(Deserted Foothills by Jean Wells Keenan)
Recurring themes in her textile art have to do with her fascination with color and natural configurations: rocks, trees, grasses, flowers and the land. As a Central Oregonian for all but 12 years of her life, the natural beauty around her is a constant inspiration. This is the common thread running through her mind as she works, intuitively designing quilts, while letting the pieces take on a life of their own. Jean is fascinated with line, pattern, shape, color and texture, and how to design with these elements to capture the essence of what she sees and feels. Exploration is a running theme in her work. Her favorite quotation is from Emerson: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”
Jean is an educator at heart, having taught home economics in the Beaverton area for eight years before returning to Central Oregon to raise a family. She chose Sisters as a place to relocate because of the strong school system. Jean ran for the school board and was chairman for two years. At the same time, she looked for opportunities to teach patchwork and quilting. She opened the Stitchin’ Post, a fabric store, in order to have supplies for her students. That was 1975 — when Sisters had just adopted the 1880’s theme for the downtown, and Black Butte Ranch was being developed. Since then, Jean has written 30 “how-to” quilting books, been inducted into the Quilter’s Hall of Fame, won numerous awards (for her quilts and Stitchin’ Post) and traveled the world teaching quilting. However, her home base has always been the Stitchin’ Post, and she thrives on her involvement as an educator. She has been known to say, “I just need my student fix.” Jean loves the process of connecting with students and seeing their progress as they learn new skills.
The first summer the store was open, Jean and her business friend Cathy Howell decided to have a summer faire of sorts — with Jean’s quilts and those of her family on display outside, along with Cathy’s pottery and handmade goods. The Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show launched that summer, and has grown to be an iconic art event for the whole country. On February 19 of this year, Jean received the Ben Westlund Memorial Award for her founding vision and tireless stewardship of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show over the last 45 years.