Edith Scott Bouriez
Embroiderer, teacher, and store manager and director of tours and seminars for Erica Wilson, Inc.
Conducted by Anne Hilker on July 18, 2014 at the home of Vladimir Kagan, 34 Liberty Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Edith Scott Bouriez, c. 2016, and the embroidered “sailor’s valentine” she designed and taught. Photo courtesy Nantucket Historical Association.
A resident of New York City and Nantucket, Bouriez regularly has taught embroidery in the Nantucket Historical Association’s 1800 House program. Bouriez attended The Chapin School in New York City; trained at Vassar College in classical voice; and served on the Board of Directors of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the interview, Bouriez recalls how she met Erica Wilson; Bouriez’ long affiliation with Wilson, in both New York City and Nantucket; and stories of Wilson’s career, her marriage to Vladimir Kagan, and of the multiple marketing and product platforms with which Bouriez assisted Wilson, including Nantucket seminars, tours to Europe and China, and books and television programs.
Interview duration: 1 hour 20 minutes (approx.). Transcript length: 14 pages.
EB (Edith Bouriez): I was Edith Lynch then.
AH: I’m really interested in what Erica’s earlier career was like and how she got into so many different platforms—seminars—I think you led some of those, and you still teach, I think. You initiated—
AH: In the library.
EB: Yes. Years went by, and by that time I was pretty much teaching all of her classes in New York [City] because she was so busy doing her books. I was the manager of the store in New York. That started just because I was in an amateur needleworker exhibit in New York and Erica was one of the judges. She was coming out and she had just given me first prize and so she said, “Edie, you have to teach all my classes.”
AH: What year was that?
EB: This was in the sixties. It was the Madison Avenue store. I had never done anything like that before, although I had worked in philanthropic organizations. I undertook that because she was so busy. I taught all of her classes and developed new ones from her work. And so that was quite a thriving thing.
AH: How many people—frequency?
EB: We had classes every morning of the week, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes even in the evening, and I taught other teachers, finally, because I couldn’t do it all. We taught her correspondence courses, which is how I learned.
Erica Wilson’s Correspondence Course II, stitched by Edith Bouriez. Winterthur Museum 2019.0003.003.
EB: Absolutely. You did all the work, and you sent it back, and you got a critique. Finally, I was doing all of the critiques. I came across [my materials for] the second correspondence course up here and the notebook it came in. We just went along, and had a very good relationship, and I loved learning about needlework. Erica would say, “Oh, we’ll do a pulled thread course.”
AH: I never saw that come out, though.
EB: Of course, I had to learn how to do it first! We did quilting, and bargello, and a crewel point sampler, and of course we did crewel. So there was a lot going on, there really was. Then, because of my association in Nantucket [Massachusetts], and because I was involved with these inns, I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do something like that? So I thought of the seminar. I think it started in 1974. I did the whole thing. I put the kits together. I did the examples of each. Every day was a different discipline. Five days. The year 1984 was about the last one, I think. Every good idea kind of runs its course.
AH: You are talking about in Nantucket, of course.
EB: We would teach in the Coffin school, which is around the corner. We had about forty people. It seems to me there was even a student who came from Australia. Erica’s name just grew and grew. That’s Vladi. Erica wouldn’t be Erica without Vladi. You have to understand that.
AH: I’ve often wondered about that. It seems to have been a true partnership.
EB: It’s true. He was the promoter. In designing how the [New York City] shop was done, in guiding her, Vladi was very much a part of everything. So when I thought of the seminar, it meant as many people as we could pack into these inns could come to it. We had the morning sessions in the Coffin School. Erica took half the pupils, and I took the other half in my garden, because we couldn’t find a place large enough to have everyone. Of course, there was no air conditioning, and it was hot the end of July. On my lunch hour I used to go to the supermarket to cool off! Then, in the evenings, we suggested things that everybody do. The last night of the seminar I would arrange a clambake out at Sankaty in Siasconset [Massachussets]. Vladi would put [the men] underneath the Model T most of the time. It was unbelievable. It was a blast. And you know, we were young, we could deal with it. I remember one particular evening after the clambake I had gotten all of the ladies and gentlemen on the buses, it was only the Model T and the car [I was driving] were left, a little Pinto, a little sardine box. Vladi said, “I can’t get the model T started, so you will have to give us a rope tow.” So it was pretty far out there. I said, I don’t think I know how to do this. One of the husbands was still there. He was a great big football player. And I shall never forget: he said, “Edie, don’t worry about it, I’ll drive the car.” So I sat next to him.
