A quilt square for the Riverside Arts Center’s Community Quarantine Quilt created by Margaret and Kevin Dowling represent their family. (Provided by Riverside Arts Center)

The squares represent love, nature and gardens, schools, healthcare, artistic expression, family, connections, sheltering, community. They were each assembled from fabric scraps during the pandemic at a time when staying home was the norm, but now are on display, joined together, at Riverside Township Hall. 

It’s the Community Quarantine Quilt made possible by Riverside Arts Center (RAC) and the creators who put the pieces together.   

The project began more than a year ago, when then RAC board member Bridget Juister came up with the idea as one way to make art accessible to the community when they could not come into the center. 

“I was inspired by a quilt project Adler Planetarium was doing to honor African-American scientists for Black History Month,” Juister said last June. “I was there with a group of students and was impressed by what kids could do with scrap material. They just sat down and started cutting out materials without needing much direction. Just a month later, lockdown happened. It was kind of a shock to our normalcy, but kind of nice in some way. Families could spend more time together, slowing down.”

The Riverside Arts Center’s Community Quarantine Quilt is on display at the Riverside Town Hall through July 31. (Provided by Riverside Arts Center)

The lockdown felt like bonus time to work on creative projects, but also the sense of community was apparent and a source of comfort for uncertain times,” she said.

For RAC’s Community Quarantine Quilt, anyone who was interested could request supplies to create a quilt square. The subject matter was up to the creator. Requests came from many Riversiders, but squares were also delivered around Chicagoland and even Milwaukee. When the finished squares began being collected late last summer, 28 submissions were returned, making for an approximately 5-by-6-foot finished quilt.

One contributor was Trish Smithing of Brookfield, who contributed two squares. According to her artist statement, Smithing wanted her squares to send the message, “Be a good neighbor and actively search for ways to serve others.” One square shows a smiling face in fabric, including grommet eyes. The other spells “Love.”

Smithing made good on her own advice to serve others, volunteering for the Community Response Network in LaGrange during the pandemic. 

“I also presented live Zoom programs to the elderly,” Smithing said. “I now am working part time for Aging [Care] Connections Network giving about four Zoom presentations a month to elderly, and any population interested, on a multitude of topics.” Those range from cooking classes to a book club.  

In some cases, a family is represented, as in the square created and submitted by Margaret and Kevin Dowling, which includes a stitched representation of a Riverside-Brookfield High School 2020 mortar board in honor of their son’s graduation and a Loyola Medical Center building as a nod to Margaret’s profession as a nurse. There is also a bird, a flower and a house. 

“The pandemic has helped us slow down, be more diligent and thoughtful with our actions, and realize all the opportunities we’ve been enjoying and be more mindful of people/families with less,” the family’s artist statement says. “While it has certainly been devastating to peoples’ health, many businesses and jobs, I hope the pandemic has taught us selflessness and a deeper appreciation for friends and family.” 

The quilt will be on display, along with a small exhibit about the project, until July 31, recently extended from the original June 30 end date to coincide with the RAC’s Members Exhibition that runs during July.

After the end of July, the Community Quarantine Quilt needs somewhere to go, according to Liz Chilsen, RAC executive director. 

“We are looking for a permanent, public home for it in Riverside and are requesting donations to make that possible,” Chilsen said. “The quilt is such a beautiful reflection of life during the shutdown, we hope to preserve it for future enjoyment and understanding of our history.”

Although any amount is welcome, Chilsen said, RAC is seeking $500 donations to create an archival display and installment in a permanent home. Donors’ names will be displayed as part of the contribution. 

You can view the Community Quarantine Quilt exhibit in the lobby of the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays. 

More on the quilt, including artists’ statements for each square can be found by clicking here. To donate for a permanent home, visit riversideartscenter.com/donate.