The Giving Tree Is an Inspired – and Inspiring – Work of Art
You might say that chemistry inspired the Ice Age Trail Alliance’s Giving Tree.
A retired high school teacher, first of biology and then chemistry, quilter Louise Schotz was inspired to start quilting about eight years before her retirement, thanks to an art-science hybrid course she taught. She now teaches quilting and sewing classes out of her home studio in Irma, WI.
Louise’s chemistry class encouraged students to explore the science behind art. They studied materials like paper, glass, and plastic. “Then we would do art projects,” she explained. Her students even worked with metals, doing welding.
Louise enjoyed the format. She thought to herself, “I love these art projects. I wish I could do the art!” Eventually, she learned to tell herself, as she told us, “You can!”
Upon retirement, Louise signed up for art classes. She began collecting fabric and going to national quilt shows. “I discovered that quilting isn’t necessarily making a quilt to put on your bed,” she remarked.
The quilt that now hangs in the front lobby of the Ice Age Trail Alliance headquarters building is proof of that. This Giving Tree has a mission for the Ice Age Trail. It was designed to accommodate little additions: a leaf here, a few acorns there. Supporters of the Ice Age Trail can become a part of the Giving Tree by making a donation. Louise will embroider each name on the leaf, acorn, footprint, root or knothole each sponsor has purchased. It will then be sewn onto the quilt — a piece of art that is alive and growing.
“I am excited about the donor wall being a quilt because it’s a natural thing,” said Louise. “It feels like the Trail.”
Louise constructed the quilt intentionally leaving the raw edges of the fabric visible. She remembered seeing another donor wall that was crafted out of metal with members’ names emblazoned on identical metal leaves. “It just made me cringe,” she said. “I wanted the edges to be soft.”
While it’s an unconventional method for traditional quilting — in a quilt show, such work would be criticized for looseness — Louise feels it fits the spirit of the Trail.
“Because I lived with Herb for 40 years, the quilt had to be like this,” she said.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be the same quilt if it weren’t for Louise’s husband, Herb. Herb has been involved with the Ice Age Trail for around 40 years, serving as either a chapter coordinator or a volunteer. “When he guides hikes,” Louise told us, “people are always amazed at what he sees.”
The Schotzes have had moments of artistic collaboration. For instance, when their neighbor, Becky, insisted, “It’s gotta have a pond,” Louise and Herb had a great debate. There was no getting around the need for some water in the quilt, given the amount of water on and around the Ice Age Trail. But a pond of what color?
Herb thought the water should be light blue. Louise wasn’t so sure it shouldn’t be dark blue. A debate ensued. Eventually Herb just hopped in his truck and drove off.
He hadn’t blown a fuse — he’d gone to look at a pond. When he returned, he personally picked out the fabric — dark blue — for the water.
Many of Louise’s quilting students have gained insight from Herb’s expertise. When artists have trouble depicting a natural object realistically, Herb takes them outside, challenges them to really look. “They come back in, and they’ve got it. He kind of teaches people how to see.” Louise included, “He helped me see trees….They’re all different. To me, the tree in the quilt has the feel of a tree that might be out in the woods somewhere.”