The “Inspired by the National Parks” quilt exhibition, which opened June 17 at four Forest Preserve locations, was a big hit with quilters and national park fans during its 17-day run.
Around 5,500 people viewed the 177 art quilts, which represented the beauty and nature of 59 national parks, before the show closed on July 3.
“I was very impressed with all of them,” said Margaret Grab of Joliet, as she viewed the quilts on the show's final day at Sugar Creek Administration Center in Joliet. “Each one seemed very unique and the detail is amazing. We were very fortunate to have it come to Will County for people to see.”
The art quilts were created by quilters around the country in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial celebration in 2016. Since then, the exhibition has traveled the United States with the Forest Preserve showing being the only time all 177 quilts were on display in Illinois.
Grab’s friend Helen Berg of Crest Hill said she was fascinated by the intricate quality of the quilts, which incorporated materials and objects from the national parks into the fabric creations.
“I do simpler quilts,” Berg said. “The people who have done these are very talented. I think they’re great.”
Marilyn Boehner of Joliet, who organized the outing for Grab and Berg, said she wasn’t sure what the quilts would look like until she arrived at Sugar Creek. “I think they’re beautiful,” she said.
Others also weren’t sure what to expect, said Deanna Daniel, a member of the Heritage Quilters Guild in Lockport, who volunteered to interpret the quilt exhibition as a docent. “One gentleman told me he thought a quilt was a blanket for a bed, and so he was very surprised when he saw small quilts that told a story and showed nature,” she said.
Each park was represented by a 20-by-44-inch landscape quilt and two 20-by-20-inch quilts representing the flora and fauna found at the site.
Many quilt show visitors said they were visiting some of the Forest Preserve sites for the first time. In addition to Sugar Creek, quilts also were on display at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon, Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville and Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete Township.
Visitors came from all over Illinois to view the quilts, including as far away as Galena and Southern Illinois. Some out-of-state visitors were here for other reasons, but they took time to see the quilts.
“I met one lady from Springfield, Ill., who came up by herself and was doing an overnight trip to see the exhibit,” said Tina Riley, facility supervisor at Four Rivers. “Another lady was from Houston, Texas, and she planned a trip to see a Chicago area friend just so they could take in the exhibit.”
The Quilters Trunk quilt shop in Chicago organized a bus tour of the exhibition and a group of master naturalists from Livingston County also organized a group tour.
Joy Ahearn of Dwight drove with her friends Pam Riss and Susie Bedeker, both of Streator, to see as many of the quilts as possible on the last day of the show.
“We’re quilters and we’ve been quilting for years and years, and we appreciate … the colors, the quilting and the artistry, with all of the fibers and the different things they added,” she said of the quilts' creators.
Riss said she’s new to quilting, but couldn’t wait to see the show. “I’m just excited that the national parks are being represented by quilters; that’s just amazing,” she said. “I’ve been to a couple of national parks, but I’d love to see all of them. And this is kind of a way to visit without being there.”
Bedeker agreed. “It makes you want to go on vacation to see some of these things because they’re so well represented by all of the different artists,” she said of the quilts, which feature waterfalls, flowers, animals and a wide variety of national park terrains. “This is not the type of quilting I would ever do, so I appreciate their gift. This is amazing.”
As the hours ticked down on the last day, Joanne DiNovo, also a member of the Heritage Quilters Guild in Lockport, reflected on her time as a docent.
“Everyone looking at the quilts has had a smile on their face,” she said. “Maybe they’re remembering a visit to that park as a child. And many are quilters, so they have an appreciation of both the nature and the techniques that were used. It’s just been a great deal of fun.”
Riley said the volunteer docents at Four Rivers really made a difference.
“Our quilt guild partner was Pieces from the Heart from Morris. Twenty-four guild members provided nearly 100 hours of their time to answer quilting questions and assist visitors in viewing some of the unique details and techniques in the beautiful art quilts,” she said. “Their contributions during the exhibition definitely added to the enthusiasm and positive feedback we received from our visitors.”
In addition to the Lockport and Morris quilt guild volunteers, Plum Creek was staffed by volunteers from Pieces ‘n Patches quilt guild in Steger and Isle a la Cache volunteers came from Pride of the Prairie Quilters in Plainfield.
Now that the exhibition has ended at the Forest Preserve locations, the quilt show will continue its trek around the country until reaching a final exhibition at the Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville, Va., in the second half of 2019.
After that, most of the quilts will be returned to their makers; some are being donated, and some have sold, according to Donna DeSoto, the Virginia quilter who organized the show and created a detailed record of the exhibition in a book titled, “Inspired by the National Parks: Their Landscapes and Wildlife in Fabric Perspective.”
More information on the quilt show and its touring schedule is available on the exhibition’s website.
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