Tall girl’s textile art confronts lifetime of pain

If Carol Larson had had self-esteem instead of surgery to cut her height by 6 inches, she says, “I could’ve been many things: a professional women’s basketball player, a high-fashion model or a volleyball player.” She titled this quilt “Coulda’ Beens;” it measures 32 inches by 61 inches.



WHAT: Denver National Quilt Festival VI, with quilt show and merchants mall.

WHEN: April 28–May 1, hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Denver Merchandise Mart, 451 East 58th Ave., Denver.

• COST: $12 and includes re-admission; $10 on Sunday.

• INFO: http://www.quiltfest.com.

She was 17 years old and towered over her parents and peers at 6 feet 6 1/2 inches in height. The year was 1965, and Amazon warrior was not among Carol Larson’s career choices.

In a powerful exhibit of her textile art, “Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work,” Larson tells a story about body image, self-esteem and obsession with appearance, which still echoes in today’s society.

Fifteen pieces of this series will be shown Thursday through May 1 at Denver National Quilt Festival VI at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

As a teen, Larson of Petaluma, Calif., was surgically shortened by 6 inches, in the hope that a reduction in height might lead to a more normal life. Instead, three painful operations “broke my body, nearly crushed my spirit and forever changed my life,” she says.

Afterward, the family never spoke of the procedures.

By age 35, Larson began to question why such a choice was made. But her father forbade any discussion of it, even threatening to disown her if Larson persisted. She repressed her feelings at the time.

Then in her mid-50s, joint debilitation set in as a result of the surgeries. With the loss of her mobility and her independence, Larson says she began to truly grieve for her broken body.

Still fearful of angering her father, Larson found a voice through her art and began to express her outrage. Her series of textile art — a total of 23 — became a four-year project, through which she found courage, acceptance and healing.

Acupressure and therapy also empowered her after more than four decades of pain and emotional scars.

The quilt series “set me free,” Larson says. Her original intent was personal healing, “but my focus has shifted to encouraging others to expose their own secrets, which fester and create havoc in their lives.”

One of the pieces she made addresses the pain Larson felt during a trip to the emergency room. A nurse asked Larson to rate her pain level on a scale of 1 to 10, but Larson said it was off the scale and called it a 14. The nurse rejected that number, but Larson’s response was that her daily pain level doesn’t always fit into the standard medical measure. The resulting quilt shows flames of pain shooting ever higher on a continuum.

Another quilt titled “Coulda’ Beens” is a panel of three faceless women, one shooting a basketball, one posing as a model and another spiking a volleyball.

Larson says if she had had self-esteem instead of surgery as a teenager, she could have turned her height to her advantage in pro basketball, the high-fashion arena or on the volleyball court.

After her cathartic quilt-making process, Larson says happily that her creativity for other textile art “absolutely soared.” Screen-printing on cloth is her chosen medium, and today she designs mostly abstracts. She also creates complex cloth through various dyeing processes.

Much of Larson’s art is in corporate and private collections, as well as exhibited in museums and galleries. You can see her textile art at http://www.live2dye.com.

Larson’s newest works are called Currents and Upheavals. A lifelong fascination with the curved line inspires the first. The second, sadly, is prompted by an elder parent with dementia and how that upsets “already dysfunctional” family dynamics, she says.

As fate would have it, Larson says, “my father is unaware that I have spoken my truth. It is probably just as well, although it continues as an unmentionable subject in my birth family.”

Fortunately, she now has a means of expressing herself during difficult times — through cloth.

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