Letter #46 – Stitching Past To Present

    During the Presidency of Richard Nixon, his teenage daughter Julie could frequently be found in the residence upstairs at the White House, nestled comfortably in a well-upholstered chair tending to her knitting, well more correctly, stitching.

    In 1975, the Paragon Needle Craft Company released special needlepoint kits featuring designs from Julie Nixon Eisenhower, including printed floral designs on fabric and floss threads that included the rose, daisy, clover and holly.

    Needlepoint and stitching were hobbies of Mrs. Eisenhower, and today her love of the art is on display at the Nixon Library’s original new exhibit, New Stitches from the Old Country: Immigrants’ Contributions to Embroidery in America.

    The exhibit, by the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, is a colorful display of over 48 intricate pieces of American and international needlework. Pieces featured showcase various techniques including crewel, cross-stitch, smocking and mixed media that represent needlepoint traditions brought to America by immigrants from European, Asian and South American countries.

    The exhibit is the brainchild of Tokie Lancaster, president of the Orange County Embroider’s Guild of America, and a dedicated needlepoint enthusiast, and Nixon Library curator, Olivia Anastasiadis.

    “We were contacted by the guild and Mrs. Lancaster,” said Olivia. “The guild felt a connection to the Nixon legacy because of Mrs. Eisenhower’s interest in the art form. They were also very impressed with the Wall of China needlepoint piece that was on display in our World Leaders gallery.”

    Olivia, who began cross-stitching since the age of 9, feels that the exhibit has re-invigorated her interest in stitching. “Needlepoint is beautiful and creating something with your own bare hands is very satisfying. The stitchers designing in our lobby are talented artists,” she said.

    One of those artists is Eileen Gibbs, who has 6 pieces on display in the exhibit. Eileen, the past president of the Orange County chapter and the current president of the Mountain View chapter, is a grandmother of 7 and has been with the guild since 1974.

    Eileen became interested in needlepoint as a 15-year-old employee in the yarn department at a Los Angeles Bullock’s department store. She patiently observed her mother and grandmother stitch as a child and was fascinated with the artistry and delicate designs.

    Eileen is a proud member of the Orange County guild and is heartened by the many positive comments about the exhibit from Library visitors.

    “It is wonderful to see the work of the guild on display,” said Eileen. “I am proud of our organization. We continue to attract thousands of members nationwide from all age groups. You should see the 95-year-old ladies stitch. They’re simply amazing to watch.”

    The Embroiderers’ Guild of America has over 19,000 national members and 150 in Orange County. New Stitches from the Old Country: Immigrants’ Contributions to Embroidery in America, is on display through January 9, 2005.

    Robert Garcia is Director of Communications at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.