Technology and nature inspire creator of Great Lakes quilt


Growing up in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Golden, Colorado, quilter Deb Berkebile loved nature. It’s easy to understand why, with the city’s dinosaur fossils, hiking trails, and scenic views from its three surrounding mountains.

“Living in such a beautiful place makes you want to protect what is there for future generations,” she said. “I seek to improve and protect the quality of the environment through my quilts so that people will become educated about activities that can harm nature and its surroundings.”

Now a resident of Conneaut, OH, a small city nestled on the shore of Lake Erie just west of the Pennsylvania border, Berkebile celebrates the beauty of the Great Lakes in her latest quilt to be included in the Schweinfurth Art Center’s Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibit. The show, which features 73 artworks by 59 artists from around the world, will be on display through Jan. 6, 2019.

“My current body of work explores satellite imagery and creating a 'false-color' depiction of remote sensed satellite images (Geographical Information Systems),” she said. Her piece in the current exhibit, The Great Lakes Project (detail shown above), depicts a view of the Great Lakes basin, including the Finger Lakes. While much of the land is depicted in spring and summer greens, cities – including Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo – are highlighted in red or orange.

“(Satellite images’) vivid colors and variations are what first drew me to representations of incredible Earth scapes, such as the Great Lakes,” said Berkebile, who is a mechanical engineer. “These five interconnected bodies of water account for one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh surface water and span 750 miles. The Great Lakes have come a long way since the early 60s, when they were very polluted, but today Lake Erie still has the poorest ecosystem.”

Berkebile began quilting as a second-grader under the tutelage of her mother. She started with doll clothes and was sewing her own clothes by high school, moving to quilting in 2005 with the encouragement of her mother.

She began making art quilts in 2014, and Berkebile’s first two GIS quilts were accepted into the Houston International Quilt Festival, the largest U.S. quilt show. Her quilt The Painted Desert (shown at left) was accepted into the 2016 Quilts=Art=Quilts show at the Schweinfurth.

“It is a juried show, so you know if your artwork is accepted it will be among artwork of other well-known artists,” Berkebile said of QAQ. “As one of my artist friends and mentors said to me after my piece made it into the 2016 show, ‘You are running with the big dogs now!’”

Because of the unique requirements of her GIS quilts, Berkebile creates all the fabrics she uses. “I use surface design techniques, hand-dyeing, ice-dyeing, painted fabric, and digital manipulation of images printed on fabric,” she said.

In addition to her GIS quilts, Berkebile is working on other quilt series, including one on national parks and another on civil rights. “I enjoy the challenges of creating original artwork that combine my passions and interests,” she added.

If you go…

What: 38th annual Quilts=Art=Quilts exhibition
Who: 59 artists from around the world are represented in the show
Where: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
When: Through Jan. 6, 2019; art center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Hours: The art center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
Cost: $10 a person; members and children 12 and under are free
More: Schweinfurth hosts several fiber art related events this fall