AUBURN UNIVERSITY – On Feb. 26, Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley joined students at D.C. Wolfe Elementary School to construct glass mosaic quilt panels as part of the Children’s Patchwork History Program. Auburn University is a partner in the multi-institutional outreach workshop, which is designed to teach Alabama history, geology, mathematics and art through the creation of the stained glass quilt which will be displayed at the school.
The program for elementary school children teaches participants the significance of quilting to Alabama’s history, how the geology of each unique region relates to the diverse plants and wildlife of the state and how to construct a mosaic glass quilt.
“I just love quilting, and I love to make a quilt for each new grandchild when they are born. I have seven granddaughters, and I try to make one quilt for each grandchild to suit her personality,” Bentley told the students. “Quilts tell a story – why they are made, who made it, why they chose the colors – each of those details tells a story, and so the quilts become very important, very special, especially to future generations.”
Bentley also discussed her favorite quilt, one she made for her husband during his campaign for governor of Alabama.
“When my husband was running for governor, we did not have a big campaign staff and he would travel all across the state, so I was his driver. I am the kind of person who can’t sit still, so while he went in to an interview, I would work on his quilt, by hand,” Bentley said. “There is a pattern called the ‘Cathedral Window,’ and that’s what I used. I gathered his ties from his closet and cut them into little squares, and while he was in an interview or in a campaign meeting, I worked on his quilt. It’s special to him because it has his ties on it. I now have it framed at the mansion.”
The workshop instructors include Linda Munoz, DANA Teaching Artist of Little River Art, Vicky Smith, an environmental educator who has worked with Auburn University Outreach for the last six years, and Kay Stone, outreach administrator for the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.
Munoz wrote the curriculum for the Children’s Patchwork History Program, and she is the primary instructor for the quilting history and mosaic portion of the workshop. Much of her presentation involves a history of the Gee’s Bend Quilters, a group of African-American women who live in Gee’s Bend, a small rural community on a peninsula at a deep bend in the Alabama River. Munoz related the story of how the quilts made by the women in Gee’s Bend, many of which were created from old and used denim clothing, are now prized as works of art, with several hanging in the Smithsonian.
“Quilts are art,” Munoz told the children. “Since this is Black History Month, I am going to teach you about some quilters who lived on the other side of Alabama – the Gee’s Bend Quilters. The quilters of Gee’s Bend have been quilting for a long, long time. The Gee’s Bend Quilters are older women, and they are teaching the younger generation to keep quilting going so somewhere down the road, these quilts will be something special for the state of Alabama and generations to come.”
Following the lesson on quilting history, students divide up into groups and worked to create a stained glass mosaic quilt. At the end of the program, the mosaic quilts are displayed in each participating school.
“It’s an exciting program and it’s very meaningful to us to have the program at our school because it gives our students a chance to see something from the outside – since we are a rural school, it brings real-life meaning to us,” said Lasisi Hooks, principal of D.C. Wolfe Elementary.
Students also received a lesson from Kay Stone on Alabama geology with a strong focus on the paleontology of the Black Belt. Stone described the uniqueness of the geologic history of the Black Belt region and how it contains fossils from the end of the Late Cretaceous period, including dinosaur fossils. She also borrowed fossil specimens from the Auburn University Museum of Natural History collection to show the students.
“While children in these schools take Alabama History in the fourth grade, they know little about the rich cultural and amazing natural history of the places they live. The Children’s Patchwork History Program provides insight into these areas,” said Stone. “We incorporate math to show its importance in quilting, as well as many day-to-day aspects of life. The paleontology segment is always exciting for the kids, especially when they learn the rocks in their area are from the end-of-the-dinosaur period. So the program really incorporates art, mathematics, sciences and Alabama history.”
The Children’s Patchwork History Program at D.C. Wolfe Elementary was funded by a grant from the Alabama Alliance for Arts Education’s “Support the Arts” license tag funds. For more information, contact Kay Stone at email@example.com.
(Written by Candis Birchfield.)