Polk County Middle School eighth graders in Eric Eaton’s social studies classes spent part of the spring semester deep in historical research and with paint brushes in hand to connect art and history.

Through a generous Big Idea Grant from the Tryon Fine Arts Center, students analyzed the rich history and the many cultural connections of quilting through a Project Based Learning lesson Eaton developed called Quilting Carolina: North Carolina and History through Quilts.

Students explored early quilting dating back to Egypt and followed the changes as quilting spread to other continents and cultures over time.

After researching quilting as both functional and artistic creations, students developed and designed their own quilt squares based on geometric patterns and the historical motifs of Appalachia, western pioneer designs, and the African-American designs of Gees Bend quilts from Alabama.  

“I really enjoyed learning about our state’s history through a unique medium,” said student Neil Rostick.

 “I enjoyed painting while learning the history behind what I was doing,” added Lily Gosnell.

“This project has given students a deeper understanding of how primary source objects like quilts can tell the rich history and change of cultures over time,” Eaton said. “This project has had so many positive outcomes for students. There are many students who have commented how the project was therapeutic and calming and allowed them a chance to be creative and learn history at the same time.

“We are fortunate to have the support of the Tryon Fine Arts Center in getting the arts into our classrooms across Polk County.”

The painted quilt square designs will be displayed throughout the school along with work from previous quilting projects.