By Roger Smith, PCCA

“Thanks for getting me out of math class.” This expression of gratitude came from a student who was using geometry to lay out a quilt design on two 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood. I was observing her and her classmates as they participated in an arts residency designed by the Perry County Council of the Arts (PCCA) in cooperation with her school’s history, math and art teachers. PCCA’s multi-disciplinary Quilt-Barn Project established quilter Denise Hoke as an artist-in-residence in this student’s high school for ten days.

In the past few years Ms. Hoke has worked with history, math and art students in five Central Pennsylvania school districts. A local historian kicked off each residency by meeting with students in their history classes and presenting them with an array of events and movements that had occurred within their school districts over 300 years. Ms. Hoke enriched this historical stew with a short-course about the history of quilting, the many styles of quilts, and the meaning behind the styles. Building upon their new knowledge, the students created 2’ x 2’ quilt prototypes that paid deference to the past through shape, placement and color. Then the action moved to the art room. Using relevant geometry skills, students enlarged the patterns onto sheets of plywood, laying out and painting their 8’ x 8’ designs. The quilts were then hung on the sides of local barns within sight of highways in their school districts.

The thirteen quilts created by the students are now part of a Quilt-Barn Trail that boasts 26 quilts. As a whole, the Quilt-Barns have injected a sense of artistic exuberance into the rural landscape of Juniata and Perry Counties, reinforced a positive sense of cultural identity and historical significance, and have even become a modest economic engine.

Innovative programs like the Quilt-Barn Project have assisted in keeping students, like the young woman previously mentioned, engaged and productive in school, learning in ways that are not frequently a part of the traditional school paradigm, and connecting them to their community. For more information about the Quilt-Barn Trail visit the Perry County Council of the Arts website.