Colorful collaborations: Teacher, students make warm memories with quilt projects

Given the polar vortex that has turned Centre County into a frozen tundra these past couple of days, it is only appropriate that the Schlow Centre Region Library will host “Collaborative Quilts By the Students of Dorothy Habecker,” 2014’s inaugural exhibit at the gallery that has to power to literally keep people warm.

A teacher of young children for all of her adult life, Habecker also is an avid quilter with decades of experience. Combining these two passions only seemed logical, and about a dozen years ago, while teaching kindergarten in Tyrone, she realized the benefits of helping her students learn how to quilt.

“I was very busy and I didn’t have time to make quilts myself, so I thought, ‘This would be something really fun to do with the children,’ and it would also give me the ability to make my own quilt,” Habecker said. “Once we started doing it, the children loved it and were so excited about it that it became a very successful project and I decided to keep doing it for my future classes. I’ve done a quilt in my classroom every year from 2000 through 2013.”

In addition to fueling her own passions for teaching and art, Habecker’s students were the real winners and seemed to get the most fun out of the project. While having a 5-year-old sew cloth together may seem a bit unconventional, Habecker made sure her students not only were safe but were having fun and learning at the same time.

“Most people would not give children a needle and thread to make a real quilt, but they liked playing around with the fabric, putting the colors together, and they really enjoyed learning to sew,” she said. “They were also pretty excited at the idea of using these adult tools to create something that was really theirs. It was a great example of integrated learning where we not only created the quilt, but we did math, geometry and the children wrote and read books about quilting. It was an opportunity to teach cooperation and to learn together with a project that was authentic and ended with an actual quilt.”

“We hope the community will enjoy the playfulness and warmth that these quilts convey, while appreciating the labor that the children put into creating each square,” said Schlow Gallery Coordinator Maria Burchill. “At the same time, we hope the show will encourage parents and children to work together to create something, whether that’s a quilt or another artistic endeavor.”

From a visual standpoint, the quilts are definitely a sight to be seen, but perhaps more interesting are the stories behind them and the history that goes along with each shape on display.

“It’s bright, it’s engaging and it draws your attention in right away. Visually, it’s really an adventure to look at,” Habecker said, “Those in attendance will also have the opportunity to see the possibilities of creating things with young children. There’s such a satisfaction that comes from creating, and I think that the act of creating is something that’s innately human. (People) like to gather raw materials to create something, and I found out that was true with the children. They had a deep sense of satisfaction and pride from creating a piece of art from scratch that was also something practical that they could use.”

“This exhibition is unique in that we are showing works created by children,” Burchill said. “Usually, we have experienced artists’ works in the gallery, so this is a little departure for us. Still, the show is very much in keeping with the goals of the gallery, to introduce our patrons, young and old, to artistic traditions and to encourage viewers to pursue their own creative outlet.”