AH: This sounds so dangerous.
EB: He was so big, he touched the roof. Here was the Model T coming after us. I could see it just running right into the rear end of my daughter’s Pinto. It was hysterical. Of course, we had not the kind of traffic we have now, but it was something else. We finally arrived. That was the highlight for me from this seminar.
AH: I remember those were so famous. I always dreamed about a lesson in Erica’s garden in Nantucket. It was the backyard, right?
EB: Absolutely. That was standard procedure. That was terrific. And then from there we went to cruises. I was the manager of the shop, and I got all the subscriptions. We worked it all out. Our publicity was through the New Yorker magazine. The New Yorker was the key. That was the best place. Vladi picked it, and it did us very, very well. We took this cruise down to the Bahamas. I shall never forget it. You know those [stitching floor] stands, we had about twenty women, we would be standing there, and I shall never forget it, I am demonstrating a stitch and having this thing heave around—for the first time in my life I felt seasick. I finally had to excuse myself. I went down to my cabin. My daughter Elise—she’s very good, she’s in Erica’s book too, Elise Lynch—took over for me.
AH: You were stage managers, prop managers, and also actresses for Erica?
EB: Yes, we were the backup team.
AH: On the cruises, how many? That was very forward. Now people do cruises, for example, Koala conventions. But this was early. Late sixties, early seventies?
EB: It was late seventies I would say. We had started the seminars. Then I think that probably led to—I went with Erica to Hilton Head [South Carolina], we did a big expo there, people piled in.
AH: That was where I piled in. I asked Vladi: there was someone who looks just like you standing next to Erica the whole time. I remember you—I’m delighted to know it was you, I’m thrilled to meet you—we were working on a basket of flowers in multiple colors—I was so impressed because you were on to the next iteration. We were working in multiple primary colors, and you had it in beige. I thought that was to die for. [The seminar] was a wonderful experience. Everyone enjoyed it.
EB: That’s it, you know, it just kind of grabs you. I now teach, I’ve been teaching ten hours this week up at the [Nantucket Historical Association’s] 1800 House, all kinds of embroidery, from needlepoint and beginners to very advanced students—I just taught them six hours this week. We all—there were a number of us—who were captivated by something we saw in the brochure for the 1800 House. It was a little box, and it had a painted lid, and it was definitely of Nantucket, and the 1800 House was in it. You take the lid off, and underneath there is a little replication, basically in cross stitch, but not all in cross stitch, of the lid. I can’t think of putting anything on top of that. What we couldn’t see from the photograph was that it was on thirty-two-mesh [gauze], and it was in silk. I have just in the last two years been working entirely on number thirty-two mesh and with one strand of silk. I sell things at the [Nantucket] Looms.
AH: Where do you sell your things?
EB: At the [Nantucket] Looms. I was just in heaven. But the rest of the students had never been faced with this kind of thing. We had two weeks in between starting it and finishing it, because then we were going to be taught how to put it properly in the box and finish [the box]. At the end of the class, which was four hours, I said to Marcia Brown Smith, how long did this take you? “I guess a month.” I said, “Well, that is forty to fifty hours of work.” Everybody looked up. Marcia had designed it. I was a student in this class. Nobody else had any idea of what we were in for. They had gotten in over their heads. So we delayed her finishing [teaching] until the end of August. I [taught] the next two scheduled classes and in between I did this—I should have brought it for you. It was fifty hours of work. It is so charming, it is so delicious, you can’t believe it. It was tough, but this is what I do. I was delighted. An aside—there is a lady on the island, Susan Boardman. If you go into the [Nantucket] Looms you will see some of her absolutely beautiful work. She sells it—[her pieces] run from $15,000 to $24,000. They are really remarkable. My son was going to make a big effort. He wanted to do the house that we live in. So I asked Mrs. Boardman to come over and meet the family. Mrs. Boardman came over—she held out her hand and said “Edie, you don’t remember me?” She was at the first seminar. She lives on Nantucket. I did not remember her.
