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Masterpieced: 'Last Supper' quilt featured at festival

By Jill Wilson

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. -- Dr. Don Locke has been told by quite a few people, including his wife, that he must have been crazy to tackle a project such as the 51,816-piece "Supper Quilt" depicting Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece "The Last Supper."

But 11 years, 35 states and six countries later, he still is quite sure that it has taken him on an adventure that he and his wife, Mariyln, will never forget.

"We didn't know it would leave the house when I made it, but we have been on the road with 'The Supper Quilt,'" said the retired dentist from Waxahachie, Texas. "We have seen a lot of different places and met a lot of people. It has been a lot of fun."

"The Supper Quilt" is the premier feature exhibit at the 2012 West Virginia Quilt Festival, June 21-23 at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center. The 15-foot-wide, 5 1/2-foot-high quilt took Locke an estimated 1,200 hours, 2 1/2 years and more than 350 fabrics -- many hand-dyed -- to make. It was just his second quilt.

It all started when the Lockes took a trip, and the dentist, a photography enthusiast, received an enlarged group photograph taken on the trip. It had been cropped to isolate each couple into a single photo. The enlarged photo came out in pixels.

Locke, who had seen his wife work on quilts, suggested that the individual pixel squares were similar to a patchwork quilt. He suggested Mariyln use the photo as the basis for a quilt using one square of fabric for each pixel, but she adamantly refused. Finally, he resolved that he would have to do it himself -- except he had never made a quilt.

"You can't tell husbands anything," Mariyln said. "I did buy him a sewing machine and taught him how to use it and how to quilt."

Locke's first quilt was about 45 inches square.

"I got through it and I said, 'That was neat,' and then I said, 'I believe I will do "The Last Supper."' I look back at that time and I wish I could tell you a 'Burning Bush' story that inspired me," Locke said. "I didn't know why I was doing it. I just started and kept plugging away. I didn't worry about how long it would take. I just set little goals. That's kind of what kept me going.

"I think I was more involved in the mechanics of piecing and working with colors to see the big picture. ... I was still working four days a week at the [dental] office, and, so, I would work on the quilt in the evenings and weekends."

Since he completed "The Supper Quilt," Locke and his wife have had quite a bit of travel to events where the quilt is displayed. It is contained in a special bag that fits through airport X-ray machines and into overhead airplane compartments.

When it is on display, it elicits different responses, Locke said, and just about everyone "has a bit of a spiritual jolt" when they see it. Some people fall to their knees in front of it. Some people cry. Some people just look ... and look.

One woman examined the quilt for quite some time and asked a few questions about its construction. She looked some more and then leaned over toward Locke and said, "You do know they have treatment facilities for people like you."

Locke laughs. He knows it is just a matter of picking a goal and then working on it, one day at a time, pixel by pixel.

"I can't think of any reason why the idea for 'The Supper Quilt' popped into my head; it had to be placed there," he said. "I hadn't seen the image of da Vinci's painting for eight or 10 years. It was just there [in my head]. It was 'The Last Supper.'"

Locke since has retired from dentistry, but he remains an avid quilter. The quilts he now chooses to make still are quite challenging, however. He recently finished a "Dear Jane" quilt, which is based on a Civil War-era quilt made by Jane A. Blakely Stickle. It is composed of 169 blocks each 4 1/2 inches square, with 112 triangles around the border. A typical "Dear Jane" quilt has more than 5,600 pieces of fabric that have been pieced or appliquéd.

As for his tour de force "Supper Quilt," Locke doesn't get too excited about all the tours and attention.

"I keep my head on straight because what people are seeing is da Vinci's work."

Quilt festival offers lectures, classes

The West Virginia Quilt Festival will feature lectures about quilting trends and quilt patterns by nationally certified judge and appraiser Judith Gunter, and nurturing the creative spirit by international teacher and quilt artist Vikki Pignatelli. More than 150 full-size bed quilts and quilted wall hangings also will be on display.

The festival begins at 9 a.m. June 21 and continues through 5 p.m. June 23 at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center. Admission is $6 per day, or attendees can purchase multiday passes of $12 on June 21 or $10 on June 22.

The event also will hold classes for quilt and needlework enthusiasts and daily auctions of little quilts to help raise money for the West Virginia Quilters Guild.

At 7 p.m. June 21, Gunter will talk about quilts in history and popular culture decade by decade, beginning with the 1840s.

The 7 p.m. June 22 lecture is "Nurturing Your Creative Spirit: Personal Traits that Inspire Great Quilts" by Pignatelli, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

Other teachers at the West Virginia Quilt Festival include Fran Kordek, an award-winning quilter and certified judge/teacher from Elkins, and Martha Offutt, a pattern designer who specializes in appliqué, trapunto, dimensional, embroidery and crazy patch and markets her patterns internationally. Offutt is from Martinsburg.

Jill Wilson is a former Associated Press reporter who helps West Virginia Quilters Inc., a nonprofit group, with publicity.


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