Those who walk through the building with their heads down will ever see it from the main floor. But, those same people will get a good view of it from the second floor.
The 36-inch by 60-inch quilt, pieced together by Mary Keasler, is an example of “textile art” using fabric.
“It is painting with fabrics, instead of painting with a brush on canvas,” she said Monday in an interview at the airport.
Titled “Higher Ground,” the artwork is a landscape depicting the sun shining through trees in the late afternoon. It is made from hundreds of cloth strips of various lengths and widths fitted together to create desired effects.
“I never counted how many there are,” she said when asked how many strips were sewn together. “I don’t want to know,” she laughed. “There’s a lot.”
In this particular work, she used long, thin strips for trees and “lots of little chunks of fabric to make the sky, the sunset and the grass look somewhat realistic.”
The artwork began as childhood memories of living on the family farm that is now part of the airport. She sketched the idea “of seeing the sunset behind our house through the trees. It was in the wintertime, usually between December and January; we always got really pretty, vibrant sunsets. I remember them as a child of course, and today too.”
From a sketch drawn on a small piece of paper, she redrew it on larger sheets of paper and pieced them together to make a pattern the size of the finished product.
“I have to tape pieces of paper together and from that, I make a pattern of how I want to sew the pieces together, and loosely follow it,” she said.
Would it not be easier to paint the landscape?
“If you’re a good painter,” she quipped. She dabbled in paints in high school, “but I love the textiles. I love the texture and the feeling that you get.”
When she goes to museums and sees a pretty painting, she might want to move closer to look at it, but she wants to touch textile art.
“You get a more intimate feeling and it’s more approachable. That’s my feeling, and I’ve always loved fabric and colors,” she said.
Keasler has been quilting off and on for about 15 years. Her creative outlet was pretty much placed on hold after graduating from Bradley Central High School. From there, she went to Emory & Henry College near Bristol, Va., where she majored in history and minored in English and political science.
“My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to be a teacher,” she said. “I never did teach.”
Instead, she went to work in a bank and held other jobs to support herself.
“I really don’t like doing math, but I ended up doing a lot of bookkeeping. My husband (Steve Keasler) had a river towing business. We had towboats on the Hiwassee and Tennessee rivers for a long time.”
She began traditional quilting and from there, she continued into textile art. She began with traditional patterns and bed quilts, but soon found them repetitious and boring. She decided to try a different form of quilting — not because she particularly enjoys quilting.
“I like designing. I like creating the piece, the quilting part, not so much. It’s the design that I love,” she said.
Keasler began working on the quilt in October after Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Bernadette Douglas contacted her.
Douglas had seen Keasler’s work on display at the Museum Center at Five Points. She has won national awards and her work has been published in books and magazines, but this is her first commissioned work.
“I was really nervous about it, but it worked out well,” she said. “They pretty much gave me free rein.”
She began working on it in late October and finished it days before the opening. She worked on it at least eight hours a day, seven days a week, for 2 1/2 months, using a regular domestic sewing machine.
“Sewing machines are pretty standard now. Not a lot of people still do the traditional handwork, though there are some who still do it and enjoy it,” she said.
Though the old Ramsey farm is gone, Keasler is proud the historical connection is present in a piece of childhood memories.