New England Quilt Museum: Fabric to Magic




18 Shattuck Street

Lowell, Massachusetts

(Closed Monday, Tuesday)


Poor Lowell. It tries hard, but fate has a habit of throwing it curves. It was Jack Kerouac’s stomping grounds, but his Lowell home is a down-on-its-heels double decker that’s still occupied. If you want to see a Kerouac “home” you have to go to Florida; Lowell got only his gravesite and a namesake canal-side park. Wang Computers brought good jobs to the city, but it folded in 1992. Next, Lowell spent a good chunk of money rehabbing LaLacheur Park for the New York-Penn Lowell Spinners franchise and drew well. Then Major League Baseball eliminated its short season affiliates.


Lowell still has its National Historical Park–the nation’s first urban national park–but money has been tight and Congress has been loath to honor the humble New England textile workers whose story it tells. When I visited in June, most of the NPS parking had been eliminated and the lots sold to developers. It’s now a challenge finding on-street parking, not to mention the need to pump coins into meters.


The Lowell National Historical Park is still very much worth visiting, but a different objective brought us the Spindle City: The New England Quilt Museum (NEQM). It’s located within the National Park Visitors Center complex and is the only museum in the Northeast devoted to quiltmakers. My wife Emily is a fine quilter in her own right and has educated me on some of the fine points of producing patchwork blankets, hangings, and coverlets. In her estimation, the NEQM takes things to a different level.


The NEQM is a small facility whose ground floor is largely given over to shop space. Exhibits are upstairs and confined to just a handful of galleries. The works within them change frequently, but if what we saw is any indication the NEQM is worth repeated visits.




The featured needlecrafter on display was Dominique Ehrmann, a French woman who certainly challenges traditional notions of quilting. Much of her work goes from 2-D to 3-D. She is at once a fabric wizard, a storyteller, and a spinner of fantasies. One piece is where quilting meets steampunk, a gigantic work that one shudders to imagine the amount of time it took to assemble. Others begin with flat surfaces but break the plane by spilling over the edges and into what we’d normally see as negative space. Cool stuff.



A few other things caught my eye. I love animals and always like to see how quilters who don’t sculpt like Erdmann does represents them on flat surfaces. Here’s a small sampling: a deer, a fox, and a wolf, the latter of which is stitched onto a Japanese-style jacket. 




I also quite enjoyed the textured surfaces of Marge Tucker and a shimmery strip pattern from Teresa Duryea Wong that put me in mind of what heralded Ghanaian artist El Anatsui does with gold foil he salvages from discarded liquor bottles. Wong uses material, but it creates a similar effect.


Marge Tucker


Teresa Wong



Whenever I can, I like to give a Western Mass plug. Ann Brauer of Shelburne Falls caught my eye with her vibrant reds and oranges slashed with blue, yellows, greens, and a tiny bit of white. The combo really makes the printed material stick out.


Ann Brauer


When you visit, these pieces will probably have been replaced with others, but I’m sure there will other things that captivate. Get up close to observe the stitching, the precision, and the passion that goes into each work. You simply cannot walk away and think of it as anything less than art.


Rob Weir


Micahel Kiel Cash: August 2022 Artist of the Month



Michael Kiel Cash

Shores of Mercy 




Not many singers list their inspirations as Emily Dickinson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Rumi, Townes Van Zandt, and Walt Whitman. Michael Kiel Cash is an eclectic musician whose style is a mix of poetic imagery, original songs, and tradition. He is mainly a guitar player, but he also dabbles on a Hammond B3 organ, the lute-like Mesopotamian tanbur, and an Armenian bowed instrument called a kemenche. If all of that isn't enough, he also brings to the table a variety of musical styles ranging from country blues, soul, folk balladry, and even a choral piece: “Hymn of theHarvest” That one comes out of nowhere, but what a glorious surprise.


On Shores of Mercy, Cash also fronts a very fine studio band that adorns his songs with fiddle, penny whistles, bouzouki, mandolin, and numerous other instruments. You can hear a homemade live solo rendition of the title track that features a sweet little picking pattern to go with a love song, but Cash shows even more range when he slips into band mode. There is the twangy “Flood of Springtime Dreams,” a song about all the things he thinks of that drift away in the vernal wash that comes after a long winter, but check out the Cajun-meets-gravely-Jimmy Buffett vibe to the upbeat “Lyin’ with My Baby.” He is equally adroit with several acoustic blues selections. Try “Hoophead’s Country Blues” to get a sense of that persona; it’s complete with some mouth harp, of course.


