Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Front of quilt
Back of quilt
In January of 2009, Arizona quilter Wanda Seale of Phoenix woke up from a dream in which she had envisioned a quilt that would tell the story of Arizona’s first 100 years of statehood pictorally. The Arizona centennial would not occur for another three years, but Wanda knew that in order to make her dream come true, she had to get busy.
And get busy she certainly did! She began talking with other quilters and meeting with quilt historians and artists, sharing her ideas of a quilt that would involve quilters from all over the state in its construction and that would illustrate Arizona’s landmarks and Native American heritage, as well as its unique flora and fauna.
The Arizona Centennial Quilt Project (ACQP) was formed, with Wanda serving as co-chair along with her friend, Carol Cohen. A team of ten people made up the core group, with help from many others along the way.
Knowing that they would need to raise funds to make the quilt, the Project affiliated with the nonprofit Arizona Quilter’s Hall of Fame. Corporate and private donations came in not only from Arizona but from the rest of the country as well. The Arizona History Museum in Tucson agreed to be the repository for the finished quilt so that it would always have a home and be properly cared for.
Early on in the process, the group applied to the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission for designation as an Arizona Legacy Project, which gave it official state sanction as a project “generated by community members that strives to leave a lasting legacy in honor of the Centennial.”
As word of the project spread, dozens of artists and quilters got involved, brainstorming, researching, and sharing ideas. The state flag, emblems, motto, and official icons; landmarks; the topographical image; four climate zones; native birds, animals, and plants; cities, towns, and historic sites; written information honoring volunteers, governors, and important historians—in short, all the visual representations that describe Arizona—were to be included. The group came up with so many wonderful images that it became clear not all of the information would fit on a single quilt. The end result was actually two quilts that were joined together to make a two-sided piece.
Truly a collaborative effort, the quilt combined the work of many talented Arizona artists (too many to mention by name in this short space) and showcased a variety of techniques, including hand-dyed fabrics, hand- and machine-appliqué, thread painting, hand- and machine-embroidery, fiber painting, confetti appliqué, fraying, a Japanese weaving technique called Kumihimo, and dry-brush painting.
By the time the quilt was finished in May of 2011, literally thousands of hours had been contributed by around 100 people.
One of the most challenging aspects of the project was figuring out how to attach the two masterful art pieces together to form a single unit. Wanda recalled the process.
“Each side was quilted separately with a muslin back. Gina Perkes quilted the front and Susan Vassallo did the back,” she says. “How to put them together? We made a welting, gathered our faithful helpers, and set out to put these two pieces together. First we sewed the welting to the front, next we trimmed and graded the seams and used some glue to keep the seams flat. We had three tables and put the front quilt face down, then laid the back quilt onto the top. Our challenge was to keep the layers together without any gapping or shifting. We started at the top, hand-stitching the back to the front just at the edge of the welting. Every 12 inches down and across, we made stitches to attach the front to the back, using a one-inch thread chain. This method was achieved after several unsuccessful attempts to sew them together.”
Although the Centennial Quilt was the cornerstone of the ACQP, the wide-reaching project also included other aspects. A quilt exhibit, “100 Years, 100 Quilts,” was planned for a yearlong residency at the Arizona History Museum during 2012. Arizona quilters were encouraged to participate in a Centennial Fabric Challenge using the Arizona Centennial Fabric Line. (On a visit to Seattle, Wanda had contacted Jason Yenter of In The Beginning Fabrics, who designed the 11-piece “Southwest Beauties” line, featuring the centerpiece Arizona Centennial fabric and several companion prints.)
The ACQP additionally sponsored the Arizona Quilt Study Group in providing a two-day quilt education event for the public at the Arizona History Museum.
The Arizona Centennial Commemorative Quilt was accepted by the Arizona Historical Society as the official Arizona Centennial Quilt, and in March of 2012 it was displayed in the Senate Rotunda in Washington, D.C.
With singular dedication and the enthusiastic help of many others, Wanda Seale’s dream most definitely did come true. When asked, however, what was her favorite thing about the quilt, she responded with a reply that any quilter relieved at completing a project can relate to: “It’s finished!”
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