Nell Battle Booker Sonnemann ~ North Carolina              Share this page:


"Endnotes" (CUA Magazine, Spring 2005): "A CUA [Catholic University of America] art professor from 1959 to 1979, Nell Sonnemann, M.F.A. 1959, was an acknowledged mentor of sculptor Martin Puryear, the 1963 CUA graduate whom Time magazine has called America’s greatest artist.

"Sonnemann passed away on Aug. 23, 2004. For most of the past three decades, however, she had been a woman on a quest: traveling the world to collect and photograph traditional appliqué textiles. She believed these textiles embodied the spirit and values of the peoples who made them. Appliqué, which Sonnemann called a dying art and 'the most ancient mode of embroidery,' is made by stitching one piece of fabric to another.

"She wrote that she was more than 50 years old when the idea for this quest came to her in a way that 'was as spiritually compelling as a call to a religious vocation.' Selling her house to finance the adventure, Sonnemann eventually made 10 collecting expeditions of up to three months each, visiting corners of the globe from the Arctic to the Amazon River to the Bedouin tents of Syria.

"The Nell B.B. Sonnemann Collection includes 500 appliqués from 30 countries and is housed in the Gallery of Art & Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh."


Wings of a Ragtag Quest
By Nell Battle Booker Sonnemann
compiled and edited by Patricia Malarcher
Hopewell, New Jersey: Sans Serif Studio, 2015.

10 x 7 x 4" box containing twelve 8 x 7.35" soft cover saddle-stitched books. Printed from a computer by a commercial printer. In archival box. Includes appliqued fabric sample as part of box presentation.

Compiled and edited by Patricia Malarcher, custodian of Sonnemann's diaries and journals. This multi-year collaboration with Sans Serif Studio resulted in 12 volumes that follow the journey of professor and artist Sonnemann and her co-travelers in an international search for the traditional art of applique. What began as a mission of exploration became an inward search into the roots of culture and the meaning of preservation and participation.

Patricia Malarcher: "Wings of a Ragtag Quest is a book on the pursuit of traditional appliqué around the world by Nell Battle Booker Sonnemann and collaborators. Nell's search took her to more than 20 countries on four continents but she did not complete her intention to write about all of them. The contents include narratives on the Canadian Arctic, Syria, the Peruvian Amazon, India, Indonesia, Scandinavia, Bhutan, Tibet, Bangladesh, and Mongolia. An assortment of field notes on five other countries comprises the final book. The books provide a sampling of Nell's travels, often to places that no longer are accessible. When she became unable to travel, she commissioned others to continue her quest and those were the collaborators. The total project is a medley of voices. Illustrations include in situ photographs of appliqué, scraps of handwritten notes, maps, receipts from purchases.

"Nell was an award-winning artist working in fabric and a professor on the art faculty at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She retired to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she had grown up in a family with deep roots in the University of North Carolina."


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Page last update: 02.22.16

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