There’s also the infectious “Muscadine Wine,” that’s infused with splashes of country, folk, gospel, and old-time music punctuated by some heavy acoustic guitar bass lines. He even gets soulful on “Heart of the Mountain” and is backed by some Motown-like singers. It’s an unusual choice for a song set far from urban streets and whose thesis is that city love will rub you raw, which is why he’s sticking to a mountain girl. Yet, somehow it works.


Shores of Mercy nailed me as I was listening to music on a five-mile walk and was just about to skip August for an artist/album of the month selection. There wasn’t anything wrong with other things I had queued on my device, but Cash grabbed my attention because he took chances instead of worrying about how anyone would pigeonhole him. My advice is don’t even try. Just enjoy.


In case you’re wondering, no, Michael Kiel Cash is not a member of the famed Carter-Cash extended clan. He was raised in New England, lives in New York City, and his parents hail from Texas and Louisiana.


Rob Weir


Carrie Soto is Back: In Time for the US Open



By Taylor Jenkins Reid

Ballantine Books/Random House, 384 pages.





1994: Thirty-six-year-old Carolina “Carrie” Soto and her father Javier are in the stands of the U.S. Open and Nicki Chan is about to tie Carrie’s lifetime record of 20 Grand Slam titles. (That’s the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open for non-tennis fans.)  Carrie is not happy.  


Taylor Jenkins Reid then rewinds the clock in Carrie Soto is Back. Javier, nicknamed el Jaguar, was a tennis hero in his native Argentina but a bad knee forced him to retire in 1953. He soon immigrated to Miami, where he was a hitter—a training partner akin to a boxer’s sparring opponent­—before moving to Los Angeles to become a club pro and coach. He met Alicia, a dancer, and Carrie came along a few years later. Carrie was a toddler when a car struck and killed her mother. Carrie and Javier developed such a close bond that they finish each other’s thoughts– in Spanish and in English. That’s easier when all either thinks about is tennis.


Reid’s 1955-65 part of the book is its weakest. If you’ve seen King Richard and change a few details—no mother, no siblings, and coffee-skinned Argentines instead of African Americans—it’s similar enough to be called derivative: a child star by age 9, a father promising his daughter she’ll be the greatest ever, jealousy from older players she defeats, and so on. By the time Carrie turns pro at 16, everyone knows not to underestimate the short, dark, stocky girl. All she needs is refinement, which comes when another temporarily supplants Javier as her coach. Soon Carrie is collecting Grand Slams as if they are playground matches against beginners.


Reid’s latest novel probes what it takes to become a champion and it’s more than just hitting a lot—and I mean a lot –of tennis balls. There is diet, running ten miles on sand, drills, quitting school and working with a tutor, and mental preparation. Carrie excels at all of it, but especially the latter. The press dubs Carrie “Battle Axe” and few would disagree. Carrie would rather rip the heart out of an opponent than befriend her or agree to an injury timeout. She’s # 1 and intends to stay there.


It doesn’t work that way. As anyone who watches sports knows, the pros are a young person’s game. Knee surgery forces Carrie to put down her racket at the wizened age of 31. Her African-American agent Gwen worked angles that left Carrie set financially for life, but “Achilles”—Javy’s nickname for his daughter—finds it impossible to sit on the sidelines and cheer for others.


The heart of the book is Carrie’s comeback in 1995. Her only nod to age is that she’s only interested in Grand Slam events and automatically qualifies for them. Few commentators believe she’s a threat at age 37. Consider that as great as Serena Williams is, she won her last Grand Slam at age 36.


Carrie’s training requires a hitter and she’s flabbergasted when her father suggests tennis vet Bowe(n) Huntley, a brief fling from her past with a reputation for a John McEnroe-like temper. If that name sounds familiar, in Reid’s Malibu Rising he was married to Nina Rivera; sleeping with Carrie led Nina to divorce Bowe. Carrie doesn’t want any part of him now, but what papa thinks is what happens.


Carrie’s obsession with clawing her way back is so relentless that one male broadcaster is caught calling her a “bitch” on a hot mic, an offense that would today get him canned. Nothing is as easy at 37 as it was at 27. Carrie must compete against players stronger, faster, and with different skills than she. Nicki really annoys her because she’s so bloody nice, even when telling Carrie she intends to destroy her. Each Grand Slam match is like a Hoosiers playlet. Will Carrie win? Learn anything about herself? Discover things she’s missed? Lose things she takes for granted? Take a seat at center court and find out.


Carrie Soto is Back is thrilling despite being predictable and self-reverential. (At another juncture a character is reading Reid’s Daisy and the Six.) This book will be on the shelves in time for the 2022 U.S. Open. It’s a perfect choice to read in between matches. My head tells me not to bet on 40-year-old Serena Williams.


Rob Weir