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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Sylvia Plath Quilt

Photo: Paul Macapia

Sylvia Plath Quilt


Ross Palmer Beecher

American, born 1957

Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics. If I stand very still, they will think I am cow parsley.

Sylvia Plath, The Bee Meeting.

Irreverent and observant, Ross Palmer Beecher gravitated toward the poetry of Sylvia Plath because, as she says, "She's dark and I'm dark." Beecher spent two years composing and hand stitching a quilt to honor this American poet. At the center are two lines from the poem "Lady Lazarus": "Dying is an art. Like everything else, I do it exceptionally well." The stitching and patches are loaded with referencesto bees, to dying, to graveyards and to another woman's compulsive behavior. Since making this quilt, Beecher has gone on to create quilts from unconventional materials to commemorate many different heroes and sheroes and offer her own version of American history. A visit to her studio reveals her unflinching magic.
Fabric and woodcut
94 x 68 in. (238.8 x 172.7 cm)
Mark Tobey Estate Fund
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

I am the magician's girl who does not flinch.

Sylvia Plath, from "The Bee Meeting," 1962

Words That Inspire

"Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air."
--Sylvia Plath, "Lady Lazarus," 1962

Such strong words inspired this biographical quilt. Just as a poet carefully chooses her phrases, so Ross Palmer Beecher chose the proper imagery to convey the conflicted nature of her life. She calls it a memorial and shrine to Sylvia Plath.
Sylvia Plath, ca. 1950-1963
Donated by Corbis-Bettman. ©CORBIS/Bettmann, U1889231

Why Bees?

"The queen bee marries the winter of your year" is the last line of a poem by Sylvia Plath entitled "The Beekeeper's Daughter." Plath wrote a lot about bees. Her father was a bee keeper, and she followed his fascination about their colonies, the queen, their "curtain of wax," musk scents, search for pollen, hives and "spiky armory." Ross Palmer Beecher says she's always liked bugs and insects, but particularly bees, because who wouldn't admire "something little that can put a chemical in you and cause an anaphylactic shock"? She saw bees flying in and out of hives, busily organizing the colony, as another affiliation with Sylvia Plath. "She was obsessive in her work, a dynamo, with two children, a husband, she baked pies, she had everything that was supposed to [make her] happy."
Detail of bee, 98.86
Photo: Paul Macapia

Why Tombstones?

Graveyards are a favorite place for Ross Palmer Beecher, and she thought Sylvia Plath would like the tombstones. The tombstones placed on the quilt are based on rubbings and printed on old t-shirts. Beecher says that her favorite place for tombstones is a "classic New England graveyard that had become ratty and full of blackberries. It was beautiful there, I'd go and spend hours with its sense of history, peace and solitude. I was enamored of tombstones and like most folks, I'd rub them. Nobody cared at this one."
Detail of tombstone, 98.86
Photo: Paul Macapia


Ross Palmer Beecher shares her inspiration for Sylvia Plath Quilt
Accusations of Morbidity
Hear Beecher's story of what happened when the quilt was first shown at the Old Greenwich Art Society.
Where the Cloth Came From
Listen to Beecher's account of getting fabric from a paper route.


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "Dis-Figured", May 31, 2001 - March 17, 2002

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "First Person Singular/Dis-Figured", May 31, 2001- March 17, 2002 (5/31/2001- 3/17/2002)

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "Testimonies: The Art of Ross Palmer Beecher and Barbara Earl Thomas", August 20, 1998 - January 24, 1999, (8/20/1998-1/24/1999)
Published References"Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures." London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, p. 45

cf., Darling, Michael et al. "Betty Bowen Award: Thirty Years." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 2009, pp. 58-59

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.