Artistically Speaking - Stitching Memories

Last Updated on Jun 3, 2015 at 9:57am | Arts & Culture

"Artistically Speaking" is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine, in cooperation with the Garrett County Arts Council, and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.
Quilt making is a tradition that has been passed down for centuries, being fabricated for decorative purposes, to provide warmth, to tell stories, and to keep memories alive for generations to come. Joan Chaney keeps that tradition alive and well with her beautiful, one-of-a-kind quilts. Historically, women learned how to quilt at an early age. Chaney, however, did not learn until she was an adult, in 1989.
While shopping in downtown Oakland, she found herself standing outside a quilt store owned by Karen Rodeheaver. “She had a beautiful quilt hanging, so I went in and asked if she gave classes.” To Chaney’s delight, Karen Rodeheaver did offer classes. This would be Chaney’s first artistic class, having no formal art training prior to this. When reminiscing of her time with Karen Rodeheaver she says, “I learned so much from her.”
When asked to describe her work, Chaney replied, “Most of my work is small, miniature quilts using mostly Civil War Reproduction Fabrics. I love the small blocks. They start out with 1½ inch squares, and then most end up being a four inch block when finished.” Though she enjoys making small quilts, she has also made over 25 queen-sized, hand-stitched quilts over the years. She added, “My favorite is a sampler quilt. You learn so many different quilting techniques when you make one.” When looking for inspiration to create these pieces, she finds it from several sources, including a good quilt show, quilting books, or even from the fabric itself.
When asked how long it takes her to make her quilts, Chaney replied, “Quilting takes a lot of time. If I am making a queen-sized quilt, it can take up to a year to piece and hand quilt it. That is why I decided to make framed, smaller pieces that are also more affordable than larger quilts.”
Quilting is a great love of Chaney’s, but she also has a passion for another kind of art. “My husband and I do concrete leaves. We take a real leaf, cast it in concrete, sand them, and when that step is finished, I paint them.”
After growing up in Berkeley Spring, WV, Chaney and her husband moved to Garrett County where they have lived for almost 35 years. They enjoy spending a lot of their time with their four grandsons. After discovering her talents in quilting and working on them from home, she decided to look for places to display and sell her work. She discovered Garrett County Arts Council through our very own executive director, Karen Reckner. Chaney now showcases her quilts at GCAC’s The Gallery Shop in downtown Oakland. She also showcases her work at Art in the Park, Autumn Glory Craft Shows, The Wine Festival, and a few other shows outside of Garrett County.
She also belongs to a local quilters group called Heritage Quilters. “There is so much talent in the group. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month at Garrett College at 7 p.m. and are always looking for new members.”
After beginning her quilter’s lifestyle, she received a big honor for her work. “In the late 1990’s, Maryland’s First Lady, Frances Glendening, began a “Celebration of the Arts in Maryland,” a two-year initiative to recognize and celebrate Maryland arts and artists and to encourage their continued support on both a local and state level. “At Christmas time, she would have schools in different counties send items to decorate the State House. There were times where she decorated with red and green quilts, and my work was selected a couple of times. She would hang the quilts in the State House through the holidays. When January came, those whose work had been chosen were invited to Annapolis, where Mrs. Glendening would stand with us and our quilts to have our photo taken,” she explains. “Now I have something special to pass down to my grandsons.”
Joan Chaney is an artist whose work could last a lifetime, being passed from one generation to the next like other quilts have been for centuries. Quilts are a way of capturing memories, telling stories from another time, and reminding one of their heritage. Quilting is a true folk art, which will never go out of style.
You can support artists and art programming throughout Garrett County by becoming a member of the Garrett County Arts Council. For more information, contact the Garrett County Arts Council at (301) 334-6580 or visit