On the fourth Saturday of each month for the past year, eight remarkable women from the African-American Quilt Guild of Oakland worked to create a very special present for the kids of Oakland. Last week they presented their creation to Children’s Fairyland and we couldn’t believe our eyes.

All of the park’s icons were depicted in 10 colorful quilted segments such as Magic Keys, Willie the Whale, our Happy Dragon and more. The volunteer quilters used over 150 different fabrics to sew a “story quilt” to encourage our littlest kids to love reading.

This special collaboration began a year ago, when Fairyland Education Specialist Shana Barchas was looking for ways to increase the connection between reading and play at Fairyland. Although we already have a little library (Alice’s Reading Room), Shana thought that a traveling book basket, filled with new, high-quality books depicting kids of all cultures, would help teach children that reading and play are seamlessly integrated.

Shana envisioned the basket visiting our park’s grassy areas. And that posed a challenge: What would the kids sit on?

That’s when Shana Googled “Oakland quilters” and discovered the quilt guild. When she explained her concept to the quilters, they were happy to lend their talents to the cause.

Marion Coleman, a guild member since 2004, was our key contact with the group and the one who toured the park, taking pictures of features that might be incorporated into the quilt. As an art teacher and a public artist, Marion comes from a family of quilters that includes two great-aunts who encouraged her in the art; one of them will be turning 105 next month.

Marion told us that the tradition of African-American quilting has its own unique patterns and bold color palette. Marion considers herself a “story quilter” whose subjects often feature African-American culture. A quilt of hers depicting the life of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman to hold a pilot’s license, is currently touring the nation as part of the “And Still We Rise” exhibition, the largest exhibition of African-American quilts.

“I’m very interested in place-making,” Marion says, referring to a movement that capitalizes on a community’s assets, inspiration and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being. She describes an Oakland with beautiful parks, musicians, a vibrant port, rich history, sports teams and, of course, Fairyland. The thought of the quilt being viewed over the years by tens of thousands of kids and families makes her happy.

Marion worked on the project with fellow guild members Marsha Carter, Deborah Pope Chappell, Ora Clay, Nell Mays, Dolores Vitero Presley and Julia Vitero. They incorporated fabric painting, fur fabric, felt, batik and African prints into their creation.

Shana, who conceived the project, says the completed story quilt “was so worth the wait.” Speaking on behalf of all of us at the park, she adds: “We’re ecstatic!”

In February, Fairyland will hold a public unveiling of the story quilt, with all of the artists who created it, and their families, in attendance. February is Black History Month, which means it’s a busy time for the guild: in addition to preserving and continuing the tradition of quilting, the group’s mission includes community involvement, how-to demonstrations, special events and regional exhibitions. The African-American Quilt Guild of Oakland — whose membership is multicultural — would love to have you join them. For information, click here.

 

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