AH: How did you meet Erica? You are credited in her very first book.
EB: She was teaching at Cooper Union downtown, and I read something, maybe, I think, it was in the New Yorker, there was a little article saying that this woman had gone through the RSN [Royal School of Needlework, London] and she had been brought to this country and was giving classes in New York and knew everything about needlework. Just at that time I was in my quilting phase. I wanted to do a quilt, and I had absolutely no idea how to get the design I had in my head onto the fabric. And I thought, I’ll call this lady. I called and made an appointment. At the appropriate time—at that time I lived at Eighty-ninth [Street] and Park [Avenue]—she came to the apartment, the doorbell rang. And I looked up, and she had her hair streaked. My father always said you don’t make friends, you recognize them! She came in. The living room was covered with this piece of fabric and the design that I wanted to put on it. She taught me how to prick, with pounce, and we just bonded. It was just something special. Then we met her [again] through some friends or acquaintances of hers socially and we discovered that we had this Nantucket thing. I think Erica and Vladi got engaged on the beach in Nantucket.
AH: I know that because Vladi told me they did.
EB: So they had an association with Nantucket. Then, I think Mary Ann Bienecke had asked her to come and teach the Nantucket women; and then we said okay, you’re going to come up, you will sell your Appleton [wool thread] out of Ham’s store. Everything came together. They decided this was where they had to go. They moved into this house, and the rest is history. That is how I met her, and then I took her correspondence courses, both of them, and then the next step was this amateur needleworker show and her recognizing my work. I can see her right now walking out—
AH: Vladi told me about one on Park Avenue for which he did the banners, but I think it was for the EGA [Embroiderer’s Guild of America].
EB: I’m sure it was; they both hated it when I did any work for [the EGA].
AH: I understand from Vladi that there was a little divide there. He said he did the banners for this, a large EGA show. He said it was Dow Chemical.
EB: Well, every time I go past that building I think of it, because it’s all changed. It was great. I think I was a judge, and so was Erica.
AH: Were you seeing each other socially at this point?
EB: We saw each other every damn day, no question about it, every day. Socially, up here of course, but not necessarily in New York. That was when Jessica was sent to Mummy England. I remember up here too I asked her to design—because I have no artistic background at all, but after twenty years with Erica I’ve had an art course—I asked her to design two pillows for the living room in [our] house on Milk Street, which she did, and they are in her Crewel Embroidery book, under Mrs. Hampton Lynch.
AH: I saw photo credits—
EB: One of them is in color; it had a companion, they were both different, I have them up here. But the thing that happened was, it was the best twill—things got a little bit less and less “best” as time went on—this, in the beginning of Erica’s career, [the twill] was top flight, and the embroidery was perfect. The linen twill has started to disintegrate. This is a very damp island, as you know. The pillows stayed up here all winter long. I had the heat on low, but still they just fell apart. I took those two pillows and I cut away all of the twill. I got a new piece of twill, and I appliqued them onto another piece of fabric, a fresh piece of fabric, and I kept everything. Some little delicate little design parts—tendrils, for example—though, I redid. They are in my son’s house right now and they look fantastic. By the way [showing basket purse], Vladi did this—he did four baskets in his life—I hate to think what this must be worth because the baskets [alone] are worth $10,000. He did this scrimshaw. That is an original Kagan, one of a kind. And I said to him, “Now Vladi, what do I owe you?” He said, “Edie, you couldn’t possibly afford to pay me.” So that was that.
AH: So that is how you met, and it was on a quilt. That is so funny because it’s not what she enjoyed.
EB: No, she did not know very much about quilting. She knew how to transfer designs. When I developed a quilting course at the shop it was mine, it was not hers. Erica didn’t finish anything.
AH: Say that again?
