2006-11-02 / About Town

Acclaimed artist finds creative outlet through time-honored quilting craft

By Michaela Kennedy

Ursula Parenteau Ursula Parenteau For those well versed in embroidery expertise, the name Ursula Michael sparks images of teddy bears, Christmas trees, and flowery homes in needlepoint. Now Michael has expanded her artistry into high-tech quilting, combining textures, colors - even snapshots - on fabric to express the everchanging moods and seasons of Jamestown.

Locals know her as Ursula Parenteau. But islanders will soon have a chance to see this award-winning designer firsthand through her quilts designed with inspiration from Jamestown.

"I take walks everyday, and take in the scenery," Michael says about her muse. Eyeing other artists' work, she defines her own medium as fabric and set to work "exactly one year ago" to illustrate the 12 months of the year in Jamestown through artistic quilts.

Holding up each completed piece, Michael travels in textile from cold blue icy fields of January to the starfish-studded summer shore of Beavertail. No detail is missed in the shimmering fiber fog of March or the migrating Monarch butterflies gathering to go to South America in October.

Michael started creative quilting a few years back with Quilters by the Sea, a group of avid practioners of the craft who meet once a month in Portsmouth. She was familiar with traditional quilting, but the modern styles shared in the group pumped her imagination.

Traditional quilting was big in the '70s, but an avant-garde version of the handicraft has exploded in popularity due to the new fabrics and machines available, according to Michael. "Now a lot of people are doing artistic quilts," she notes.

Michael's first book highlighting quilting was published this year through Leisure Arts. "Travelin' America in Appliqué" is packed with patterns of regional images for fabric cutouts to sew or apply to quilts, wall hangings, or other handcrafted specialties. Michael has begun drafting the second book in her series as well. With the working title, "Rainy Day Appliqué," the design book is due on bookstands by the end of next year.

Michael describes herself as a freelance needlework designer for fabric companies. But to her fans, she is a queen of cross-stitch. Her licensed art, with many exclusives, is recognized in books and magazines from coast to coast and beyond. "I design cutesy things," she said, showing samples of her mastery reproduced on stickers, stained glass, greeting cards, and other mediums.

Michael has a word of advice for all looking to offer some contribution to society. "If you can create something from your heart and put it out in the world, something good will always come back."

Michael invites all to come enjoy a new experience in craft at the 2006 Quilters by the Sea Quilt Show, Nov. 10 and 11, at St. Barnabas Church, 1697 E. Main Rd., in Portsmouth. The Friday show runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the Saturday show will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Be the first to see Jamestown through this local artist's eye before she takes the collection on the road.

For more information about Ursula Michael, visit her Web site at www.ursulamichael.com.

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