I had a lovely surprise in my mailbox yesterday–my copy of Inspired by the National Parks: Their Landscapes and Wildlife in Fabric Perspectives, by my friend Donna Marcinkowski DeSoto.  Published to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks, the book includes 177 quilts depicting the landscape, animals and plants of each of the 59 National Parks. A great bonus is the contributions of park rangers, who introduce each park in their own words.

If you want to see the quilts in person, all of them will be displayed at the Quilters Unlimited Annual Quilt Show June 3-5, 2016 at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA. Many of the contributors are QU members.

Inspired by the National Parks book

Inspired by the National Parks book

I am beyond excited to have a quilt in this collection, and thrilled to be able to show it at last. My husband and I decided on a family quest in 1995, when our sons were 3 and 5 years old, to take them to all 59 National Parks in the United States. My mom and dad had taken me and my three siblings on a cross country camping trip in the early 70’s where we had visited several National Parks, and I never forgot the awe of being in such spectacular natural surroundings. I wanted to give my boys the same experience. In 2014, we had just visited our 50th National Park as a family–Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska. I had posted some photos on social media, and I got a message from Donna asking me to create a quilt for her upcoming book about the parks. I was late to the party and the deadline was coming up, but I said yes–because I couldn’t pass up such a great opportunity.

Now, as regular readers of the blog and followers of my work know, my quilts are mostly abstract and nonrepresentational. How was I going to pull off a vertical landscape representing a particular place? And on a deadline?

Wrangell-St. Elias - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Family trip to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park 2014 – Cindy Grisdela

Getting to work with some of the pictures my son and I had taken, I came up with a plan. The photo below left was my inspiration. Wrangell-St. Elias is a huge park in southeastern Alaska. Although it’s about the size of Switzerland, there are only 60 miles of paved roads and most travel takes places via small plane. We spent several days there on “air safari” landing for hikes and fishing expeditions. So I definitely had to have a plane, but I decided to use only one from the picture and make it red, because it would stand out more, and we did fly in a red plane one of the days. I enlarged the plane from the photo and made templates to create the image in fabric. That IS something I know how to do–I just don’t do it very often!

I created an abstract landscape from curved strips of mostly patterned batiks from my stash of fabrics. There’s a lot of dense texture stitched into each section, but it’s a little hard to see because of the pattern in the fabric and the size of the image. I had an “aha” moment when I got the the mountains–there were some leftover blocks on the floor below my design wall that suddenly seemed like they would be perfect repurposed as mountains, and I unearthed some hand dyed fabric that looked exactly like the sky effect I wanted.

In the end, the piece pushed me outside my comfort zones and captures the memory I was trying to convey of soaring over this amazing landscape in an untamed part of the country that few people get to experience.

I am grateful to the National Park Service, to my family, and to my friend Donna for this adventure!

Oh–I almost forgot–our sons are in their twenties now and we still have a few more parks to go. One of the problems is that there were several added during the time we have been on our quest! Most of them are not easy to get to–one in American Samoa between Hawaii and Australia, and three above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, for example. This spring we visited the last park in the continental US–Congaree National Park in South Carolina, which is one of the new ones protecting a deciduous forest plain. We hope to get to the rest at some point!

Thanks for reading. And if you’re at all interested in the National Parks, get this book–there’s a wealth of information and inspiration in it.