DARKE COUNTY — As the holidays fade, and a new year begins, January’s chilly wintry nights motivate many of us to find a renewed “comfort and joy” in the warmth of chicken soup, fuzzy slippers, and a cozy quilt.
The designed pattern, decorative colors, and intricate stitching of a well-made quilt can often escape our notice, as we seek refuge from the plummeting temperatures outside. The many hours spent sewing each piece requires artistic vision, talented hands, and great patience. Indeed, in addition to being an essential and practical asset, a quilt can often tell a story, conveying the best elements of family and community life, well-loved and well-lived.
Over the centuries, quilts have become a part of the fabric of history, both in Europe, India, the Far East, as well as colonial America and beyond. In 13th century medieval Britain, quilts, called culcita (meaning “cushion” in Latin) were first used both as bed coverings and ornate patterned clothing in weathy families, and passed down as heirlooms from one generation to the next. Because bed coverings were large and required great skill and labor to complete, the concept of quilting as a social activity became popular, especially in colonial North America, where early Dutch and English immigrants created the quilting tradition, known as a “bee.” Women would gather together, and through the patient skill of many hands, a large quilt could be stitched in a single day. Today, three different techniques are often used in the concept and creation of a great quilt: patchwork (pieces of torn cloth stitched together), appliqué (cut out patterns in shapes and designs), and embroidered (embroidered stitchery from patterns on solid color fabrics).
This past school year (2019-2020), Mississinawa Valley Art Instructor, Ashley Austerman, wanted to add some fiber art into the curriculum at Mississinawa Valley Schools. Funded with an Ohio Arts Council grant, titled “Art in the Darke,” Austerman, along with Ohio Arts Council Residency Artist, Kate Gorman, encouraged MV high school art students to explore the use of fabric and textiles in the design and creation of heirloom quality quilts. In September 2019, they began the year-long journey to assist students in the creative process of designing and assembling the patterned fabrics.
“We were inspired to apply for the Teach Arts Ohio grant to bring art in our community,” said Austerman. “ I chose the artist by researching and calling local art organizations for recommendations for artists to do residencies. I wanted to bring someone into our schools that could share lots of new skills and techniques, and also bring community art projects into the community. Kate Gorman of Westerville, Ohio, stuck out to me because she had many skills that myself and students at MV could learn from, and she had a lot of unique community artwork included in her portfolio.”
Additional funding was granted by Wayne HealthCare, who provided the community influence for “Art in the Darke” quilt project. Terri Flood, Vice President of Business Development, and Jennifer Robinson, Marketing and Physician Outreach Coordinator, invited MV students to tour the Greenville facility, drawing inspiration from the many dedicated health care workers and support staff who provide encouragement and comfort to those needing medical attention. Students were inspired by the chapel, respiratory unit and consultation rooms, nursery, surgery floor, cancer center, and their new addition.
“The students took a tour of Wayne Healthcare to develop their ideas. We wanted our students to experience the full aspect of designing a piece of artwork for a space,” explained Austerman. “Wayne Healthcare did an awesome job at giving our students an educational tour that inspired many of their ideas.”
Some of the project designs created by students included Looking Back, Looking Ahead (a collection of four quilts highlighting the four generations of Wayne HealthCare), Ribbons (cancer awareness) Love, Strength, Faith, Hope (the Chapel and the importance of faith) Greenville (host community ) Starry Night (Birthing Center) and Breathe (respiratory care services).
As with most schools in last March, COVID-19 brought many challenges to MV students and staff who were in the midst of completing this project. “The students just finished their fabric collages right before we were all let out in March, and a few groups of students that had to work independently on their quilts from home,” explained Austerman.“In our original plan, we were going to ask for volunteers to put the backing on the quilts, but since we were all at home during the Stay-at-Home order, our visiting artist, Kate Gorman, put the backing on all the quilts and did the top stitching from her home in Westerville.”
Additional funding and in-kind donations came from many in the community, including Walmart, the Red Barn (Monroeville, Ind.), Frank Miller, Lumber Co. Inc., Pellon, Elaine Mote, Lois Hoggatt, Kathy Street, Audrey Hathaway, as well as parents and friends of the Mississinawa Valley schools.
The beautiful quilts are currently displayed throughout the hospital and in the new addition at Wayne HealthCare, located at 835 Sweitzer Street in Greenville. For more information on viewing the quilts, visit the Wayne Healthcare Facebook page, or visit waynehealthcare.org. For more information on the Ohio Arts Council and Teach Art Ohio, visit them on the web at www.oac.ohio.gov, or on Facebook.