Renowned quilter Peggie Hartwell has returned to Grand Island.
Hartwell first came to Grand Island in 2008 to work with girls in the fourth through 12th grades who were daughters of Sudanese refugees who settled in Grand Island. Hartwell and quilters from the Grand Island area worked with the girls to create a “story quilt.”
She is back in Grand Island this week, showing adult quilters on Wednesday and Thursday at Material Girl how to create portraits and still lifes in a workshop called “Working With the Soul of the Fabric.”
The premise of Hartwell’s workshop is that the “soul” of the fabric is “hidden in plain sight” as a softer shade or shadow of the dominant color, according to a brochure. These “shadows” enable quilters to create a portrait-style image.
Hartwell will also be at a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Stuhr Museum, where some of her quilts are on display. Her “Voice on Cloth” exhibit began on July 19 and will continue through Nov. 8.
On Saturday, Hartwell will be back at Stuhr to work with young people in third through sixth grades from 10 to 11:30 a.m. That program, which has a 20-person limit, is called “Storytelling Quilt Workshop for Youth.”
“That will bring us full circle,” Curator Kari Stofer said, referring to Hartwell’s work with Sudanese immigrant children at Stuhr Museum in 2008.
Each Sudanese girl worked on a quilt block that either told her story as an immigrant coming to Grand Island or revealed her dreams about her future. The experiences of Hartwell, the area adult quilters and the girls were captured in a documentary called “The Quilted Conscience” by Grand Island native John Sorensen.
The Sudanese girls’ “Quilted Conscience” quilt is normally on display at the Grand Island Public Library. However, it is temporarily on display at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with two quilts created as a result of Hartwell doing similar work with girls in Lincoln and Omaha.
Hartwell said this week’s visit is probably the longest she has been in the community to work since 2008. She said it is good to be in Grand Island again.
“I always feel like I’m home,” she said. “This community is so loving and embracing.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the quilters at Material Girl were deep into their projects. Most were working on portraits of people they know, while a few were creating landscapes. Hartwell walked between tables, answering questions and offering advice on the work the quilters were doing. She also shared stories with the women.
One quilter was Mary Hollowell of Grand Island, marketing director for the YMCA. Hollowell said Stofer teaches art at the YMCA and sent her an email about Hartwell’s quilting workshop.
“I’ve tried to create art quilts on my own,” Hollowell said. “I thought I’d get some tips from the experience of Peggie.”
Part of the work in creating a portrait quilt is using a photograph on a light table not only to draw an outline of a person’s head, nose, eyes, ears and mouth, but also to sketch in the highlights and shadows.
“It’s relaxing to draw,” Hollowell said. “It’s almost meditative.”
She said creating a quilted portrait of her father will not be a quick project. However, she appreciated the fact that the workshop was free.
That was due to support from the Stuhr Museum Foundation, Material Girl, MainStay Suites, the Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Humanities Nebraska.
Lynette Koelzer also was creating a portrait of her father, 91-year-old Merlin Rathman of Wood River. The photograph showed Rathman driving a combine. To create the portrait, a portion of the photograph was blown up to provide a close-up of Rathman’s gloved hand on the steering wheel.
“This is America!” exclaimed Hartwell, who saw Rathman’s gloved hand as an important detail, representing his work ethic. She also encouraged Koelzer to include the creases in Rathman’s face, to show he had worked outside most of his life.
Koelzer said she did not know much about Hartwell until she happened upon a magazine that told about her national reputation, including her “Quilted Conscience” work. Her immediate reaction was of pleasant surprise, noting, “Oh! That’s who we’ll be working with!”