EB: She would design it. It was just extraordinary. Erica was a big woman. She was tall; she was a good deal taller than I am. She had big hands, and they didn’t look as if they could do anything delicate at all. But she was the most remarkable needlewoman. Not only could she design, she could anticipate what was coming, and put just the right stitch in the right place. Time is what she didn’t have.
AH: I have a theory that she was a genius—one aspect was taking the work out of it, giving people the fun stuff to do, meaning, she designed, and she never did a white work kit as far as I know.
EB: She did white work for her WGBH [Public Broadcasting Service, Boston] series. I still have something to do with that—
AH: They are not online yet. Vanessa [Kagan Diserio] is working on getting the WGBH segments online. There are four that Vanessa put online. For the rest of them, they are working out licensing arrangements. [All of the 1971 series now online at WGBH Openvault.]
EB: I am glad, because they are superior. This was white work. For that show she had to have a piece that was finished.
AH: How did that happen?
EB: I would get a call from Boston. I would get notice to stay up all night, is what I would get. “We have to have a finished piece! We haven’t got a finished piece!” I can see that one in my mind now. I am thinking of it, I remember it was a stag, standing in a stand of trees, in a forest, all white work.
AH: I haven’t seen that. I am wondering if you can tell me what, from your standpoint, were her most popular, what things led to what other things. For example, the correspondence kits were really classic. After that, there were lots of chunky things so—one of the things she did was scale, and novelty fabrics as background. I should go back to what I asked Vladi about, the “Red Owl” and the rocking chair. When did those come about, and how?
EB: I think that Erica had done Vladi’s chair before I knew her.
AH: That pretty much matches what Vladi said. I thought he might have been a little vague on which years in the fifties and sixties.
EB: So in the fifties, maybe early sixties, that [the chair] was done. I met her in the late fifties. I worked for her from 1960 to 1980 so it must have been the late fifties.
AH: The CCs [correspondence courses] are copyrighted 1959.
EB: Yes, I started right then. I have those two pieces up here. The fabric is falling apart but all of the embroidery is pretty good.
AH: So the chair was already done, and the “Red Owl,” Vladi told me he thought it was designed by Mimi Housepian and that Erica put stitches on it. But it seems so related to fundamentally related to stitching that I am having trouble thinking it was first a piece of artwork.
EB: I can see that. Although I have no art background, I copy a great deal! Indeed, I have done it [the “Red Owl”] many times. I gave it to one granddaughter, then we taught it in a seminar, we did it white on white, I have that in New York. It was gorgeous. It was big and bold. But I will tell you that her early kits on good twill, with the Appleton, are without peer. I have a couple of pictures—
AH: I am having trouble dating things. [I can do that] only when I have a copyright date. Since the copyright law changed, some of them can be reissues. I am not sure what dates are what.
EB: Quality was not the [kits’] strong suit.
AH: That is a very sad story, from what Vladi has told me, the kits coming to a screeching halt, basically.
Whaling ship, silk on hand-loomed wool, c. 1972. Designed by Erica Wilson, stitched by Edith Bouriez. Photo courtesy of Edith Scott Bouriez.
AH: Didn’t that drive you crazy?
EB: Well, it did. But that was Erica. There was so much good about that. I was up all night padding those damn sails. I want you to know, Vladi gets in his jeep, he’s driving, and Erica is there, and I finished it, and they were rushing, because they were always late for the plane—
AH: Vladi told me Erica was always late.
EB: Well, it’s true. Unbelievable. She had absolutely no sense of time. It was always, “I have to do this first”—things that had to get done before it was important to be anywhere. I know people who would no longer invite them to a cocktail party because they came an hour late, you know, by then, you’re putting things away. So, Vladi gets in the jeep, he’s driving the jeep, they’re having a fight, because they were late, or Erica was late, he was furious at her, I can hear the horn from down the street, she takes a bath towel and throws it over this thing, which is hanging in my living room now—it’s worth $20,000 now! I can easily sell it for $20,000! I had bugged her to do this [piece] for me. She finally did it. She took out an indelible marker, and I said “Erica, I want you to do this right now.” She drew that freehand on the fabric, which was Nantucket-woven fabric. It was wool and looked just like the sea. It is fabulous. But she threw a bath towel over my masterpiece! I could not believe it. And off it went.
