CLARKS SUMMIT — It may look like fabric at first glance, but the 5-by-7-foot piece of artwork that arrived at Abington Community Library on June 19 is actually constructed of colorful glass and painted wood.
The Glass Freedom Quilt was created by 16 members of the Glass Artisans Chapter of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsman. Each glass square, skillfully placed in three rows of five to assemble the “quilt,” was made by a different artist. The wooden frame was crafted from furniture-grade poplar by Roger Hayes.
One guild member, Susan Sallavanti, of Dalton, who was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to the library, described the painted wooden framing as “absolutely beautiful.”
“The painting is embossed to replicate the calicoes of the typical quilt, so it’s very lovely,” she said.
According to a pamphlet on the project, the inner section of the frame is embellished with 2,736 light green flowers, each with six petals. There are 24 red inner squares, which connect the corners of the 15 glass squares, with a total of 288 circles and 930 flowers with seven petals each adorn the five-inch outer boarder.
The piece mimics the “freedom quilts” used by American slaves trying to escape to freedom during the Civil War era. Each square represented a messaging code to the fleeing slaves, signaling a specific action for them to take at a certain time and place.
The Glass Freedom Quilt’s month-long stop at the Abington Library is one of several it will make before its planned delivery to a permanent display at the Center for Anti Slavery Studies in Montrose. During the exhibit opening at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 19, presentations will be given by Pedro Anes, of Scranton, education coordinator for the Glass Artisans Chapter; Robert Sallavanti, of Dalton, chapter member and contributor to the project; and Jack Lawrence, of Dunmore, chapter president.
Sallavanti said the project exhibits and lectures conducted so far were met with positive responses.
“The people in the audience, both adults and youngsters, are amazed that this area was so instrumental in the underground railroad,” he said. “And this is a project on the roughly 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. So the tying of the history of it, in terms of the underground railroad and its historical significance in that context, and the guild chapter’s medium, together dovetails nicely.”
The opening event also lands on “Juneteenth,” or “Emancipation Day,” a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.
“It kind of draws them in,” added Lawrence. “And that’s part of what we’re doing. We like to insure the viability of the chapter and try and attract members. So we go out in the community, do projects like this, attract attention and every now and then somebody says, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of that.’”
The idea for the Glass Freedom Quilt came around the same time as the formation of the chapter about three-and-a-half years ago. Each contributing member received a part in the project at that point, but it wasn’t until last year that the construction began to take physical shape.
According to Anes, the biggest “stumbling block” in the project was its funding. That need was filled, however, when he was awarded a grant from the Lackawanna County Arts and Culture Program of the county commissioners. The $17,000 grant covered the material costs and the chapter members donated their time, labor and skills to the project. The piece was completed in February.
“It’s kind of like the quilt has taken on a life of its own,” Lawrence said. “I mean, we put it together, and the level of interest astounded me — the people that want to have an exhibit, and want to listen to the lecture, and have a genuine interest in the art form that was used to create it.”