This year, third and fourth graders at Randolph Elementary School learned about quilts.
They learned about Show Way quilts created by African Americans that were made to help people enslaved in the South find their way to states that abolished slavery. They studied others created by pioneers heading west. They learned how different patterns represented the daily lives of people throughout history.
Then art teacher Rebbie Carleton instructed them to create their own.
“Each made their own design, and they had to give it a name that reflected their own life,” Carleton said.
They came up with designs called “toilet paper,” “wash your hands,” “isolation,” “end racism,” “family” and “Xbox,” which around 60 students created into 12 works of art called porch quilts.
Those 1-by-1 squares will join 48 others painted by area artists as part of a Porch Quilt Scavenger Hunt this month organized by the East Valley Community Group. Thirty-six of the pieces will be placed at various locations as part of the scavenger hunt in the East Valley — East Brookfield, North Randolph, East Randolph and South Randolph — in addition to Randolph and Randolph Center. Twenty-one are displayed on the East Randolph Hall — also known as the East Valley Community Hall — which the group was fundraising to renovate. The remainder are serving as colorful advertisements to draw attention to the hunt.
Clues can be found online at eastvalleycommunitygroup.com/porch-quilt-scavenger-hunt. If people find 10 of the 36 quilts and pay $5, they will be entered into a raffle to win one of the porch quilts. Winners will be announced at a party at 1 p.m. on Aug. 15 outside the East Randolph Hall. Entrants do not have to attend the party to win.
“When we started working on it, we had no idea what the future held in terms of timing,” said Allison Belisle, a member of the East Valley Community Group and one of the scavenger hunt organizers. “We had planned it as a COVID-friendly event assuming that we very well may still be full-fledged in the pandemic emergency situation.”
The group has previously worked with artists in creating large 4-by-4 barn quilts for the East Valley, joining other towns throughout Vermont such as Chelsea that have created maps of where the quilts are displayed.
“They’re meant to be hung outside,” Belisle said. “They’re just such beautiful pieces of art that it’s just so exciting.”
East Valley residents started the community group to raise money to restore the East Randolph Hall after it was shuttered in 2017 due to needed structural repairs. Members are trying to raise $200,000 to $300,000 for the renovation, Belisle said, so it can be reopened for community events. The hall was built around 1840 to be a shared meeting place for five religious organizations: Unitarians, Universalists, Methodists, Campbellites and Episcopalians. In 1914, the fraternal organization Modern Woodmen of America took it over and in 1954 the East Randolph Fire Department became its owner before it was transferred to the town, Belisle said.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” she said of the fundraising efforts. While the scavenger hunt is technically a fundraiser, it is more to draw attention to the East Valley. “We really wanted this to be a community event, bringing people together and sharing art throughout the community as opposed to a fundraiser.”
In addition to the artists who are part of the East Valley Community Group, organizers worked with Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts to reach others in the area. They also connected with Carleton and her students.
“There’s a difference between doing your own thing you take home and something you do for your community,” Carleton said, adding that her students are proud of their work and excited to see it out in the towns they live in. “A lot of parents and grandparents have said to me, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to do that.’ Anything that involves your whole family system especially for me is a benefit.”
Randolph resident Cherie Landi has painted barn quilts for the East Valley Community Group and made four porch quilts using exterior paint for the scavenger hunt.
“I really love community art; I like art that’s taken out of galleries,” Landi said. “Everything about this project has just been so much fun. I like how it’s grown so that it includes so much of the community.”
For Carleton, she hopes the project will teach her students about the public art that’s around them and that they will be proud of the role they played in being part of something that’s larger than their school community. Before learning about public art, they see the giant frog sculpture at Vermont Technical College or the barn quilts throughout their towns, but they don’t quite understand the role it plays in community life.
“They’re going to look around for those things I think and make some identification with them. Otherwise they might notice them, but they might not identify them as art or think about who made them,” Carleton said. “I think how art functions in your community and how it’s part of everyday life is an important lesson for kids. Not everyone is going to have a job in the arts, but it’s still an important part of their community and how people tell stories about their lives.”
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.