Ruth Riceman wasn’t sure what to expect before her talk on the history of quilting at a recent gathering at Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates. She was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when all the men and women attending remained rooted in their seats, asking questions and clamoring for more information. As Ruth noted, “If you ask people to come and listen to you speak, you need to make it worthwhile.”
Although Ruth loved to crochet, knit, cross-stitch and needlepoint, she never considered quilt-making. Then she met a woman almost 30 years ago who extolled the virtues of quilting, so Ruth decided to try her hand at making one. From that day forward, Ruth embraced quilting with a passion. As she so aptly puts it, “I was hooked!”
After taking lessons, reading books and studying the art of quilting, Ruth began experimenting with her designs. She soon became well-known for her beautiful pieces and was gratified when people started commissioning her to make quilts for them. For each quilt, Ruth met with the individual to discuss design, colors, style and size.
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Ruth received a BA from Brandeis University. One of the highlights of her college years was attending a class taught by Eleanor Roosevelt. “Imagine my surprise upon going to class one day and having her as the teacher!” said Ruth. After college, she was introduced to Elliot Riceman by his cousin. Ruth said she knew he was “the one” after their first date. She and Elliott married and raised their daughter, Lisa, in Sudbury. Ruth volunteered in the school library for many years, ultimately turning it into a paid position.
A resident of Kaplan Estates for the past year and a half, Ruth is grateful for the company of the staff and residents during the pandemic. She recently received her second vaccine and is looking forward to spending time with Lisa, friends and family, as well as resuming an active schedule at Kaplan Estates.
Ruth attributes her youthful looks at age 82 to “good genes.” “My mom looked young her entire life,” said Ruth. “She always claimed her secret weapon was using Ponds cold cream twice a day. Whatever the reason, she looked beautiful and aged gracefully.” Perseverance must also run in Ruth’s family. In 2017, Ruth suffered a stroke, and while her recovery was not easy, she worked hard and today she is very much back to herself. To aid with word retrieval, she worked her way through a book of New York Times crossword puzzles. “The puzzles really helped restore my vocabulary,” said Ruth.
“Everyone adores Ruth,” said Andrea Hillel, executive director of Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates. “Ruth brings a sense of warmth to everyone she comes into contact with. Her stories about her life and quilting are fascinating. We are lucky to have Ruth as a part of our Kaplan family.”
When asked which of the many quilts she has made is her favorite, Ruth demurred. “It’s really hard to pick just one,” admitted Ruth. “I loved a blue and white quilt with intricate patchwork squares that was actually a Japanese version of a traditional American design,” said Ruth. The work of art took Ruth almost two years to complete, but it was definitely a labor of love.
Ruth can easily pinpoint her most memorable quilting project. She organized a group to make quilts for women in the Framingham penitentiary who were about to have babies. Ruth and her friends worked non-stop and ended up completing 75 one-of-a-kind quilts. Ruth recalls how touched the women were to receive the gift. “If you are lucky enough to have a talent,” notes Ruth, “you have to use it to help somebody else.” And that’s exactly what Ruth did.
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