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John Flynn's Crazy Horse posted: 9/1/2003
by Carolyn Lee Vehslage Printable Page
Category: General Method: All Series: In the Studio
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Crazy Horse: A Tribute To Native American & Victorian Quilt Cultures

When John Flynn of Billings, MT was asked to decorate a life-size fiberglass horse for his town's "The Horse, of Course!" fundraiser, he decided to pay homage two American art forms -crazy quilting and symbols of the Plains Tribes.

John describes himself as a quilt-engineer who spends most of his time figuring out simpler ways to execute quilting tasks. He is well known in the quilting industry for his Flynn Multi-Frame System. His books "Trapunto and Stippling" and "Double Wedding Ring" demonstrate some more efficient methods for creating traditional quilts. One of his award-winning quilts, The "Feathered Sun", is an adaptation of traditional Native American Buffalo Robe Paintings.

When it came time to propose a design for one of the 35 embellished geldings, John melded his interests in Victorian era quilting and western themes, and "Crazy Horse" came to life. Several family members helped John create all of the elaborate embroidery on a Bernina 180. After using dozens of western theme appropriate stock designs from Oklahoma Embroidery and Bernina, John's wife Brooke and daughter Kate digitized and stitched pictograms.

Quilter and hand-beader Jerry (Black Butterfly) Belgarde helped John select famous Native Americans for the individual panels that form the crazy quilt fans. Almira Jackson and Bridget Fast Horse are two talented Sioux quilters honored as well as Sacajewa of the Shoshoni tribe, Dull Knife and Two Moons of the Northern Cheyenne, and Crazy Horse (of course) from the Sioux along with his tribesmen Sitting Bull, Black Elk, and Red Cloud.

Mary Beth Billstein, a quilter and history teacher, provided names of famous and infamous Montanans. Apparently a group of fellows known as the Butte Copper Kings are heroes to some and scoundrels to others depending on whom you ask. Jeremiah Johnson, otherwise known as Liver Eating Johnson made the list as well as Jeanette Rankin, the first woman U.S. Senator.

By now you might be wondering, just how John went about making a statue into a quilt? He enlisted the aid of fiber artist Carol Baker who created "Kidd" for the project and owns a horse trailer to pick up and deliver "Crazy Horse". Then his fiberglass expert neighbor Bob Lester prepared the horse's surface for the fabric glue.

John used freezer paper patterns to create the fans and his sister Peggy Larsen helped glue them in place. Any excess fabric was trimmed away a rotary cutter, probably not a company sanctioned method. To fill the spaces between the embroidered panels, John inserted printed velvet and beautiful tie silk. By project's end, his team used over 300 colors embroidery thread and several bottles of Fray-Check.

And since a crazy quilt is not complete unless it's embellished as well, John's sister Joan created ornaments out of lids of chewing tobacco cans and his niece Perrin Larsen painted golden details. Jerry hand-beaded the eyes on soften leather in the traditional Native American method.


The auction of the decorated horses raised over $400,000 for the restoration of the Billings, Montana Train Depot. It's fitting that Ms. Johnnie Thomas from Miles City, that hosts the Annual Bucking Horse Sale, was the highest bidder for "Crazy Horse". His new stable is the Miles City Community College Library.

To create the vivid images for "Kidd", Carol Baker of Livingston used fabric in a different way by photo-transferring old time "dime novel" covers and vintage postcards with cowboy and cowgirl themes in vibrant 1930-1940 colors. She used the decoupage method to adhere the materials on to the horse. The blocks of her patchwork style collage ranged from quite large to very small. Some as tiny as a quarter inch square have words like "Billy the Kidd" on them.

All 35 embellished horses were on display around Billings from June through August of 2002, and were auctioned off on September 7, 2002. "Kidd" was bought by a local business owner for $6,000 and donated to the YWCA. "Crazy Horse" went for $12,000.

2002 Carolyn Lee Vehslage
Carolyn Lee Vehslage maintains an onboard studio on her Mariner Yacht "Fandango". Several of her quilted wall hangings that were created while cruising, are viewable online at

John Flynn
Flynn Quilt Frame Company
1000 Shiloh Overpass Road
Billings, Montana 59106
1 (800) 745-3596
FAX 406 656 9920

More information about the "The Horse Of Course" Project:

When Jane Waggoner Deschner, the Billings volunteer artist-coordinator for "the HORSE, of course!" project, was asked why this type of public art fund-raiser has been so successful she replied, "Because the horses are so accessible. People know they can touch them.

"By taking art from traditional exhibition spaces, I am hoping that people who have never thought about going into a gallery or museum will become interested in art, artists, the artistic process. I believe that each of us has creative potential, but many of us feel insecure about exercising this ability. Art on horses feels familiar - is fun; maybe it can be a bridge."

To help raise renovation funds for the 1909 Northern Pacific Railway Depot, Jane asked each of the 35 local artists to submit five slides of their artwork and a resume. Other committee members secured sponsorship for the purchase of the fiberglass geldings and colts and a small honorarium to cover the artists expenses. Having interviewed project leaders from other cities, Jane convinced the committee not to assign specific sponsors to specific horses. She did not want the artists to feel pressured to incorporate the sponsors logos or colors into their design.

YWCA of BILLINGS (Where Kidd's Horse presides)
(406)252-6303 Fax (406) 245-7867
Phone: 914-946-7474

2003 Hallye Bone

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