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 email@example.com.
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