Over three years, artist Ellen Oppenheimer worked with primary grade students in 18 Oakland public elementary schools, creating quilts for seven branches of the Oakland Public Library. The collaboration engaged the quilter, the students, and children’s librarians from neighborhood library branches. Each quilt began with a program of reading and storytelling by the artist and children’s librarians. On subsequent visits, Ms. Oppenheimer created quilt pieces with the children. Some of the works were finished through “quilting bees” held at the branch libraries, with teachers parents, and students participating. Others were finished with assistance from members of East Bay Heritage Quilters.
Once completed, the quilts were permanently installed in the branch libraries. The students were invited to visit their quilts in the libraries and received a small reward—generally a bookmark or postcard—with an image of their quilt printed on it. This project, “Variable Stars,” built on outreach programs developed by the library system’s children’s librarians. Many Oakland public schools do not have libraries, and the artist and librarians were working to strengthen bonds among schools, children, and neighborhood libraries.
Lead artist Ellen Oppenheimer has decades of experience as a quilter and is recognized as one of the most important contemporary quilt makers in the United States. In 1999 The International Quilt Association honored her work by including it in the “Twentieth Century’s Best American Quilts.” The Renwick, the American Craft Museum, Oakland Museum of California, and other major institutions have important quilts by her in their collections.
The Oakland Public Library serves residents of Oakland, Emeryville, and Piedmont through its Main Library and 15 branches. The seven branch libraries participating in this project represented the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
Pictured: “Fruitvale Star Quilt,” 88″ x 88″, 2001, Painted fabric by first, second, and third grade Fruitvale Elementary School students with textile artist Ellen Oppenheimer.