Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Sign From the Universe

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

When I was 12, my parents sent me to Chinese language summer camp. That’s right, a camp where you do all the normal camp things like singing songs and playing sports, only you do it all in Chinese. And I returned every summer to the northern Minnesota camp, run by the Concordia Language Villages, for the next 10 years.

When I went away to college, I decided to continue studying Chinese, completing a Chinese Studies minor and attending a semester abroad at Nanjing University. The year before I did my study abroad, however, the Concordia Language Villages offered their very first summer study trip to China – and I was one of the first to sign up. That was my first trip to China.

We studied Chinese language and culture for two weeks in Xi’an but we also did a lot of general tourism. In Beijing, we made the obligatory trip to the Great Wall. And it was there that I got my first taste of what would eventually, MANY years later, become a love of patchwork – fabrics sewn together in intricate patterns to make new, infinitely more interesting constructions.

Women were stationed all along the wall hawking their souvenirs, many of which were patchwork garments, accessories, and baby blankets. I bought as many as I thought I could pack in my luggage. I don’t know why I loved them so much – at the time, I couldn’t so much as even sew a button on a shirt (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much). But textiles like this patchwork jacket...

... are the main thing I purchased – on that trip, and every time I’ve returned to China since. Clearly, the universe was trying to tell me something because here I am, 20 years later, making a research trip to Xi’an specifically to study these types of textiles!

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.


  1. Marin-
    Concordia Language Villages are great! My kids are fluent in Spanish and German because of them. I had no idea you knew Chinese, though!
    Coincidentally, I taught some Chinese students, in Moorhead for Concordia's English camp, how to do patchwork.

  2. Hi Kim! Yeah, CLV is great! We should chat some time about your experience at the English camp -- I'd love to hear about it.