PEABODY – Ruth Riceman was not sure what to expect before her hour-long talk on the “History of Quilting” at a recent gathering at Kaplan Estates. So, she was pleasantly surprised when all the men and women attending remained rooted in their seats, asking questions, and clamoring for more information.
“If you ask people to come and listen to you speak, you need to make it worthwhile,” Riceman said.
Although she loved to crochet, knit, cross-stitch, and needlepoint, Riceman never considered quilt making. Then almost 30 years ago, she met a woman who extolled the virtues of quilting, so Riceman decided to try her hand. From that day forward, she has embraced quilting with a passion. “I was hooked!” she said.
After taking lessons, reading books, and studying the art of quilting, she began experimenting with her designs. Riceman soon became well-known for her beautiful pieces and was gratified when people started commissioning her to make quilts for them. For each quilt, she met with the individual to discuss design, colors, style, and size.
Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., just north of the Bronx, Riceman received a bachelor’s degree 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!” she said. After college, a cousin introduced her to Elliot Riceman. She knew he was “the one” after their first date. The couple married and raised their daughter, Lisa, in Sudbury. Ruth Riceman 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, Riceman is grateful for the company of the staff and residents during the pandemic. She recently received her second COVID vaccine and is looking forward to spending time with Lisa, friends, and family as well as resuming an active schedule at Kaplan Estates.
Riceman attributes her youthful looks at age 82 to good genes. “My mom looked young her entire life,” she said. “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 her family. In 2017, Riceman 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,” she said.
“Everyone adores Ruth,” said Andrea Hillel, executive director of the Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates assisted living facility. “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, Riceman demurred. “It’s really hard to pick just one. I loved a blue and white quilt with intricate patchwork squares that was actually a Japanese version of a traditional American design,” she said. The work of art took Ruth almost two years to complete, but it was definitely a labor of love.
Riceman can easily pinpoint her most memorable 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 recalled how touched the women were to receive the gifts. “If you are lucky enough to have a talent,” she noted, “you have to use it to help somebody else.” And that’s exactly what Ruth Riceman does.