MARGARET EVANGELINE (MARGE) MEANS
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: May 19, 1921, Auburn, California
Died: December 7, 2015, Reno, Nevada
Maiden Name: Crawford
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Marrried: Jack Lewis Means, 1943
Children: Roger, Alan, Donnie, and Russell
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Major Fields of Work: Artist, Cultural Arts Founder, Organizer, Volunteer
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Quilter, Writer, Homemaker
A smooth stone outline of a butterfly embedded in the cement of her front porch and
another one tiled into her entryway floor, became my symbol of this 85 year-old artist, wife,
mother, great-grandmother, and carrier of culture for her family, community, and, yes, even the
She didn’t always know she would become a cultural icon. The child of Bonnie, from the
little railroad town of Truckee, California, and Thomas, an Irish immigrant who worked on the
railroad, she was born in Auburn, California, near good medical facilities. Margaret Evangeline
Crawford, or “Margie,” as they called her, was the baby girl her parents hoped for, with two
brothers, Cecil, 9 and James, 12, already half grown.
Marge was raised on the stories her mother told about the early days in Truckee, laughing
all the way; her doting father read many books. Margie never tired of them and her irrepressible
wit began with those jolly stories. She said, “I have lived in a male dominated family and I found
the best way to get along with men is to not be serious!”
Work was hard to find, and the family moved from town to town following the jobs.
Five-year-old Margie and her family moved to Susanville, California, then to Alturas. When Bonnie cooked for a hay ranch in nearby Doyle, ten year-old Margie enjoyed riding calves; she shelled peas every day for fifteen people until her hands turned green. In the fall of 1931 they moved to Reno so James could attend the University of Nevada and Margie enrolled in Orvis Ring Elementary School. The child of a resourceful family, Margie learned all the home arts, and she said they could cook something from nothing and sew something new out of something old. From the age of five she, along with her mom, treadled away at the family sewing machine, as Margie made doll clothes. That sewing eventually lead to a quilt block that became part of the International Peace Project and another, in partnership with American and Russian women that exhibited at the Geneva Convention (and featured in Smithsonian Magazine).
Due to the Great Depression, money was scarce and her family deeply troubled, and Margie resolved not to “make waves”. She laughed and joked and cheered up her dad and stayed out of trouble. “I never dared to cry. My brothers wouldn’t let me.” The crying came later.
She played violin in the Reno High School orchestra and was a straight A student. Although she was in the Reno High School 1939 graduating class, because of her mother’s ill health she moved to Berkeley to live with her mother’s sister. Aunt Winnie loved the arts, and soon Margie did as well. They visited galleries and museums and attended ballet, opera, and symphonic performances all over the Bay Area.
She recalled, “At Golden Gate Park, we sipped tea and enjoyed the beauty of the Japanese Tea Garden—roamed the galleries of the De Young Museum with its old masters, and enjoyed outdoor presentations in an amphitheater in a park opposite the De Young. Then back to Berkeley on the ferry—and later after the bay bridge was built—on the train.
One of the most thrilling events was a symphony in Oakland. A beautiful blond woman dressed in a slinky black gown played the cello—“The Swan”—followed by a tenor who sang La Donna e Mobile. A man right behind us leaped up and shouted “Brave”. That was an evening I’ll never forget. That performance spirited Margie to become involved in the performing and visual arts for the rest of her life.
Aunt Winnie sent Margie to the University of California at Berkeley for two years, where she majored in Art. Summers she worked at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento for money to buy clothes. Vacations brought her rushing back to Reno. With her brothers she went fly fishing in the Truckee River and swimming to the middle of Pyramid Lake. In winter they skied at Galena Creek. One summer she paid an office visit to James, who had graduated as a mechanical engineer and was working at the architectural firm of DeLongchamps and Obrien. There, working at a drafting table right across from James was a handsome young college student named Jack Means. Margie fell in love for the first and last time in her life.
Six months later, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America was at war. Jack joined the Marines and left for the war, and Marge worked as a Teletype operator at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. When Jack returned in 1943 from duty in the South Pacific, they were married in the First Methodist Church in Sacramento. After a stint in San Diego Jack was again shipped out; he brought the now-pregnant Margie to her parents in Sacramento. There, she gave birth to her first child, Roger, whom Jack didn’t see until he was five months old.
After the war they moved back to Reno, where Jack finished college on the G.I. bill. The family grew to four boys—Roger, Alan, Donnie, and Russell. They always needed money, and Marge sewed all the boys’ clothes. “I could get 3/4 yard of corduroy for seventy-five cents and could make a little pair of rompers for each one.” One day a neighbor came to the house and Margie drug out her old college art portfolio; the neighbor urged her to pursue this love of art.
