Astounding Alphabets

Alphabet Throne,” sculpture by Sarah Peters, Falmouth, Massachusetts

Outside a Massachusetts bookstore is an alphabet chair, a touchable (and  sittable) sculpture by Falmouth artist Sarah Peters.

On the same lucky date my younger brother had picked for his wedding–7/11–I visited this bookstore and touched the burnished bronze letters warmed by intense summer sun. An author friend seemingly similarly fixated (but in a much more literary way than I) on memory was speaking about her book of love and loss, The Summer of Letting Go.

The alphabet chair contains its own puzzle: a viewer soon notices that each conjoined letter is imprinted with the texture of something that begins with the corresponding letter: “b” is for button, “n” is for net, “s” is for seashell, “y” is for yarn. . . .

This, too, is an alphabet with an inner puzzle:

January 1516 004
Alphabet Quilt (c) SMG

My own most enduring artistic medium is fabric.  When my children were very young they would develop fanatical devotion to certain books.  Inspired by one of these, Lois Ehlert’s Eating the Alphabet, I made a quilt that reads in rows from left to right as an alphabet of fruits and vegetables.  Some letters of the alphabet have more than one entry (“b” is for beet, broccoli, and blueberries), but it is assuredly an alphabet quilt.

In making it I excavated decades of family memories embedded in fabric scraps.  The grapefruit’s dappled skin is from a Merimekko fabric in the cardboard-boxed scraps my collage artist mother keeps.  Strawberries were culled from a baby jumper I had sewn for my first daughter.  Mushrooms were stuffed with batting behind batik scraps from my friend Sharon’s fabric collection.  It took some effort, and not a few needle punctures to my forefinger, to applique a kiwi from the sturdy tan suede square salvaged from a skirt I bought when I was pre-teen.

(I was flitting around channels a few weeks ago when I caught a glimpse of a room filled with stacked clear boxes of folded fabric.  I thought, “That’s me”. . . . (when I speak only  to myself  I don’t always follow grammatical rules strictly) . . . then wondered why such a sight would merit screen time.  Was it a sewing show?  A quilting show?  I backtracked and discovered the show was called Hoarders.  Mortifying.)

When we moved to the home where we had our fourth child the dining room’s 1805 walls were painted russet, and seemed an ideal background for this quilt.

When guests of all ages had the “quilt tour,” they would often stand and ponder the enigma of what fell between asparagus and zucchini. “X” is particularly difficult to identify.

And when Jim finally came home at the end of his illness to be with his family and friends, this was the quilt that hung in front of his hospital bed.

The bed had taken the place of the antique table where we had hosted countless family gatherings featuring endlessly intriguing–and sometimes infuriating–word games and puzzles.  Thousands of pieces of cardboard puzzles also had been assembled there by Jim and our children.  Jim loved puzzles.

By then the alphabet quilt was surrounded by one of our daughter’s oil paintings, next to photographs taken by our younger daughter-who had not yet been born when I made the quilt–and pictures taken of us by a lifelong friend.  On a table built by another lifelong friend were handmade cards written to Jim, including one just delivered by a young niece. All of it, including the very letters which formed the words on every note and card, was art linked and spun by love.




Author: Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She attended law school near the the banks of the Charles River and loves that dirty water; she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter and @schnitzelpond on Instagram. Bonus points for anyone who understands the Instagram handle. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2023 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with the wee Wordpress buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.

20 thoughts on “Astounding Alphabets”

  1. Another wonderful communication from Stephanie — it’s so grrrreat to keep up with the current and past lovely Glennon family history and events. Beautifully written and pictured (is that a legal word?) Big Hug

  2. So steeped in grounding creativity – “art spun by love” – what we do when we want to feel human and connected. We make; we make meaning. Wonderful post, and I’m so impressed by your quilt!

    1. Thank you! My friends really start to worry about me when I’m not in the mood to make a wedding quilt or a baby quilt. There is little less fun than designing and making a quilt for a new marriage or a new baby.

      1. Yes, indeed and if we used up bits of materials from our mothers and grandmothers! My mother had so much in boxes but I am not a seamstress and didn’t at the time know what to do with it.

  3. Thanks for the stories and the photos of the chair and quilt, Stephanie. I like the way that you personalize these weekly “challenges” into weekly “insights”.

    1. I think that may be my, to put it kindly (as my children do), “non-linear” mind. (I suspect they mean “non-logical” or “non-sequentially sensible,” but they’re good to me.)

  4. I remember that view, and remember fondly going through those old photos together and laughing. Having seen the quilt countless times, I never knew it was an alphabet quilt! I will have to take a closer look!

  5. The quilt is beautiful and must have taken a lot of time and love. When my cousin Katue came back to her parent’s house for the last months of her life she surrounded herself with paintings and pictures that made her smile in those final days. It must have been a comfort.

    1. Our friends and children and sisters-in-law set everything up at home while I battled at the hospital to bring my husband home, as he wished. I think everything he saw there was a comfort to him, and to us because those pictures and paintings brought back such happy memories and were so soothing to be surrounded by.

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