Liz Wilson, Church Needlepoint Designer | Pt. 2

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By Lynn Hamby, daughter of Liz Wilson

Apparently, Liz's reputation as a needle point designer for churches was spreading because she was approached by another Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, this one in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This project was also a large one and consisted of creating designs for both the sanctuary and Saint Mary's Chapel, a lovely space painted wedgewood blue, known as Mary's color. Again Liz utilized motifs and colors already present in the in the church, creating designs that would be particularly meaningful to the congregation. 

At this juncture, Liz moved "Studio in the Woods" to another wooded area, this one in Baltimore, Maryland, when her husband Jim's career took him to the east coast. After several visits to Washington, Liz made a discovery that prompted her to offer her design services to the National Cathedral, the great structure that sits high on a hill in northwestern Washington, D.C. Within the cathedral is Saint John's Chapel, which is dedicated to many past presidents and other Americans prominent in the arts, sciences, diplomacy, business, and medicine. 

Liz had learned that two recent presidents, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, had not yet been honored with needlepoint kneelers. As a Texan by birth, Liz was eager to design the kneeler for the Texan president. Her good friend, Courtney Paddock from Evanston, had a close personal relationship with the Truman family. Together, Liz and Courtney did the necessary paperwork and Liz received permission to proceed with the two designs which were eventually approved by the Needlework Committee of the Altar Guild. 

Liz did all of the needlepoint for the Johnson kneeler as did Courtney for the Truman kneeler. A year later, the two kneelers were dedicated in a ceremony in the National Cathedral sanctuary attended by Liz's family, Courtney's family, and members of the Truman family. 

After Richard Nixon's death in 1994, Liz was asked by the Cathedral Needlepoint Committee to design a kneeler commemorating his presidency. She did design, stitch, and carry the Nixon kneeler during its dedication. In 2008, Liz had another opportunity to participate- in a dedication ceremony at the National Cathedral, this time honoring Ronald Reagan. Though Liz did not design his kneeler, she did personally stitch it, a process that took over a year of delicate work. Joined by her family for the ceremony, she carried the Reagan kneeler to the altar at the great Cathedral, another moving occasion. 

While in Baltimore, Liz created many personal designs for friends. One of her designs, a round Christmas rug featuring a circle of holly and a white background with a multitude of complex stitches, won a blue ribbon at a large competition. Liz also was presented with the opportunity to design several pieces for the Thorndike Hilton Chapel at the Chicago Theological Seminary on the campus of the University of Chicago. Her designs included chair cushions, a banner, a wedding kneeler, and an altar rug that was worked by twelve women who lived in different areas of Chicago. 

In 1979, when Liz and Jim moved from Baltimore to San Antonio, Texas, Liz renamed her design business, "Studio in the Sun". She soon established her expertise as a designer of church needlepoint and was approached by Travis Park United Methodist Church in the downtown area of the city to design an array of creations for their sanctuary which was undergoing a complete renovation. The church was also planning to install a new pipe organ, which would be the largest in the city at that time. 

Again, Liz worked closely with clergy, music staff, and volunteers to develop the designs for altar kneelers, wedding kneelers, and an altar cloth. She used the symbols and colors prevalent in the sanctuary and stained glass windows as the starting point for her design process. When the needlepoint, along with the organ and other enhancements to the sanctuary, were dedicated, one could clearly witness how the needlepoint kneelers and altar cloth at the altar integrated all of the other design features into a satisfying whole. 

As a result of her work with Travis Park, Liz was approached by another Methodist church, this one from what the Valley section of Texas where many citrus farms flourish. St. Mark's United Methodist Church of McAllen, Texas, invited Liz to design altar kneelers for their sanctuary incorporating the citrus fruits and flowers of their region along with other symbols present in their sanctuary and in their stained glass windows. They chose a deep green background for their kneelers to symbolize the renewal of life so important to a farming region. 

In the early 1990's, Liz was offered another exciting design project n San Antonio. St. Francis Episeopal Church was known for its beautiful modern stained glass windows designed by the prominent Texas painter and designer of stained glass windows, Cecil Lang Casebier. The vibrant colors and seeming motion of the patterns in the windows made them remarkable. The church also featured native rock walls and striking wood paneling throughout the sanctuary as well as deep red carpeting. Liz was asked to design altar kneelers, chair cushions, and an altar cloth incorporating the symbols and colors used in the sanctuary. The dedication of the needle work took place in 1993. One can quickly see that the results were stunning. 

As Liz was completing her design work for St. Francis, she was presented with one more particularly challenging church project. Alamo Heights United Methodist Church had decided to leave its original location and build a larger church to house its congregation which had become one of the largest in South Texas. While the church plans were still in blue print form, Liz was asked to design the kneelers to surround the altar. Liz did indeed design twenty-two kneelers using the pomegranate as a motif as its seeds symbolize all of the worshipers gathered within the church. 

The church brought its original Gothic style stained glass windows into the new structure. The windows featured symbols from many Bible stories as well as fruits and flowers mentioned in the Bible and those images were incorporated into the design of the kneelers. The border of each kneeler was a scroll design with each element of the scroll tied together with a ring, representing Christ's relationship with the church. The colors selected were vibrant and varied, with eight shades of red and sixteen shades of green in the mix. A background for the kneelers of forest green was selected to complement the red carpeting used in the sanctuary. Liz went on to design the chair backs and seat covers for three large altar chairs which once belonged to the McNay Art Museum. These designs contain a pattern featuring thirty-five different crosses used in the Christian church for the seat cushions with a different and particularly significant large cross in the center of each chair back. 

The last stage of the design process involved the creation of banners to be placed at the altar during different seasons of the Christian year. The white Christmas banner featured the Poinsettia believed by some to represent the Christmas Rose. The Easter banner featured the Passion Flower and the Crown. Other banners featured the Fish associated with Christ, the Fisher of Men, the Cross and the Vine, associated with Communion, the Sevenfold Flame or the Tongues of Fire associated with the Holy Spirit, and the Descending Dove also associated with the Holy Spirit. 

The new church was completed in 1994 but the needlepoint project took a full four years to complete and was fully installed in 1998. Many volunteer stitchers contributed to this great effort. One way of contemplating the task at hand is to consider that each kneeler required 69,000 stitches and each banner 42,000 stitches. 

As an important recognition of Liz's contribution to her community as a designer of ecclesiastical needlepoint, Liz received the Alumnae Achievement Award from her fraternity Kappa Kappa Gamma at their national convention held in Atlanta in 1994. Liz was recognized for her beautiful needlepoint designs and for her long contribution to the organization, having served as President of the Alumni Associations in Dallas and the North Shore of Chicago. 

While living in San Antonio, Liz organized the Kappa Stitchers who together created many special gifts for new members and a beautiful Fleur de Lis rug designed by Liz which was auctioned to raise funds for charitable causes. The rug was displayed at the Kappa House at the University of Texas and the Governor's Mansion in Austin. When it recently found its way back to Liz, she conferred with the local alumni group and all agreed that it would be fitting to donate the rug to the Kappa Kappa Gamma Heritage Museum in Columbus, Ohio, where it welcomes visitor today. 

Though Liz never envisioned that her designs would be in a museum or in a cathedral or in sanctuaries around the country and in England where she designed an altar cloth for a historic church in Yorkshire, she takes great joy in knowing that her work has added to the worship of God and to the beauty of His house.

Watch the video below by Material Media on Liz Wilson's Life and Work

"Liz Wilson Needlepoint Artist"