AH: Nothing like terry cloth rubbing against the silk—
EB: Yes, I had to stop thinking about it. The last time I saw Erica was the year before she died. We had been invited out to Sankaty for dinner with some friends. Vladi sat on one side of me, Erica on the other, and I said to her, “Erica, I may never have another opportunity to say this to you: you changed my life.” And she said, “Edie, you changed mine.”
AH: How would it else have happened?
EB: I was good at that. I was the nitpicker—I got the kits done—I’ll never forget walking around the table [in Nantucket] with five different things, with the seminar coming up, I had everyone from the shop, we were all in bathing suits, because we had no air conditioning, we had perspiration streaming off of us. We would walk around that table making up the kits.
AH: How did you duplicate the instructions in the beginning? Vladi told me they invested in a photostat downtown for the uptown factory. We have some of her mylar cartoons—
EB: Then there was the process whereby she could put a design straight on the canvas. The heat transfers. That changed a lot.
AH: The question is how she got into the marketing.
EB: Oh, talk to Vladi, he was the marketer. Vladi is brilliant. He has a brilliance that was quite similar to Erica’s but its focus was totally different. The two of them were just unstoppable.
AH: It seemed like it. Did she ever say no?
EB: No. If she did, she got a whole bunch of stuff right between the eyes. They were at each other’s throats all the time.
AH: I’ve heard that. In a very close partnership, I guess I can understand it.
EB: Vladi was always on the giving end and Erica was always on the taking end. What she took I wouldn’t have taken for anything in the world. She just let it roll off her. He can be very pointedly nasty. If something rubs him wrong, don’t get in his way. She just took it. She had a remarkable temperament. It was the happiest marriage I ever could think of. I wouldn’t have lived that way. She had a very remarkable character. Vladi does in his way too, but I’ve never run across anyone like Erica before.
AH: She must have been so courageous because she came across on the Queen Mary by herself.
EB: I knew Mrs. [Daryl] Parshall. The EGA asked me to be secretary of the board. There wasn’t much around—you just took what you could get. I finally went out to Houston and taught at the national seminar. Erica was furious. She didn’t like any competition.
AH: Vladi tells it that the EGA dissed her. So I don’t really know what happened.
EB: They dissed her because she was commercial. I was not—I was working for her, but I was neutral territory.
AH: The only reason I stitch today was Erica. I say it as if I knew her. I grew up in California, in Los Angeles. I felt I knew her—we didn’t even have PBS [Public Broadcasting Service], we didn’t have the shows. And I just felt that she was my friend. I think by now I have done every kind of needlework, Japanese embroidery, you name it. But it is because of Erica. She had an unbelievable influence.
EB: It’s true.
AH: So I am one of the unwashed.
EB: Our number is legion, and thank goodness. I teach Royal School of Embroidery [methods] over at the 1800 House. I teach on the [fanny] frame. I just got some frames—I have bought frames that are nothing like Erica’s and Vladi’s. There is nothing like them.
AH: I have frames from England, but nothing is like the [fanny] frame. The height is genius.
EB: That’s Vladi.
AH: One of my design issues is that she removed the need for the floor frame. There is this marvelous picture of her with ladies in the living room. It’s almost as if it [the needlework] is in their laps—
EB: I work in my lap. I sit with the lap frame on my lap; I can do anything. I don’t have to sit at a table.
AH: You avoid the hours of lacing up, and stitching to webbing, and remounting, no tissue paper. None of that.
EB: Erica streamlined it.
AH: That is what it seemed like to me. Why is this different?
EB: She just updated everything and made it more practical for people. I haven’t pounced since I did that quilt top on the floor.
AH: I was good at pricking and pouncing.
