Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Quilters piece together tribute to State Parks

From simple needle and thread grew history preserved in fabric.

Inspired by their favorite state parks, quilters throughout California pieced together a fitting tribute to a milestone anniversary. And now the public is invited to two parties to celebrate – including one today.

California’s State Parks system marks its 150th birthday this month. With 280 state parks, how to commemorate such a farflung sesquicentennial?

That was the challenge up to co-chairmen Donna Pozzi and Mike Lynch. They got a big boost from an unexpected source – quilters.

“Before this project, I didn’t really fully appreciate that quilting is so popular,” said Pozzi, State Parks’ chief of interpretation and education. “It just took off. … What’s remarkable is how many people took up needles and got involved.”

Leading the way were scores of quilters from one guild: Quilters’ Sew-Ciety of Redding.

With about 230 members, the Redding guild has a national reputation for fine art quilts. Never destined to top a bed, these are fabric masterpieces, fit for museums.

Cris Hartman, a retired parks ranger in Redding, gets credit for coming up with the state parks quilts idea. An avid quilter, she coordinated the Redding quilters with co-chair Patti Aberg. They used the parks’ birthday as a challenge for their members, who produced 57 one-of-a-kind quilts. Each is a fabric postcard, 20 by 30 inches, and filled with love.

“You’ve got to see them in person,” Hartman said. “You get to see that 3-D element and texture.”

Those quilts are now on display in the ballroom of Sacramento’s Leland Stanford Mansion, a state historic park. Built in 1856, the mansion on N Street was home to three early California governors (including Stanford) and also served as the official governor’s office at the time the parks system was born.

That made the mansion an appropriate setting for two commemorations of the parks’ anniversary, Pozzi said. Today is Quilters’ Appreciation Day at the mansion, with the first public showing of the quilts. On Sept. 28 (the actual anniversary of the parks system’s start), the mansion will host a birthday party with cake, portrayals of parks pioneers and, of course, the quilts.

“After that, we’re taking them on the road,” Hartman said. “They’ll be at the Bidwell Mansion (in Chico) in October and Old Shasta (state historic park) during the holidays. They’ll be part of the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara (also in October). But they’ll also go to Oregon, Oklahoma and Kentucky. We’ve gotten requests from all over.”

That initial Redding challenge grew into a statewide effort by guilds from Eureka to San Diego.

At first, State Parks officials wanted to put all the quilts on display. But the shear numbers – more than 150 quilts – made that overwhelming. At Hartman’s suggestion, they opted for a combination of live and virtual shows. While the Redding quilters’ efforts would be displayed together at Stanford Mansion and other sites, viewers could see all the quilts and their stories online at the State Parks system’s special 150th birthday website.

The quilts themselves are beautiful, but even more moving are the words the quilters chose to describe why they picked particular parks.

“The statements are so powerful,” Pozzi said. “It’s so interesting and personal to read why these parks mean so much to these quilters.”

“I started reading the inspirations for these quilts, and it’s hard to stop,” said Lynch, the recently retired superintendent of the Auburn State Recreation Area. “Everybody had a whole story behind why they did that state park for their quilt. It was really amazing. They had these deep connections with the parks. … And these are quilts, they’re a lot of work. It’s not just uploading a photo (to a website).”

Redding quilter Kathleen Hackney, for example, pulled from a childhood memory and a beloved landmark. In fabric, she captured the surreal landscape of Mono Lake’s Tufa State Reserve.

“Many summer vacations during my childhood included a day visit to this natural wonder,” Hackney wrote. “I wanted to create the rugged tufa landscape below the sunset sky.”

Hartman used Point Lobos as her inspiration. “It’s one of my favorite state parks,” she said. “Actually, I went hiking there on Mother’s Day a couple of years ago and took photos. My quilt (image) was taken from a photo from that day.”

Aberg, a retired engineer, chose a favorite bridge at the Russian Gulch State Park.

“Patti loves old bridges,” Hartman said. “What’s amazing about that quilt is it’s all to scale.”

Viewers get inspired, too.

“The quilts evoke a lot of memories,” Hartman said. “People look at them and say (such things as), ‘I remember when we went camping there.’

Lynch even made a tribute quilt. He got help from a seamstress friend to create his ode to Yosemite, the first state park. “I’ve been involved with a lot of the 150th birthday stuff, and I decided I had to do a quilt,” he said. “I just had to be part of this quilt thing, too. I don’t know anything about quilting, but it’s fun.”