I was born in Chicago, grew up in L.A., and in 1956 at 18 I took the Kuder vocational guidance test which resulted in 3 options for me: nursing, teaching and social work. In 1963 I graduated from Antioch College and received my Masters in Social Work at UC Berkeley. My husband and I live in Southern and West Marin, have two sons, and now are enjoying the “fruits of our labor” with 6 delightful grandchildren and amazing grown sons and their very special wives.
The crushing of any of my artistic aspirations occurred in first grade, when the teacher assigned the class to draw a tree. I did poorly and the teacher decreed that I’d never be an artist.
In retrospect it appeared that I worked around her pronouncement by concentrating on craft projects, most of which required a significant amount of obsessive determination and was usually pattern based. My first quilt workshop occurred when we were on vacation on the Big Island in Hawaii. An embroidered red anthurium was surrounded with the traditional Hawaiian echo quilting consisting of very small running hand stitches 1/8 inch apart surrounding the flower and totally filling the white background fabric.
This felt way too boring even for compulsive me, and motivated the beginning of several years of beginning quilt classes on my return to Marin. Many traditional quilts resulted, the largest early one originating from a very small quilt for our dining room wall, but before it was completed we changed the room’s paint color and I innocently assumed that the quilt could be expanded to fit our king-size bed. That hand-quilting required years, and exasperated I installed the unfinished quilt atop the blanket on our bed and was determined to complete the quilting every night before falling asleep. My husband told everyone that when he turned over in bed he would be stuck by pins (not true). There were a few original quilts that emerged in those years, some that you will see this evening, but not until I retired from my 30 year clinical social work career in 1993 did I indulge my yearning to learn to quilt by machine rather than by hand, to work with more deeply saturated colors, and concentrate on art quilts (which were then distinguished by the title “wall quilts”. )
In 2010 I joined Marin Experience Corps, now AARP Experience Corps, where volunteer seniors 50 and over tutor school children grades K-3 from low income families . My first 8 years took place in a school with 98% of the children classified as “English language learners”. Their families are mostly Hispanic and live in the crowded Canal area of San Rafael. The local elementary school in the Canal is full, so the children are bused to San Pedro school in another part of San Rafael.
In addition to tutoring, I made several quilts with the children, and one I’ll describe you can view in my on-line gallery. The first grade teacher, concerned that the students had very little awareness of their own neighborhood, designed a social studies map project with very large brown paper on the floor, including Canal neighborhood streets, each child’s home, the local grocery story, medical clinic, Pickleweed Park, and Canal Alliance, the agency serving local families. When the floor project was complete the children reacted with such excitement and joy, one boy shouting “It’s about us!”, and I realized that this new experience of an essentially hidden minority population suddenly took the place of most of their experience of the more traditional school curriculum. That’s when I decided to replicate the floor project with the “Canal Quilt”, created with the children, temporarily placed at Canal Alliance and now back home at their school.
I have followed in my parents’ long commitment of social action, volunteering, serving on some boards, and supporting non-profits in both of our communities. Now in my 80’s, I attempt to balance my “giving back” and to continue as a quilt artist.
Artist Reception with Sydne Bortel
This virtual event will feature a conversation with the artist discussing several pieces, followed by a Q&A session. Registration required; register via Eventbrite. This event is free; donations are encouraged. To donate, please visit our donation page here and mention this event by name in the comments section.
Art Sales: Sydne will be selling cards with images of her quilts. If you are interested in purchasing cards, please contact Sydne at email@example.com for more details. A portion of sales proceeds will benefit the Dance Palace.