EB: You get a decent light box. That is what I teach [at the 1800 House]. Everything is updated, I am trying to do that with my students. This is my ninth year that I’ve taught a different discipline over there. I have a lady in Issaquah, Washington who knows her stuff, and I get very thin stretcher bars. They’re half-inch, so they are very light. She sells some very particular thumbtacks, really tacks. So for my classes I set up all of the stretcher bars, I stretch the material myself, I either put the design on myself, or have them do it, so they can learn. That was my answer to not having the [fanny] frames.
AH: Some of the English things are very boring. They’re not Erica.
EB: Erica on Elsa Williams—I tell you, oh boy!
AH: The stitch variety, if you look at Erica’s early kits, and in the early correspondence courses—there are so many different stitches.
EB: Erica in her early kits liked to keep it to six, maybe ten, stitches at the very most; her color palette was always very carefully calibrated. You always throw in something that is a little “clinker” because it picks it up—she taught me that—because it is unexpected, as if the color didn’t belong.
AH: It seemed to me that the kits with many shades or gradations of color gave way to things that were far more graphic. It seemed to me that she ran one set of designs that would be chunky and updated right along with the more traditional [ones]. Is that fair to say?
EB: Yes, that would be my impression. But she got away from what I consider to be her top-quality designs because they would make more money. When C-M [Columbia-Minerva] came into the picture, all of a sudden, she had to scale back the quality of her fabric—she had a lucrative contract. She had to come up with these kits. They had to be within a certain price range because that was the market that they were selling to, and then things started to go down. If your profit starts to diminish, if Vladi starts to get after her, they were not ever that quality they were in the beginning. I have at least two or three of those [from the beginning]. Some are in bad condition in the department of the fabric, but the crewel is fantastic. Those were the fifties kits.
AH: What things were most popular? I have two things in mind: one is the platforms, the issues involved in kits, books, WGBH, seminars—did she have a favorite? Was there one of those that was more profitable than another?
EB: You’ll have to ask Vladi.
AH: He did not know.
EB: Or he’s forgotten.
Edith Bouriez, c. 1965(?) at a New York City department store (likely B. Altman and Co.). Photo courtesy of Edith Scott Bouriez.
EB: I am unable to give you the answer to that question.
AH: I’ll ask it a different way. When I think of Erica Wilson, I think of owls, other animals, Beatrix Potter. That continued—
EB: She had the [Beatrix Potter] license, and of course everyone else was making kits up. I think [Beatrix Potter] sued [infringers] a couple of times and tried to keep the license clean, but it wasn’t possible to do. And of course it’s impossible now.
AH: Then there were a lot of sayings and words, and then that became [the] Franklin Mint [miniatures].
EB: I think one that was unbelievably popular was the kitten on the pillow—Chessie. We always sold that in the store. That first was crewel. She would extrapolate, blow it up, or make it smaller. That was a very popular one.
AH: “One Touch of Nature”—the raccoons with trees and woodland animals—do you think those were seventies? Earlier? I am glad you mentioned Chessie. That must have been very early.
EB: Yes, it was early.
AH: People don’t know that was for Chesapeake [and Ohio] railway. It sure was great advertising for them. Then I think the cruises must have been—you took one trip to China for Erica. That was extremely early.
EB: It was 1979. No lipstick, no short sleeves, everybody in mufti. It was not the China that you see today. I remember, I was the leader of the group. The Chinese don’t understand talking to or answering questions from a variety of people. My people had to ask me the question, then I would transfer it to the interpreter, just one person had to do this. I remember when we went into the Forbidden City I had done my background, and tried to study as much as possible. Erica had a deadline on the book; Vladi said, “you can’t go.” I remember that I had studied up on embroidery, colors, and forms. So we went into the Forbidden City. I want you to know that the interpreter was glued to me. He didn’t know anything about these things. He had been one of the kids—1979 was something else.
AH: Erica and Vladi did a trip? You were the first trip?
