Block Number: 127

By Ginger Todd


John and Helen Sullivan of 215 Big Bear Boulevard, located in the Cardinal Farms community of Old Fort, became the newest hosts of a quilt block on Monday, February 25, 2013. John, retired from the Federal Records Office of the Army, and Helen, retired attorney for the Army Department of Defense, met while in the service and have been married thirty-three years.

In 2000 they began looking for what would become their “dream house” retirement home. After investigating states that have a temperate climate, decent cost of living, convenient near-by medical facilities, and a state with no tax on Federal retirement income, they decided on the Western North Carolina area. In 2005 they purchased their “bungalow” type home in the woods of McDowell County and used it as a vacation home until 2009 when they moved here from Virginia.

Helen, who says she “always doodled in boring meetings”, eventually took classes at a community college introducing her to all kinds of painting styles. She was offered an internship by a local artist and worked for five years with all aspects of the fine arts including sculpture, paint and wood carving. Her primary joy and artistic talent is in painting as is evidenced by her beautiful and interesting works. The household also abounds with objects of her affinity for teddy bears as well as John’s for wolves, amongst multiple collective art knick-knacks.

John on the other hand, enjoys the many facets of woodworking. His first attempt was “a bed made with hand tools, a circular saw, a router and a sawhorse”. Now his exquisite handiwork is evident throughout their home, employing all kinds of wood. A spiral staircase leads to Helen’s studio, and a remodeled kitchen with one-of-a-kind aromatic cedar countertops and cabinets incorporated with intriguing detail, are only a few of the many projects he has completed throughout the household. In addition he beautifully refinishes paint-mutilated antique furniture, turns both wooden and colorful acrylic pens and is currently working on shutters for the house.

Both Helen and John have been a part of the expansion of the unique local artist community in the Old Fort area under the leadership of Susan Taylor. It was John who composed the corporate papers for the Arrowhead Artists and Artisans League (A3L) miraculously in less than 60 days! Both of them remain active in the continuing growth and expansion of the program, John as Vice President and Helen as Treasurer.

Quilt block #127 on the McDowell Trail, was given the title “Grandma” in memory and honor of John’s grandmother, Catherine Marie White, originally from Illinois, however later lived with the Sullivans in Virginia until her death. Lovingly referred to as “super lady Grandma”, she was well known for her generosity in gifting her sewing projects to family, neighbors, friends and others, her sewing crafts including crochet, knitting and quilting. She was especially recognized for donating lap throws to soldiers in the Walter Reed Hospital returning from the Desert Storm conflict. The lap covers were detailed specifically to accommodate those in wheelchairs, having no fringe to get caught in the wheels and of materials providing adequate warmth.

The pattern for the Grandma block is adapted from a crocheted spread John’s grandmother had made and represents a variation of the traditional Giant Dahlia quilt pattern. The 3’ X 3’ block installed by volunteer painter Mike Lucas, sits diagonally on the right angle roof eave of a garage, now converted into an expansive woodworking shop downstairs and a paint and artist supply area for Helen upstairs. The dahlia-like flower in the middle of the block is centered in deep maroon with the next layer of petals a lighter shade of red and the third outside layer in a bright cardinal crimson. It is outstanding on a background of white and bordered in a hexagon of forest green. The block fits in well with the surrounding woodsy landscape, abundant with all sorts of art work decoration including junkyard metal works, pottery, gargoyles and other interesting craftworks of various media nestled amongst native plants.

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