by Suzanne Labry
How a Torn Petticoat Inspired the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Quilt Project
Yosemite National Park at SundownOn May 28, 2017, the Sierra Club celebrated its 125th birthday. The United States’ largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization was founded in San Francisco, California in 1892 by a group of forward-thinking conservationists that included John Muir and Joseph LeConte.
According to the group’s website, “Arguably the Sierra Club’s most renowned preservation victory was leading the fight to prevent the Grand Canyon from being dammed in the 1960s. The ensuing years saw the organization broaden its mission to protecting clean air, clean water, and endangered species, and in the 21st century it is spearheading the effort to transition the United States from climate-disrupting fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy. The Sierra Club today counts three million members and supporters in 64 chapters, in every state plus Puerto Rico.”
The Sierra Club’s first major achievement, however, was protecting the area known as Yosemite National Park, a 748,436-acre geological wonder located in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California.
In gratitude for Joseph LeConte’s contributions to conservation, the Sierra Club in 1903
built the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park and dedicated it in 1904. In preparation for the LeConte Lodge Centennial Celebration in 2004, the Sierra Club sponsored the Wilderness Quilt Project, and invited all visitors to LeConte Memorial Lodge to paint a quilt block. The Wilderness Quilt Project was the brainchild of Dr. Bonnie J. Gisel, artist and curator at the LeConte Memorial Lodge.
Dr. Gisel was inspired by the story of a woman named Jeanne C. Carr, who was a lifelong friend of John Muir. In 1873, Carr was among a group of conservationists who accompanied Muir through the High Sierra Mountains.
Yosemite National Park - Bridal Veil Falls
“Carr did not have any art supplies with her, but she had paper in her herbarium. She tore a twelve-inch square of cotton cloth from her undergarment, pasted it to the botanist's paper with a teaspoon of flour and water, whittled a small piece of pine, chewed the end into a brush, crushed in the end of an onion until a teaspoonful of juice was produced, and made a sketch of the mountain scenery. A hundred years later, Dr. Gisel, as an art instructor, sent students to the Buffalo Zoo to paint the animals and birds on muslin squares that she then stitched into a quilt. In early 2002, while rummaging in boxes stored in her parents’ attic, Dr. Gisel found the quilt, still in pristine condition in a box long since put aside. Putting these two events together, the Wilderness Quilt Project was born.”
The Sierra Club supplied all the materials to LeConte Memorial Lodge visitors free of charge; Dr. Gisel and volunteer staff encouraged each person who painted a quilt block. Visitors of all ages made so many blocks that instead of only one quilt being made, six were eventually completed.
Follow this URL to see all the finished quilt blocks:
The first quilt was named the "Sierra Club Quilt - For Our Families for our Future," which is one of the Club's trademarks. This quilt was given for exhibit at the Sierra Club Headquarters in San Francisco. A second quilt features "John Muir" and was donated to the John Muir National Historic Site. The third was donated to the Yosemite National Park. The fourth quilt was donated to the Autry National Center in Los Angeles. The fifth quilt remains at LeConte Memorial to warm up one of the benches. Finally, the sixth quilt became the official "LeConte Centennial Quilt" and is displayed above the interior doorway on permanent exhibit at LeConte Memorial Lodge.
The Wilderness Quilt Project offered visitors to Yosemite National Park from around the world an opportunity to share the wilderness experience with others. It brought together
a diverse group of people to celebrate the importance of wild places and our need to preserve and protect wilderness. And to think the inspiration for the project started with
a piece of petticoat!
LeConte Memorial Lodge Centennial Quilt, Wilderness Quilt Project. Designed by Bonnie J. Gisel and Janet Wood; assembled and quilted by
Janet Wood. Painted by the children, families and friends who visited
Leconte Memorial Lodge during the 2002 Season and painted their
memories of Yosemite National Park.