EB: Yes. Anyway, so we would all be standing around these cases, where they had these beautiful garments, and I would be lecturing on the colors and the shapes, and what they all meant, and the [tour] guy was listening to me like he had never heard it before, because they lost a whole generation. Mao was out by then. Still, you would see statues of Mao around. Nobody was allowed to wear bright colors, you had no makeup, no nail polish. No colors, except the children. Everyone else was in khaki. It was really quite something. We were one of the first, groundbreakers. I think we must have had at least twenty people, husbands and wives in some cases. Erica Wilson sponsored it. It came through the New Yorker. They sold the little clip in the New Yorker. I would get the responses, they would send their money in; it went very well.
AH: Vladi went with you?
EB: No. He did the next trip with Erica.
AH: [China] was a study trip; was it also a stitching trip?
EB: Yes, I had to teach stitching too. My daughter came along. When we did the cruises, Vladi designed a kind of counter system that would close up; he got the approval of Holland America Lines to place this structure that he built on the ship.
AH: So you would have had kits for that trip?
EB: This whole thing just closed up. It was absolutely brilliant. He would close it up, and we could lock it. My daughter was in charge of the sales on the cruises. That’s why she came along on the trip.
AH: So people could feed their addiction.
EB: People would buy a little kit here and there, it was very handsome. I remember, on one occasion—Erica never got sick. She was just a horse. She did get sick this one time. She had a lecture to give in Cleveland or Cincinnati, and she simply could not do it. So I had to go. We called it our dog and pony show. She sent Vladi to ease the burden. So he gets up there, he’s wonderful on his feet, we must have had two hundred women there to see Erica, and here was I. I gave her lecture, because I knew all the slides. Vladi schmoozed, and what can you say? Erica would have been there if she possibly could have. The other place I always went with her was Chautauqua [New York]. She gave seminars up there. That was a whole bunch of women.
AH: That was about the size of Hilton Head?
EB: Yes. If she was doing a seminar, I was there.
AH: It strikes me that everything was profitable.
EB: It had to be or they wouldn’t do it.
AH: Vladi said it was not vanity enterprise. But it strikes me that everything fed off of everything else.
EB: Yes, that is what was so brilliant. You had the television, the store, the cruises, the seminars, the magazines. Anything that was crafty, they grabbed Erica, because she was the biggest name in crafts.
EB: She got a stipend from C-M. Yes, it was a very nice contract, and crappy stuff. I’m sorry.
AH: Don’t be sorry.
EB: The early kits, Erica designed them, and she stitched them.
AH: So before the C-M brand, it was just simply Erica Wilson. There was an EW [Erica Wilson] Society? Creative Needlework Society?
EB: Yes. I have one of those little catalogs. They were quite fat, maybe sixteen pages. And I would have to write something for it.
AH: That would help me date so much, also find what was where, and then reissues. Stitchers would say, please give us more!
EB: It was insatiable.
AH: What do you think made it so insatiable?
EB: I believe that Erica had a very special charisma. Number one, it was her voice. And it was normal, it was natural. She wasn’t putting anything on. She was the most natural person in the world.
AH: I expected to see someone my great-grandmother’s age. And here was this blond woman.
EB: With streaks. Of course she had streaked hair, from the very get-go, in the fifties.
AH: With Vladi’s promotion, it was hers to lose, but she never lost it, because of her personality and her talent.
EB: She was the real thing. She changed my life. What can I tell you? She’s being kept alive on this island. Over there [the 1800 House] they all know what I am and what I did and where I’m coming from. The first year, when they opened it ten years ago, she taught a class. She did “Going on the Whale.” It was very simplistic. I stitched it in crewel. I was going to give it to the Nantucket Historical Association. They sold a sampler of mine for $13,000. It’s a little thing. It is here on the island. One of my students bought it, actually. Erica is kind of a generator in my life. She has made, and given me, so much joy, my family, she even made some money for me.
AH: It seemed she created her own following. Then her followers wanted more. It was genius. I also wonder how much was the time period when she arrived—research I’ve done on Mrs. [Eleanor Butler Alexander] Roosevelt [Jr.], the Needle and Bobbin Club, for example—she arrived when there were designs coming out that were not inspired. There was more free time, and more money.
EB: It was just after the war. She had a gift, no question about it. She was one of a kind.
AH: To be continued?
EB: I could ask for nothing more.
AH: Neither could I.
[End of interview]