A Special Tribute to Gayle Bicknell
Gayle Bicknell was born on December 5, 1933 in Cincinnati, OH. She married Richard Bicknell in July, 1958 and subsequently gave birth to 3 sons: Kenneth, Richard and Jeffery. Though Gayle is known far and wide for her needlepoint designs, she also engaged in knitting, and pursued an avid interest in photography. Her favorite leisure pastimes were reading, fishing and travel.
Gayle found a plentitude of design inspirations in the bosom of her own family. A series of small geometric compositions, named "Little Darlings," resulted from Jeffery's encounters with imaginary friends. Gayle would ask, "Who did this, Jeffery?" and he would reply, "It was the Little Darlings, Mom!" Ken was instrumental in the genesis of "By-Tor," a mythological work containing a variety of different stitches and one of her first designs to include metallic threads. It subsequently garnered blue ribbons both nationally and internationally. "Smog," also a mythologically themed work was inspired by Rick's love for J.R.R. Tolkien's dragon in The Hobbit.
From "Little Darlings" Series
Ken relates, "Mom did several pieces that were inspired by her travels through the Caribbean Islands - Governors Harbour, French Wells and Flamingo Point. The first two of these are actual locations and designs were inspired by Gayle's experiences there. Flamingo Point was named after Mom and Dad had anchored off an uninhabited island in the Bahamas. They discovered a flock of Flamingos on a point of the tiny island and watched the sun set over the pretty birds. They gave this spot the name Flamingo Point and it inspired the piece she designed with that name."
Some of Gayle's early designs featured animals, such as "Clotiel," which depicted a camel. Her all-time personal favorite was "Miranda," portraying a Mermaid with a Carmen Miranda fruit-basket hat, a true reflection of Gayle's exuberant brand of humor. Deborah, Ken's wife, adds, "Mom turned to geometric designs in the 1980's and many of the designs that she taught were of a geometric nature. 'French Wells,' 'Flamingo Point,' 'Governors Harbour' and 'Strikingly Sophisticated' are all shining examples." One of Gayle's most memorable designs was "Moonraker," Combining geometrics juxtaposed with a realistic sailboat motif, it was definitively vintage Gayle. It was designed and stitched for her "Masters" and for years held "pride of place" at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, VA. Currently it is being catalogued for a show planned for the spring of 2002. In the interim, it is on display at the Talley Student Gallery at North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC. "Moonraker" was presented to the public for the first time in Gayle's last book, A Perfect Ten.
Illusions of the Orient
Gayle's most recognizable design was, without a doubt, many a stitcher's personal favorite, called "Pieces Of Eight." This complex composition combined texture, geometric shapes and a multitude of color variations. Its inspiration was the treasure retrieved from the sunken Spanish Galleon, the Atocha. It is also generally regarded as Gayle's most often stitched work. Deborah adds, "Most of her designs were created with the thought for the stitcher to incorporate his/her own ideas and interpretations into the finished piece." This is nowhere more apparent than in this particular design.
Gayle's opus of work is not easily characterized, it being so diverse and eclectic in colors and textures incorporated, motifs and themes rendered and techniques employed. Gayle's emphasis on color and design was the most defining element in her work. Her work encompassed a broad spectrum of techniques - Pulled thread, Geometrics, Metallics, Band Samplers, Couched Threads and Appliqué. She was especially adept at creating geometric and abstract designs, but also generated numerous realistic designs with Christmas themes, animal motifs and a series of ladies sporting a variety of different hats, to name just a few.
In the early '80's Gayle opened her first shop, Needlepoint Junction, in Greensboro, NC. When her husband Richard retired, they moved to the coast and Gayle opened a shop named Nautical Needle in Long Beach, NC. Later, a devastating hurricane destroyed their home and they decided to return to Greensboro. Gayle operated Nautical Needle as a mail order enterprise from her home. Deborah took over the business in 2000, changing the name back to Needlepoint Junction. She is currently completing a design that Gayle began but did not finish, which has been christened "Gayle's Garden." Ken elaborates, "We don't have a projected date for release yet. Mom had finished about half of the design, so Deb has a good idea where Mom was going with the idea." It will be made available to stitchers in the near future.
