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Column #84

Desert Trader

Desert Trader
Desert Trader, The Life and Quilts of Goldie Tracy Richmond, by Carolyn O’Bagy Davis, 2012, Sanpete Publications, 120 pages, $24.95

“Larger-than-life” is a term that aptly describes a truly astonishing person and a most remarkable quilter: Goldie Tracy Richmond (1896-1972).

Ordinary adjectives simply won’t do when telling about a woman of massive size (she stood 6’4” and weighed 345 pounds), enormous physical strength (she killed a wildcat with her bare hands and could carry 100-pound sacks of grain in each arm), and exceptional artistic originality who, despite the unceasing demands of a hardscrabble life in the remote Sonoran Desert, nevertheless managed to create quilts that are considered among the finest of the last century.

Historian and author Carolyn O’Bagy Davis has presented Goldie’s life in a book that makes the reader long to have known her unusual and inspiring subject.

Abundantly illustrated with photos and ephemera assembled from Goldie’s family and friends, Desert Trader details the events that made Goldie a legendary figure in Arizona: her marriage in 1917 at age 21 to Marion Tracy, a man 35 years her senior and their hand-to-mouth existence during the Great Depression where they worked at any job available, finally ending up prospecting, trapping, and running a trading post near the Tohono O’odham (Papago) Indian Reservation near Ajo, Arizona. Then there’s her decades-long relationship with the Tohono O’odham people (Goldie befriended them and became fluent in their language, earning their deep respect and being known as the “Angel to the Papagos;” and her avocation as a quilter (Goldie made hundreds of traditional quilts to sell at her trading post, but it is her spectacular original appliqué quilts depicting life in the desert that have captured the imagination of all who see them).

Carolyn Davis’ efforts to document Goldie’s life were as indefatigable as Goldie herself. Davis spent 18 years piecing together the details of Goldie’s incredible story, researching all leads, traveling throughout the state to interview people who had known her, corresponding with friends and relatives, gaining access to Goldie’s papers, and even tracking down a magnificent quilt made by Goldie that was thought to have been lost.

She describes her dedication to the project this way: “Originally interested in Goldie’s quilts, I became fascinated with her life. As a quilter and a quilt historian, from the first time I saw Goldie’s 1966 Papago Indian Activity’s [sic] pictorial appliqué quilt at the Arizona State Museum, I recognized her as a visionary and an artist with an amazing talent…Soon after, I discovered (her) 1954 Saguaro Harvest quilt, and (her) 1960 Prospector quilt, and I was hooked. As a writer and a historian, I knew that I would ultimately write the story of Goldie’s life.”

You may begin to read Desert Trader because of Goldie’s quilts, but I predict that, like Davis, you will become fascinated by Goldie’s life as well.

Desert Trader, The Life and Quilts of Goldie Tracy Richmond is available from Sanpete Publications, P.O. Box 85216, Tucson, Arizona 85754 or contact sanpetebooks@gmail.com.


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
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Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
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Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
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Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
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Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
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See other archived columns here

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