Photo: LIFE Magazine
(Dec 16, 2011) The embroidery world, in short succession, has lost another of its icons. This Wednesday, Erica Wilson, known to an entire generation as the "First Lady of Needlework" passed away. She was 83. Even if you think you've never heard of her, you know her work. Other sources can do a far better job at recounting her history than I can, so I'll tell you about the time I met her.
In 2004, I attended my first trade show. This was a very big, intimidating deal for me. I was promoting my first book, presenting my line to the trade for the first time and anxiously seeing how the previous generation of needleworkers would respond to what I hoped would become the next generation of needleworkers. My mom went along with me for support and help.
After my booth was all set up, my mom said she wanted to take a look around. She didn't get far before she rushed back to my booth and said excitedly to me "Do you know who's here?" "Who?" "Erica Wilson!". Pause. "Who's Erica Wilson?" I said (which I'm embarrassed to admit now). It was as if I'd said "Who are The Beatles?" to my mom. "Oh Jenny, she is the most famous needlework designer of well, my generation. Absolutely everyone used her designs and read her books." I got excited. I went over to meet her. Then all the crewel work in the house that I grew up in, which my mother had worked long before I could remember her doing it, made sense to me.
Erica Wilson was in a booth just a short distance from my own. There, I found this very tall, very grand (but completely approachable and self-effacing) woman. She had an incredibly kind and fun demeanor. Her enthusiasm and sense of humor were evident. I wish I could remember exactly what was said, but I'm sure I was nervous and hoping she'd like what I was trying to do. Even though I was just meeting her for the first time, I was already in awe. Her husband, the furniture designer Vladmir Kagan, was with her and he came down to my booth later on to see what I was up to. I remember having a long, enthusiastic talk with him and being completely enchanted by this couple.
My heart goes out to her family, especially at this time of year. Her imprint is left in needlework everywhere.
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