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Ronald Williams Librarians, Employees Receive Warm Reception in Quilt Exhibition

By Cathleen Schandelmeier-Bartels
On September 27, 2010

Most people would not dream of cozying up under "Shakespeare's Women" (designed by Cheryl Sachnoff) to enjoy a good night's sleep, nor under "Railroad Ties" (by Nann Hilyard) or "Three Little Piggy Banks Times Two" (by Rebecca Huebbler). However, these unusual topics are the titles of gorgeous quilts currently on display in the NEIU Ronald Williams Library.


Jo Mortland is the curator of this exhibit, which will hang in the library until Sept. 17. Mortland's prolific artwork features a variety of beautiful quilts in this exhibit, from the eclectic "Lesa Fault" to the lovely "Celtic Collaboration," a quilt created with her partner, Jim Ryan. Currently working in NEIU's counseling department, Ryan's status as a former librarian allows him to be "grandfathered" into this exhibit, which features quilts by librarians from across the region.


Mortland's foray into quilt making began with "Memory quilts" that she made for her children, having once incorporated her son's old high school gym shorts.


"I have been sewing all of my life, but I came into quilt making after my children graduated from college," said Mortland. "Jim and I produce massive amounts of quilts. Together, this is what we do as a shared activity."


It may seem that quilt making is designated for the elderly, but Mortland says otherwise. Ryan also points out that men are a dynamic part of the quilting movement that is saving the sewing industry. As a point of reference, he notes Roosevelt Greir, the NFL football player who proudly displayed his needlepoint and cross-stiching work and wrote a book titled "Needlepoint for Men."

"Quilt making is an escape, and a mode of self-expression that results in a beautiful work of art that is useful too" said Ryan.


For Ryan and Mortland, quilt making is about the process, not the product. Mortland loves the fact that quilts have a comfort factor because they are tactile. They usually donate their creative efforts to family, friends, co-workers, and Project Linus (, which supplies homemade blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need.


Ryan said he usually tries to find something out about a person before creating a quilt for them, so that it will reflect their personality. When Ryan found out that his boss, Dr. Beth Pullen, Clinical Coordinator of Psychological Counseling, desired a window in her basement office, he created a "window frame" quilt that included pictures of the courtyard, her favorite spot on campus. This vital design is a focal point in the room that lifts the spirits of all those who enter Dr. Pullen's basement refuge, and makes the quilt a non-traditional piece because it incorporates photographs on fabric.


Hilyard's sentimental and innovative quilt in the exhibit, "Railroad Ties," uses railroad ties collected by her father as its fabric. Her father loved trains, she said, and worked as a brakeman until his retirement. This beautiful and touching homage to her father's life includes tiny metal railroad signs that were one-time premiums in boxes of Post Sugar Crisp in the 1950s.


This is the fourth year that the annual library quilter's show has been exhibited at NEIU with warm reception. It is a traveling exhibit that will soon move on to the Skokie Library, the Zion-Benton Library and the Brookfield Public Library. "A world of possibilities exists in the realm of quilting," said Mortland.

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