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Some of the latest happenings with the COVID19 U.S Honor Quilt Project.

CUMBERLAND TIMES-NEWS: Local artists blend work as tribute to COVID-19 frontline workers, victims



CUMBERLAND — For some folks, the most natural way to express gratitude, as well as grief, is through art.


That was the case for two local residents from different backgrounds whose paths crossed after tragedy struck.


As result, their unique skills blended to create a new medium that thanks frontline workers and remembers people who died in the pandemic.


Cumberland quilts

Schoolhouse Quilters Guild President Holley Schewe was commissioned to sew a quilt, which features Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson’s black and white drawings that include local front-line workers who responded to people impacted by COVID-19.


Schewe and Lita Havens, past president of the Western Maryland Watercolor Society, this week will take the quilt to Texas where it will be displayed at the Houston International Quilt Festival.


According to the festival’s website, the annual event “is the largest annual quilt show in the U.S.” and attracts 55,000 people from more than 35 countries around the world.


The festival features more than 1,000 quilt-related vendors, hundreds of classes and more than 1,600 quilts and unique works of textile art.


“The non-profit organization of COVID-19 Hope Quilt project has a booth at the festival and the (sheriff’s artwork) quilt will be on display,” Havens said via email.


Diane Canney, founder of Virginia-based Hope Quilt, learned from Schewe of Robertson’s drawings and arranged for Schewe to sew the quilt.


“There are other two quilts created in Cumberland ... (that) will be part of the traveling exhibition with the COVID-19 Hope project,” Havens said of a “Civility Quilt,” and the Schoolhouse Quilters Guild piece that honors the late Dr. Sean McCagh.


McCagh, a local dermatologist, advocate for developmentally disabled people and recipient of awards for his community service, was 60 years old when he died due to COVID-19 complications Jan. 31, 2021, at UPMC Western Maryland.


‘New experience’

Schewe, who became hearing-impaired after she was struck by a horseshoe at age 4, attended Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. — the only liberal arts college in the world exclusively devoted to deaf students.


“I learned to sign ... and later met deaf quilters,” she said.


Schewe started quilting in 2005.


“My grandmother quilted,” she said.


Today, in addition to leading the Schoolhouse group, Schewe is vice president of the Deaf Quilt Guild of Baltimore, and secretary for the Deaf Quilters of Martinsburg, West Virginia.


She said the roughly 40 members of the Allegany County-based Schoolhouse guild range in age from 50s to 80s.


The group donates quilts to organizations including Jane’s Place, the Schwab Cancer Center and Western Maryland Health System Foundation.


Quilters of all experience levels are welcome at the Schoolhouse guild, Schewe said.


“We’re always looking for new members ... to keep the art continuing,” she said.


Schewe said quilting Robertson’s drawings was “a new experience for me.”


The quilt “represents Cumberland as well as first responders and the people we need to appreciate,” she said.


‘Taking risks’

Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 44 years, said he was raised around quilting and appreciates the work that goes into the art pieces.


“My mother, who recently passed away at 97 years of age, did a tremendous amount of quilting and was a member of the Frostburg Cover-Up Girls,” Robertson said via email.


He was a young child when he learned to express creativity.


“I’ve alway enjoyed drawing and started art lessons when I was in third grade,” Robertson said.


“Most of my drawings are of historical sites as well as my life’s memories,” he said and added he takes pride in his art pieces.


“It means so much to just have someone tell you that they enjoy your work,” Robertson said. “I do it to make people happy and to cherish the past.”


Local response to the pandemic inspired him to create some of the drawings used in the quilt.


“My oldest daughter Stephanie is with the Interventional Radiology Specialist Team (at UPMC Western Maryland) and they provided me with the surgical photo that is in the drawing,” Robertson said.


The frontline workers “were deserving of recognition and I wanted to bring them to the forefront,” he said.


“During COVID we all looked for relief and answers from our frontline workers,” Robertson said. “They were the ones who were taking risks with something totally new.”

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