Lake Nebagamon quilter finds inspiration in nature
The pieces were created with hand-dyed fabric by local artist Connie Scheele and are on display at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake Nebagamon.
LAKE NEBAGAMON — A Lake Nebagamon artist is sharing a pop of color with the congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church this spring.
Contemporary art quilts line the bulletin boards in the back of the community gathering space, created with care by Connie Scheele.
“It makes the church a little brighter and homier,” said congregation member Carol Arthur.
Scheele, who grew up in Superior and graduated from East High School, has always enjoyed sewing and needlework. Her passion for quilting dates back to the 1970s when she started making baby quilts for her friends.
“I never really was too interested in doing traditional patterns and that kind of thing. So I started making baby quilts that were more personal, like I put their house on there with the dog in the yard—you know, little touches that made it more personal,” said Scheele, 76.
A self-taught artist, she was inspired by an intensive one-week class she took from artist Michael James through the University of Wisconsin-Extension program.
“I pawned my kids off on my parents ... for a week and took that class, and I just kind of loved it and decided I wanted to do contemporary art quilts,” said Scheele. “And then I kind of took off.”
Her art quilts have earned top recognition both in the U.S. and abroad. In 1986, a quilt Scheele entered was one of two chosen to represent the state of Wisconsin at an exhibit celebrating the renovation of the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
Her work has been selected for the Quilt National exhibit numerous times, earning the Domini McCarthy Award in both 1997 and 1999. Between 1,500 and 2,000 artists enter the bi-annual competition, Scheele said, but only up to 100 are chosen for the exhibition. That national recognition is the quilter’s equivalent of an Academy Award, she said.
In 2002, Scheele entered and won the best in show prize at a contemporary arts quilt show in Birmingham, England. In addition to a large cash prize, the organizers flew her to England to teach a one-day class and set up an exhibit of her work.
Dozens of publications have featured Scheele’s work, from American Craft Magazine and the Houston Chronicle to books on contemporary quilting and art quilts.
Quilting was a passion and a pastime for Scheele, who worked as a medical technologist for 43 years. It traveled with her wherever she moved and inspired her to open a fabric dyeing shop in Houston, Texas, for five years. She moved to Lake Nebagamon 11 years ago, converting her property’s second garage into a workspace.
Scheele isn’t the only quilter at Trinity Lutheran. A group of church sewers recently put the final touches on 13 quilts for Northwestern High School graduates from the congregation. The year-long process began with a list of graduates and their favorite colors. Each of the quilters picked a name or two and got to work. Arthur and a friend pieced together two of them.
Scheele’s quilting process begins with an idea and a palette of hand-dyed fabrics to choose from, generally cotton or a cotton-linen blend. She finds joy in bringing her ideas to life and pulling the pieces together into a cohesive whole. Many of the quilts on display at the church are inspired by nature, including one called “Ice Out” that traces its roots to Lake Nebagamon.
“A few years ago, the ice went out and the weather conditions happened to be just right where the ice got to this thin point and it was just kind of honeycomb-y and then it would break up into these islands of ice," Scheele said.
"And then there was just enough wind that it would blow these islands and the ice would tinkle like a chandelier rattling," she said. "You could sit down on the shore and just listen to it, and it was just fabulous."
When asked how long it takes to make one of her award-winning quilts, Scheele couldn’t give an exact measure.
“You do it until it gets done, essentially. And you work on it ‘til it gets right, and then it’s done. You don’t count the hours,” Scheele said.