Childcare was unheard of, and working outside the home was no simple chore. The family unit, with the husband as head of the household and the wife as the support system, was the accepted norm. It was a way of life that worked in a country that had just emerged victorious from a terrible war. Still, stay-at-home women often felt left out. Marge, however, shared baby-sitting duties with friends in order to get out of the house to attend the art classes she craved. She read about a portrait-painting workshop sponsored by Harold’s Club (1). “I had just had my fourth boy and I joined the class.” After a year, Marge, as she was now called, became president of the Portrait Society of Reno and managed it for thirty-three years. “I finally got back into art and that really saved me. It gave me a purpose and I got back into something I had given up when I married. Then there was the camaraderie of being with other artists.” In 2006, the Nevada Portrait Society celebrated 50 years and had 57 members. Marge arranged for the models, locations, and all the finances. She also became a member of the Nevada Artists Association.
Her time as an artist was blossoming and then the sad times struck. On Nov. 11, Armistice Day, her teen-age son, Russell, took his own life. She grieved terribly. A friend thought she could be a helpful member of the Crisis Call Center; Marge joined the board of directors. She connected with a support group, Survivors of Suicide. It was an immense help. She began running the group, then formed other support groups, and finally began speaking before civic groups. She gained solace from the First United Methodist Church of Reno, where she was a member and frequent volunteer, and her mind eased.
Her art career soared, and she interpreted the definition of “art” broadly. She was the first in Reno to begin miniature painting and eventually sold 500 miniatures. She also taught the technique at the YWCA. She supported Reno Opera Guild and joined their first board of directors. She loved theater and immersed herself in volunteering when the Opera Guild was housed in the Reno Little Theater on Sierra Street, from making the sets, to sewing, to selling tickets. She was a founding member of the Artist Co-operative of Reno in 1966 and began her huge output of still lifes, flowers, and eventually clowns, in the oils she employed during her early years at U.C. Berkeley. She became president and gallery director. She sold dozens of her works and won several awards from the Washoe County Fair and the California State Fair.
And she made quilts—first the traditional patterns and later some of her own design. In 1976 she and friend, Carol Mousel, envisioned the creation of a quilt to raise funds for the newly formed Sierra Arts Foundation. They contacted artists, well-known Nevadans, and needleworkers to contribute images for the quilt. This group put together the Nevada Bicentennial Quilt, which raised $3,000 for Sierra Arts Foundation, an unheard-of amount at the time. She also made a block (of her grandson’s drawing) for a national Peace Quilt, organized in Washington, D.C. They wanted each U.S. Senator to sleep under it and think about the children. Not every senator agreed to this request, but Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt did, and his name is embroidered on the Nevada block. This quilt is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute and is one of two national quilt projects in which she participated. She made one with Russian quilt makers. It contained 20 blocks of Russian children and 40 blocks of American children. They took it to the Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland and worked on it there. This quilt is in Russia now, but Marge was unsure of its location.
Marge was a part of the first docent class at the Nevada Historical Society and helped restore that quilt collection, curating the first major exhibition around the theme “Quilts in Women’s Lives.” This exhibition brought national attention to the society and to the community as an important women’s art form.
She became a longtime member of the League of American Pen Women and was twice elected president of the organization. She produced a book of her writings. She also held memberships in the Nevada Artists Association and the Latimer Art Club, Nevada’s oldest active art organization (2). Again, she was honored at the invitation to join and, as usual, became president.
When the Assistance League of Reno-Sparks organized, Marge was there (3). She taught crafts at the Senior Center. Those classes led to the formation of the Senior Sampler, a store where seniors make and sell their handmade objects.
Her obituary said, “She was popular, known for her quick wit and keen sense of humor, and delighted many listeners with her comedic reflections on life.”
- Reno’s Harolds Club was a casino established in 1935; it was to become one of the most famous gambling places of its day. It closed in 1995. (From online Nevada encyclopedia, a publication of Nevada humanities)
- Established in 1921
- Assistance League was the first nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonsectarian organization founded in the west to recognize the potential of volunteers in helping those less fortunate to a better, more meaningful life. The Reno chapter was organized in 1977.
Researched and written by Mary Lee Fulkerson.
Sources of Information:
- Nevada State Journal, Reno, NV Society Clubs, “Margie Crawford Jack A. Means Married.” June 25, 1943, p. 5 column 1.
- Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, NV, “Church Rite Unites Well Known Couple.” June 25, 1943 p. 10:7.
- Nevada State Journal Arts section, “Nevada Scenes Depicted in Unique Quilt.” Article includes names of many Reno women active in the arts. February 13, 1952, p. 11:2.
- Nevada State Journal, “Marge Means Winner at Comstock.” Art in the Silver circle by Velda Morby; August 8, 1975, p. 8:5.
- Mary Lee Fulkerson personal interviews with Marge Means conducted from March to September 2006.
- Reno Gazette Journal Obituaries, “Margaret E. Means.” December 13-20, 2015.
(For the in-depth biography, access the Nevada Women’s History Project files in their Reno office.)