GCMoA keeps Midwest quilting and community building alive


Contributed by Daniel Strong

The Jewel Box Quilters Guild Exhibition has been on display in the Grin- nell College Museum of Art since June.

Jane Hoffman, Staff Writer

This summer saw the triumphant return of the Jewel Box Quilters Guild Exhibition at the Grinnell College Museum of Art (GCMoA), a normally biannual show that had been delayed for three years by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had three years to create it and work out our frustrations with the pandemic-related quilt projects,” said Guild President Jeanette Copeman. These post-hiatus creations were on full display at the Summer 2022 showing, which opened at the Museum on June 23, 2022.

The Jewel Box Quilters Guild launched in Grinnell in 1996, and it is a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities for its members while promoting interest in the art of quilting. Welcoming members at every stage of their quilting journeys, the Guild holds monthly meetings and events with engaging speakers that highlight different elements of the history and practice of quilting.

In addition to these meetings, the Guild has an ongoing “Blankets for Babies” project that has provided over 600 flannel blankets for children born at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center since 2019.

This year’s exhibition featured 87 unique fiber arts pieces designed by 32 members of the Guild, ranging from pieces that would be welcome additions to a king-size bed, to wall hangings to plump pillows adorned with patchwork.

Historically, quilts have served both utilitarian and aesthetic purposes. When tucked into a bed, they are a functional art which creates comfort and warmth. However, quilting can also be harnessed for visual arts projects and storytelling, sometimes presenting a commemoration or narrative. The modern quilt sits at the intersection of art and craft — resulting in an impressive range of final pieces, such as those presented at the Museum.

The collaborative nature of quilting was apparent across the gallery, embodied both by quilts consisting of contributed individual creations from different members of the Guild, and, more abstractly, by the way the artists inspired and challenged one another to explore new techniques and approaches.

“Quilting has traditionally been an activity that brings community together, and this exhibition was a good example of that,” wrote GCMoA Director Susan Baley. “This exhibition was a celebration of the creativity that happened despite COVID.”

In preparation for the exhibition, the Guild members received three challenges, in the form of quilting prompts that they could draw inspiration from. For the President’s Challenge, Jennifer Palmer challenged sewers to craft a quilt inspired by a favorite book. Jean Reavis won the President’s Challenge for “Spider Web,” a patchwork quilt of multi-colored octagons inspired by Charlotte’s Web.

Former president Karen Clark proposed a “WIP” or work-in- progress challenge, asking the quilters to complete a quilting project that they had been considering or working on over the past pandemic years. Jeanette Copeman was selected as the winner of the WIP Challenge for “Blue Radiance,” quilted by Lynette Heetland.

The final challenge was a “Tear and Share” project, in which Guild members began with a yard of fabric that they tore in half and passed along to another member, continuing to split and share the fabric until each quilter had seven pieces of fabric for which to craft a three-layer quilting project. Allison Utech was named the winner for “Island Dreams.”

Additional awards went to Jeanette Copeman (large quilt category), Julie Grayson Fisher (medium quilt category), Debbie Van Arkel (small quilt category) and Susan Kinney (miscellaneous category).

Throughout the summer, museum visitors had the chance to learn from guild members during a series of Saturday tours and cast ballots for the Viewer’s Choice Award, which was given to Nancy Gray for her quilt, “A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew.”

Over the course of the summer, over 2,300 visitors explored the exhibit and experienced a taste of a tight-knit community brought together by a love for quilting and learning in community.

“Quilts signify comfort,” said Baley. “Everyone could use some comfort after dealing with the pandemic for more than two years. The community fostered by quilters is a welcome contrast to the necessary isolation many people have experienced since 2020.”