Quilt show offers patchwork of events

Esther Noe
With 350 quilts lined up in rows, Gins Gym transformed into a rainbow of colors and patterns for the 24th annual Hill City Quilt and Fiber Art Show and Sale put on by the Hill City Arts Council. This year there were entries from across South Dakota as well as Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin. 
“It seemed like it was bigger than last year, busier. We had a lot of people who were visiting the community stop in,” said quilt show coordinator Susan Sanders.
Guests came from across the country including New York, Washington and California. Many enjoyed walking through the aisles of quilts in an attempt to vote for their favorites. Some groups paused to look at the backs of the quilts as well as the fronts, and other groups analyzed how the artist must have accomplished different things. 
One popular display was the collage quilts. Sanders said, “The Heart of the Hills Quilt Guild does a challenge every year, and this year we made collage quilts which are a little bit different.”
When looking closely, one could see how all the individual pieces had been carefully cut out of different fabrics before getting sewn onto the new piece. 
This year the winner of the People’s Choice award was Debra Clutter who received a $500 prize for her entry. She also won the Mayor’s Choice award presented by council president Carl Doaty. 
Beth Mazella was the winner of the early bird drawing and received a $250 prize. 
After the quilt display was another room filled with fiber art, fundraisers, children’s activities and this year’s featured quilt artist. 
Cheryl Whetham was in charge of the fiber art section which started five years ago. Whetham herself is a fiber artist rather than a quilter. She lived in Europe for 12 years and said, “In Scandinavia, fiber arts is very respected, a lot of nice shows, a lot of good artists. So why can’t we do that here?” 
“It fits in perfectly because if you look up on Wikipedia, ‘What’s the definition of fiber arts?’ it talks about fiber or yarn, for example quilting. So it’s a perfect fit in my opinion,” said Whetham. 
This includes things like knitting, crocheting, embroidery, felting, sewing, weaving, wearable art and more. 
“It’s progressively grown over the five years,” said Whetham. 
In total, there were around 50 fiber art pieces on display made by 22 artists. 
Gene Swallow was one of these artists with his display of Lakota inspired dolls. 
“I’ve always had toys. I’ve had action figures, dolls, cars, GI Joes, you name it. To me, that is still a mental plaything when I make something that pretty,” said Swallow. 
Swallow began working with fibers about six years ago. Prior to that, he had a lot of artist friends and went to their shows and exhibits. When looking at the displays, he would always think, “I could do that,” or “I know how this was made.” 
Finally, someone said, “Well then why don’t you go do it?” and Swallow thought, “Why not?” 
For his Lakota dolls, Swallow said, “I made them because my favorite fabrics were dwindling from other projects so I thought if I had a really long slender pattern, then I could use them.” 
Since Swallow is Lakota, he wanted to portray that identity through his art. Along with that, the origin story of the Lakota is that they came from the buffalo so Swallow puts horns on the dolls to demonstrate this history. 
His series of Lakota dolls is now on display at The Journey Museum & Learning Center in Rapid City.
“I think this is a beautiful show,” said Swallow. “It’s really cool. This is my first time participating here so it’s really interesting to see how beautiful and scary detailed things are.” 
Also displaying art inspired by her Native American heritage was this year’s featured quilt artist, Vi Colombe off Mission. 
“The Sioux Indian way is that when you have a grandchild born, you make them a Star Quilt,” said Colombe. “The tradition goes then that you get a Star Quilt at death also.” 
Thus, the people carry the Star Quilt through life. 
Many years ago when the buffalo became extinct, there were no longer hides for the women to use in their homes. So they met the settler women who taught them how to make quilts. 
“They picked a significant symbol that they’d used on the buffalo hide, and the star was one of them. It can be the Lone Star or the Star of Bethlehem,” said Colombe. 
When Colombe’s first grandson was born, her daughter wanted a quilt. Except Colombe said, “I didn’t quilt. I wasn’t quilting then at all.” 
So she bought the material and pieced a quilt together. When she brought it to a quilter, Colombe was told that it was the worst material put together that the lady had ever seen. Still the quilter made it. When completed, she said it was absolutely beautiful and encouraged Colombe to start quilting. That was in 1998. 
In 2000, Colombe was asked to be the feature quilter at Warrior’s Work & Ben West Gallery. She agreed but still did not really know how to quilt. They also only wanted someone who could make stars. 
“I said, ‘I can make stars.’ Really I wasn’t real familiar with stars so I went home and practiced. And from April to August I made 12 or 15 Star Quilts,” said Colombe. 
They all sold, and after that Colombe started quilting. 
Another thing Colombe is known for is that her quilts are round. She said, “I sewed square for years, and I thought, ‘Well if I want to go any further in the quilt world, I have to do something different.’ So I thought for a while, and I thought, ‘I think I can sew round, and I’ll be the only person that makes round quilts.’” 
Colombe is also from a tribe that makes round baskets. Although she cannot make baskets, she can make round quilts thus carrying on the tradition of her tribe. 
“It’s intriguing, that’s what it is. Because everybody sees square and you go to round and it’s a little confusing,” said Colombe. 
Some people do not how to use a round quilt, but Colombe said you simply put it over the top of a matching bedspread as a decoration. Then it never wears out. 
For her quilts, Colombe does all the piecing herself and then hires women to do the longarm quilting. She most enjoys buying the materials. 
“I’ve sewed a lot of quilts, but it seems like I get more material than I do quilts,” said Colombe. 
Another part of the event was an activity area where children could color quilt blocks, make a collage quilt and learn how to embroider. 
“The kids activities seemed like they were always busy,” said Sanders. 
The Heart of the Hills Quilt Guild also ran a raffle with a variety of items made by the members as well as three prize baskets. The funds raised from the raffle went back to the guild to purchase fabric for their Quilts from the Heart and Quilts of Valor. 
All in all, everyone said it was a great event. 
“I hope that this encourages people that they can do quilting or sewing or fiber arts and share their work,” said Sanders. 

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