Quilts covering America’s national parks to summer in Will County


After Donna DeSoto put out a call for art centered on a theme of the nation’s most beautiful places a throng of quilters from across the country and as far away as Germany responded.

This summer, the fruits of their efforts will be on display at some of the most beautiful spots in Will County.

An exhibit of 177 quilts depicting the nation’s national parks will be on display in June and July at select locations of the Forest Preserve District of Will County

“This project has taken on a life of its own,” DeSoto said from her home just outside Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The local exhibit, Desoto said, is just one stop of a four-year tour for the quilts, with stops at historic sites, forest service centers, and other venues around the country.

The Will County exhibit opportunity comes at a time when the district is making an “intentional effort” to incorporate art into its programs and facilities, according to Jessica Prince, education outreach supervisor.

The quilts that will be on display are categorized by flora, fauna and landscape images, DeSoto said, at each of the nation’s 59 national parks.

The process began with quilters — who refer to themselves as fiber artists — putting in a bid for a park and a category.

“Quilters do a lot of research,” DeSoto said, “to decide on a subject and how to deal with that subject.”

Sarah Entsminger is one such fiber artist. She said the quilts in the exhibit “are very different from the quilts you sleep under.” Nor are the quilts a patchwork of printed fabrics of same-size squares.

Entsminger, who lives in a suburb of Virginia and has been quilting for some 25 years, described a process that is very different from cutting squares and sewing them together. She said she begins some pieces with plain white fabric and applies paint, ink, charcoal and even colored pencil to achieve an intended color.

One of her contributions to the exhibit “tells the story of Trunk Bay” in St. Johns Virgin Islands National Park, she said. She used a variety of fabrics from silk to suede to create the finished work. She said her choice of color and texture was an effort to give the effect of flowing water..

Entsminger said capturing the color of the water of the Caribbean was a priority. “Color is probably what translates most to all of our memories,” she said.

But she wouldn’t say how much time went into the making of the quilts.

“We do not keep track of time,” she said. “It takes the fun out of it.”

The traveling exhibit just completed at its 18th location, an antebellum mansion in a suburb of Atlanta. Some of the facilities are not large enough to display all 177 quilts, but that was not the case at Bulloch Hall in Roswell, Georgia.

“Some of these quilts are so picturesque, they make you want to get in the car and go there” said Holly Anderson, the curator at Bulloch Hall. Anderson, a fabric artist herself, said she can appreciate the creativity and the time and talent that went into the making of the quilts.

Over its 10-day stay, the exhibit drew more visitors to the historic site than any other quilt show put on by the Bulloch Hall Quilt Guild, Anderson said.

DeSoto said the group who produced the exhibit gave “attention to the tiniest details in replicating the natural beauty of our national parks.”

“This is a great community of quilters,” she said.

DeSoto who has organized quilt shows based on themes including the Beatles, Elvis and endangered species, said the current exhibit “has been by far the most meaningful to me.”

She said the idea to feature national parks came from her memories of traveling with her parents from one state to another.

“Wherever we were going, we would stop at every national park along the way,” she recalled.

One particular adventure was when her family moved from Michigan to Alaska and DeSoto caught her first glimpse of Olympic National Park in Washington., the basis of one of the two quilts she created for the exhibit. DeSoto’s second contribution to the exhibit shows lupine trees in Mt. Ranier National Park.

As each exhibit closes, the quilts are packed up and shipped to DeSoto’s home, where she inspect each and makes any necessary repairs.

“This is truly a labor of love,” she said.

All 177 quilts will be on display from June 17 to July 3 at Forest Preserve District of Will County visitor centers in Beecher, Channahon, Joliet, and Romeoville. More information is at 815-727-8700 or ReconnectWithNature.org .

Barbara Dargis is a freelancer for the Daily Southtown.



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