For insurance purposes, the 2016 Guilford High School (GHS) Quilt has an estimated value of $350. Add in the talented hands and heartfelt support of Quilt Artist Diane Wright, and it becomes priceless.
For the second year in a row, Diane has pieced more than two dozen T-shirts contributed by memorable local groups and organizations to create a one-of-a-kind quilt that will become the prized possession of one lucky member of the high school’s newly graduated class. The GHS Class of 2016 quilt will be raffled off as part of the festivities during Project Graduation on June 21.
The multi-colored quilt patches together many memories, from artwork representing each of the town’s schools to iconic businesses like Page’s Hardware and Appliance Co. to favorite haunts like Ashley’s Ice Cream. There’s even a square commemorating Guilford’s own American Idol, Nick Fradiani, Jr.
There are 230-plus members of the GHS Class of 2016 and nearly all of them are expected to ship out to U.S. Naval Submarine Base, New London, Groton to enjoy this year’s Project Graduation party. They’ll leave town at about 8 p.m. on Graduation Night, Tuesday, June 21, and return to Guilford at approximately 6:30 a.m. on June 22. The class will take over the huge base for a night (and early morning) of substance-free fun. As the big date approaches, fundraising events continue and the Project Graduation committee is asking for the public’s help to underwrite the event. Supporters can purchase a GHS lawn sign or Class of 2016 balloons and find other ways to get involved listed at www.ghsprojgrad2016.weebly.com. Direct donations are also accepted at the website.
Supporting Project Graduation by taking on the quilt design was an easy choice for Diane, who works from her studio in a beautiful Guilford home shared by three generations. In Guilford, Diane’s grandchildren include a current GHS sophomore and an Adams Middle School 8th grader who will enter GHS in the fall.
“Last year, a woman I know said they needed a volunteer to take over making the T-shirt quilt for Project Graduation, and I said. ‘Yes.’ because who wouldn’t want to support it?” says Diane. “It was fun. I also knew if I said yes while my oldest granddaughter was in the school, I’d be staying on to help until the youngest graduates, too. So I’ll be doing this for while!”
Because Diane generally creates smaller art quilts as wall hangings, she’s grateful to have the help of another Project Graduation volunteer, Amanda Merrill, in making this showpiece, ample enough to cover a typical college dorm bed.
“She has a long-arm machine, which makes this easy for me,” says Diane. “So I do the front, we buy the middle, and I put the back on and she [quilt] stitches it; and then I put the binding on it, and we’re done.”
The 2016 quilt is signed with the artist’s and Merrill’s names (written within Diane’s trademark hand-shaped patch) on the back. This year, Diane has also included a technological update that’s brand-new to the GHS Class quilt. Diane flips over a bottom corner of the quilt to reveal an embedded Quick Response (QR) scan code. The square-shaped bar code can be scanned using a smartphone app and is devised as a “stickerette,” to stitch or even iron on to objects such as quilts, she says.
“They’re like story patches,” she explains. “So if you’ve got a smartphone, you can record audio or video and upload it to the Cloud. So whoever wins it, if they’re at the party, they can upload something they record right there and have it forever connected to the quilt. I like to do that for pieces which are particularly meaningful, like this one.”
Diane, who writes an online blog “Diane Wright Art Quilts” (http://dianewrightquilts.blogspot.com) recently had two art quilt pieces selected by jury to be in “Fly Me to the Moon,” a traveling exhibit sponsored by eQuilter.com. The exhibit, also transformed into a book, displays art quilts commemorating the 50th anniversary of man walking on the moon. In one of Diane’s selected art quilts, she incorporated a QR right into her artwork of the moon dwarfing an approaching Apollo spacecraft with lunar module.
“My friend is a jazz singer so I asked her to sing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ a capella and we recorded it,” says Diane. “So now, even in the book, the digital quality is quite good, so you can click on it and hear ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’”
Like so many of Diane’s art quilts, the second quilt she created for the book tells a story, and this case, it’s very personal.
“The day men were walking on the moon, my grandmother came from the West Coast to visit. She was a farmer’s wife and a farmer’s child, and she had never been to New York City, so I got someone to take care of the kids and took her to the city,” says Diane, who raised her children in Fairfield. “And on the way home, we heard on the train that men were walking on the moon, and she kept saying, ‘You have no idea how important this is.’”
Later, her grandmother sent Diane a letter sharing more about what the day had meant to her.
“She said it was so important to her, and should be important to me [saying], ‘I never in my life could have dreamt I would see this. Think of it, I rode a pony to school. Your grandfather and I courted in a buggy...It is still hard to believe a man walked on the moon.’ For the second quilt, I wrote that letter with my machine in script, from ‘Dear Diane,’ on.”
After raising her children in Fairfield, where Diane was a successful realtor for many years, she and her husband David moved to Australia, becoming residents for a time before returning to the East Coast to live in Florida. In 1995, while running a new business exhibiting and purveying Aboriginal art, Diane made her first quilt for her son’s friends after learning they were expecting their first child.
“My mother and my grandmother quilted and I thought, ‘I can make a baby quilt, how hard can it be?’
Beyond finding she had a talent for the craft, Diane soon learned about the quilting community’s intrinsic quality of camaraderie.
“So I made this baby quilt and I enjoyed doing it and what I discovered is that, in these little quilt shops, there’s a lot of camaraderie. So that’s how I made friends in Florida.”
When Diane and her husband moved to Guilford in 2000 to share a home with her daughter’s family, Diane used quilting to get to know her new neighbors.
“I joined the Guilford Newcomers and the first meeting I went to, I stood up and said, ‘Hello, my name’s Diane Wright. I’m a quilt maker and I will teach you how to quilt if you’ll be my friend!’ So I started this little group, and it’s still going, 15 years later.”
The group, Sisters in Cloth, shares its work at an annual exhibit at Guilford Free Library in December and also plans to be at the Greene Gallery this summer for a quilting open house. Diane’s also a regular participant of the annual Shoreline Arts Trail Open Studios weekend in November, showing at a friend’s studio.
Diane says loves being a part of Guilford.
“I think I’ve adopted this little town, and the high school is incredible—I want to support everything about it,” says Diane, adding her realtor experience has shown her that a town’s investment in its public schools improves local real estate values.
In helping to support Project Graduation by building the quilt, Diane has another chance to appreciate what makes Guilford a great town: the groups represented by each square she stitches together.
“Each one is a wonderful supporter, like Palumbo’s [Automotive—they hire kids, they let them hold their car washes to raise funds; he’s in the [Guilford Youth] mentorship program...” says Diane, “I look at all those people each square represents, and I’m just glad to be one of [many] who’ve contributed.”