Quilts take to the rafters for show at Natrona Heights library
Dorothy O'Donnell views quilts much like a family.
“Just as the pieces of a quilt start out small and are many different shapes, sizes and colors, so are we as family members,” the Brackenridge resident says. When you put all those different personalities together, be they cloth or human, it is a beautiful work showing blends and contrasts all in one piece, she says.
O'Donnell grew up in a large family on a Nicktown, Cambria County, dairy farm passed down through several generations. She pays tribute to the spirit of family with her entry in the 15th Annual Quilt Show at Community Library of Allegheny Valley, Harrison, under way during library hours through Feb. 16.
She fashioned the peach-color, queen-size quilt, using a cathedral-window block pattern made from squares of coordinating fabrics, with butterflies on the border, with the assistance of her 91-year-old mother, Rose Marie Lieb, at her home in Nicktown.
“For six weeks last year, I would go there and spend a few days working on it together with her and talking and asking her things of her childhood,” O'Donnell recalls fondly. “She enjoyed the company, and it was a wonderful time together that I will always cherish.”
Her mother, who has nine children, 42 grandchildren and 53-great-grandchildren, still gifts them with quilted pillows, braided wool rugs and ornaments with stitching.
“She is thankful for her big family, and we are thankful for her legacy,” O'Donnell says. “She taught me how to sew as a child, and it has always been something I've enjoyed.”
Quilting has long been part of O'Donnell's life. Both of her grandmothers quilted. “I think God is in every thread of a family, and he provides beauty like the front of a quilt, warmth like the batting, and strength to it, as in the quilt's backing,” she says.
O'Donnell looks forward to the library show every year. “When the quilts are up, the word spreads and everyone brings a friend to see the show,” she says. “The building is perfect for displaying the quilts and wall hangings. They add so much color and creativity.”
It is another strong show, says Caitlin Bauer, the library's adult-programming specialist. “It really helps brighten up our library during the dreariest part of winter. It also gives people the opportunity to share their family heirlooms or showcase their own talents,” she says.
Visitors again can cast “People's Choice” votes for their favorite in hand-quilted, machine-quilted and wall-hanging categories. The nearly 40 entries span a time period of creation from last year to almost 100 years ago.
“The color and variety is incredible. No two look alike,” Bauer says. “People coming into the library literally stopped in their tracks when they saw the quilts hanging for the first time this year. People are amazed by the time, talent and technical skill it takes to create a quilt.”
Linda Jonczak of Brackenridge hopes that everyone attending will appreciate what a labor of love each entry represents. She is presenting “Autumn Leaves,” an heirloom she inherited from her mother, the late Delores Jonczak of Tarentum, made for her by her mother's sister, Natrona native Mercedes Haggart, who died at 94. “It has great sentimental value, and I want to share the handmade beauty of it with other people,” she says.
Sophia Kish of Harrison, represented with two wall hangings, has made 32 quilts through the years and given every one away with love, she says. “People appreciate the love that goes into it. You have to love doing it. I gave mine away because of the love I felt for that person, and I wanted to share my love in the quilt I made,” she says.
She stopped quilting in 2000 to care for her ailing husband, who died three years ago. “I have a quilt I made for my husband that I still put on my bed to remind me of him,” she says. “He made me a quilting frame and made patterns for me on the quilts.”
Kish, 83, wishes that “my eyes and hands still worked,” because she loves quilting. “It always gave me great pleasure to finish a quilt and give it to a loved one,” she says.
Dorothy Acquaviva of Natrona Heights fears that quilting is a “dying art” in a busy world, and it needs to be shared. That's why she has entered two floral quilts created by her late mother, Ether Meanor of Oakmont. “They are expertly hand-crafted. All the stitching is very intricate. I was always so proud of her work,” Acquaviva says.
Darlene Artman of Tarentum, referring to herself as “a lunch lady at Grandview School cafeteria,” is proud to be invited to hang her work each year. “It makes me feel good that other people enjoy your work,” she says. She has two quilts in the exhibit.
Beverly Brown of Leechburg, a quilter “off and on” for 50 years, says “being creative is my relaxation.” Her two entries include a wall hanging that was part of a challenge project for the Piece and Happiness Quilt Club of Allegheny Township. She learned to hand-quilt from her mother and grandmother at church quilting bees when she was a young girl.
Each year, as she walks through the library show, Carrie McKenna of Creighton wonders what the stories are behind each quilt. “I can only imagine the pride in accomplishing such a project when the last stitch is put into place,” she says. “It always amazes me how much attention is paid to every detail, and quilters and nonquilters alike can appreciate the effort in these works of art.”
In keeping with her annual tradition, she again has entered work from her family members to keep their memory alive and to honor the passion of their work. “Log Cabins and Tulips” and “Ohio Blue Star” are the efforts, respectively, of her late mother, Dolley Bresuciak, and grandmother, Frances Poliak.
Making her exhibit debut is Marjorie Rametta of Allegheny Township, who has entered a lap-size quilt with 12 machine-embroidered/appliqued pansies made from batik fabric. “Sometimes, a show like this inspires you to make a quilt,” she says.
Nancy Pauli of Saxonburg, who has two wall hangings in this, her first time in the show, says she finally “took the plunge” into quilting five years ago after she retired. “I have sewn all my life but stayed away from quilting because I thought it might be too time-consuming,” she says. “Quilting has opened a new area to me, lots of new friendships and new learning opportunities.”
She sews with the women at Saxonburg Memorial Church, working on projects throughout the year. “I learn something every time we get together,” she says.
Cheryl Szypulski of Lower Burrell does not consider herself as experienced as many others at quilting, “but I keep trying,” she says. She has a rag quilt, so named for its frayed edges, on display. She calls it “Recycled,” because it is made from recycled material.
Szypulski, who works for an aerospace company, feels this quilt is reminiscent of quilts from the 1800s when women used every scrap of fabric to make warm, heirloom quilts. “I hope when people see my quilts, they see something different every year,” she says. “I love this show because it represents local talent and it really brightens up the library.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.