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Column #92

The Ballerina Quilter

Tribute to  Ballet Austin
Tribute to Ballet Austin, 62” x 62” by Barbara Carson, 1992. From the collection of Becky Herrington.

Tribute to Ballet Austin The program cover that inspired Barbara Carson's design for Tribute to Ballet Austin.

Barbara Carson Barbara Carson with some of the many awards she has won for her quilts.

The origins of many holiday traditions are hard to trace, but that is not the case with the popularity in the United States of The Nutcracker, the ballet featuring Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.

It became a tradition practically overnight when, on Christmas Eve in 1958, famed Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine’s production of the New York City Ballet Company performing The Nutcracker was televised live and in color throughout the U.S.

It was wildly popular, and ballet companies across the nation soon began staging their own productions during the holidays. More than half a century later, The Nutcracker has become an icon of Christmas nostalgia and a cherished part of many families’ holiday season activities.

Ballet Austin, the ballet company of Austin, Texas, staged its first full-length performance of The Nutcracker in 1960. Barbara Carson, who had founded Ballet Austin in 1956, danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy that year.

Carson, who began seriously studying ballet at the age of 10 in her native Cleveland, Ohio, had trained with Balanchine and had been a soloist with the New York City Ballet when it was associated with the Metropolitan Opera. She moved to Austin when her husband, a fifth-generation Texan, returned to his home state to work.

It was in Austin that Carson began quilting. She learned from her mother-in-law, an accomplished painter and world traveler, who collected fabrics from around the globe and used them to make quilts.

“I knew how to sew, because I often made dance costumes and helped with set designs,” recalled Carson. “But I had never quilted before until my mother-in-law taught me. I just fell in love with it.”

Carson brought the same sort of artistic sensibilities to her quilting that she had perfected in her dancing—grace, precision, and a seemingly innate ability to interpret fluid movement. And she brought those skills beautifully to bear in 1992, when Ballet Austin asked her to donate a quilt that could be used to raise funds for the scholarship that had been started in her honor to help disadvantaged children take ballet classes.

The scholarship was dear to Carson’s heart, as she herself had been the beneficiary of assistance when she was growing up. Carson was one of three children raised by a widowed mother in Depression-era Cleveland. Her mother worked as a nurse and made many sacrifices to ensure that her talented children received the best possible training (Carson’s brother and sister sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera company and her sister also performed on Broadway). The Barbara Carson Scholarship was intended to provide similar possibilities for other young aspiring dancers.

The quilt that Carson designed and quilted by hand for the fundraiser was inspired by a Ballet Austin program cover featuring a ballerina en pointe. Carson created the design’s central star by repeating the image of the ballerina’s body, and the quilt pulses with movement. It raised a considerable amount of money for the scholarship, and is now proudly owned by the mother of one of Carson’s former ballet students.

When Ballet Austin celebrated the 50th anniversary of its staging of The Nutcracker, Barbara Carson was in the audience. She received special recognition as the person responsible not only for founding the company, but also for bringing the holiday tradition of The Nutcracker to the city. It was a fitting tribute to the gracious and graceful dancer—and the quilter whose quilts dance in fabric.


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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
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
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
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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