Gayle as Remembered by her Family, Friends and Fellow Stitchers
Dianne Howard, longtime friend and fellow teacher, stitcher and designer, met Gayle Bicknell in the early '70's and they immediately recognized each other as kindred spirits and developed a special rapport. Dianne relished Gayle's "wonderful, winning personality." Over the years they traveled the country together, attending countless needlework events. Both studied for certification in canvas work at the same time. Gayle went on to achieve her Teacher Certification in Canvas Embroidery Levels I and II from NAN. She became an acclaimed teacher at ANG, EGA and NAN national, regional and local seminars and classes as well as teaching correspondence courses for ANG.
Pieces of Eight
Another very dear and longstanding friend of Gayle's is Joyce Lukomski, editor of needlepoint now magazine. Gayle's son Ken elaborates, "Mom and Joyce were the best of friends, mentors to each other and general 'Partners in Crime.' They shared a passion for their art and both did much to see it promoted and preserved." Joyce shares some thoughts in a tribute to Gayle, which will appear in the September/October issue of needlepoint now, "Pieces Of Eight' will forever be connected to needlepoint now. Our files are bulging with mail concerning this most popular project. Our last issue featured the "Pieces of Eight" gallery.... The issue was 'released to print' on June 21st. On June 22nd I received the sad news about the death of my longtime friend and the creator of the project, Gayle Bicknell. She had not been in good health for several years, but was on the road to recovery we thought. I hope that you will join with me in celebrating the life of this fun-loving person who was wife, mother, grandmother, friend, prolific stitcher and talented designer. We have several more of Gayle's projects waiting to be presented in the magazine and we will do so over the coming months. It will be a wonderful way of remembering Gayle and the joy that she brought to the world of needlework."
Shared by Gayle's Family
Gayle possessed many qualities, one of the most endearing of which was her offbeat sense of humor. Not only could she laugh at the vagaries of life, but she could also poke fun at herself. Called "Funnies," Ken and Deborah share some amusing anecdotes, highlighting Gayle's pervasive "joie de vivre." Says Ken, "My Dad, my brothers and I cannot eat spaghetti without thinking of Mom. In the years she was teaching and traveling, she would make spaghetti by the vat, and then freeze it. Her 'Famous Last Words' before leaving for a seminar were, 'There's Spaghetti in the Freezer.' There was only one thing wrong. Once the Spaghetti was frozen it was TERRIBLE!!! We never told Mom, but we ate out a lot when she was gone. Our biggest mistake was, we destroyed the evidence, so she assumed we liked the spaghetti and kept making it!"
Ken adds, "Debbie and I had a running 'Flamingo War' going with her. At Christmas and Birthdays we would exchange 'tacky' pink flamingo gifts. It was always a challenge to see who could find the 'tackiest' gift .If anyone went on a trip, there was a good chance of them finding a flock of pink flamingos in their yard upon returning!"
He continues, "The funniest story I can think of (my brothers and dad agree on this one) is, while living at the beach during the summer, my Mom and Dad would often go fishing. After a long day offshore, they would come home, get freshened up, have a drink, then go out to dinner. One evening, they got freshened up and were sitting on the porch enjoying their drinks. As they sat and talked, a flock of pelicans flew slowly up the beach. They looked up to watch the birds fly over. BIG MISTAKE! One of the birds let a 'bomb' fly. As Mom looked up, the 'bomb' covered her from one shoulder to the other, knocking the glasses from her face. She very slowly turned to my father and with a tight grin on her face said to him, 'If you laugh, I will kill you!' She then broke into hysterical laughter. Mom had a fantastic sense of humor and when she taught a class, they would get to hear her 'Wide Mouth Frog Joke.' She never took herself too seriously in her teaching or her personal life. She was quite the jester."
Special thanks to Gayle's family, friend and colleagues for sharing these precious memories with us!
Gayle Bicknell's designs are available through Needlepoint Junction.