and Ella Fitzgerald.

Rebekka created the quilts to market to museums across the U.S., with the exhibit eventually traveling from museum to museum for seven years.

“When producing all these quilts, I had a helper named Carmen Prewitt,” she said. “She was an Owen countian who lived in the New Columbus community and quilted half of the quilts in the ‘Women’s Work’ exhibit. I did the artwork and created the top, but she quilted half of them. She was a wonderful addition and made it possible for me to produce those quilts in the time that I did.”

Once finished with the “Women’s Work” exhibit, she said she had grown tired of handwork and cotton and began experimenting with silk as a medium. She soon created a body of work called her “yo-yo quilts.”

“There’s a little circle that quilt makers make called a ‘yo-yo,’” she explained. “My quilts use the yo-yo more as a design element. Except for making the little yo-yos—the applique, the quilting—everything was done on the sewing machine because I was just tired. That was a development of new skills in my working experience. Up to that point, everything was hand-done, the images were all hand appliquéd, and all the quilts were hand quilted.”


Looking toward the future

Although unsure of how many quilts she has created, Rebekka believes there are at least 100, but not all of her creations can be considered “bed coverings,” as they typically vary in size. “I never thought of my work as bed coverings,” she added.

The last creation she completed for her granddaughter, Rosa, took approximately a year to finish.

“I’m a lot slower than I used to be,” she admits.

Rebekka began working at the Owen County Public Library four years ago, following her husband Greg’s death in 2012. She admits that she’s never quite gotten back into quilting as she once did.

“I don’t know why,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but I enjoy many things other than quilting. The grieving process takes a while, which slowed me down for a bit. I love quilts, and I hope to do more quilts, but if I don’t, that’s OK too.”

In 2000, Rebekka was chosen to create an award for the Kentucky Governor Awards in the Arts recipients. Her work is included in many books on contemporary quilt making and craft, and her quilts are part of the permanent collection of the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort and the Evansville, Indiana, Museum of Art and Science.

Comments


bottom of page