A pattern of giving

Esther Johnson holds a quilt that will be on display during the 2017 Autumn Show, hosted by the Marquette County Quilters Association. Johnson is this year’s featured quilter. (Photo by Jackie Stark)

By Jackie Stark

The first thing you notice when you walk into Esther Johnson’s Marquette Township home are the quilts. Her work is on display everywhere, whether as art on her walls, or for use, draped over the back of a chair, folded neatly on the arm of a couch.

“I enjoy it. I call it my mental therapy,” Johnson said of quilting, with a laugh. “I love fabrics, I love colors. There are so many beautiful fabrics today, it’s like an art show all the time.”

It’s only fitting then, that Johnson’s artwork will be on display as the featured quilter in this year’s Marquette County Quilters Association “Autumn Show” at Northern Michigan University’s Don H. Bottum University Center Saturday, October 2,1 and Sunday, October 22.

Johnson said she was “astonished” when she found out she was being honored at this year’s show.

“There are so many others who do much more elaborate quilting,” she said. “I consider myself just a simpler, traditional type of thing.

 “I think coming to the show is like going to an art museum show because there are so many gorgeous quilts, so many different kinds of beautiful fabrics, beautiful work, and I’m only just one small part of it,” she added.

 Johnson’s humility is not lost on those who know her. Judy Parlato, organzing co-chairwoman for the Autumn Show, said many of the other members of the quilters association had no idea how much quilting Johnson does outside of the group—giving them away to family and friends, and using them as charitable donations.

 “There’s no barrier to what she wants to do. When she wants to do something she will do it and she will very humbly make it happen. She’s incredible,” Parlato said. “It’s like the sky is the limit. There’s nothing that is impossible when it comes to Esther.”

That sentiment was echoed by friend Kathleen Keplinger, who has been on the receiving end of Johnson’s quilting for years.

“Everything she tackles turns to gold. No matter what it is,” Keplinger said. “She’s very kind, remembers everyone with a smile.”

 It took her a second to run through all the quilts Johnson has made for her and her family over the years, ultimately deciding on six.

 “I asked her (to make a quilt) because she has given me quilts of hers that she told me, ‘This will be good for your cabin,’ and they were always too good for the cabin,” Keplinger said. “I kept them at home.”

As the featured quilter, Johnson will have 30 quilts on display at the show. (“It will be amazing,” Parlato said), in addition to a presentation at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 21, honoring her and her work as a quilter.

Also included in the two-day show will be several sewing workshops.

 “Beginning quilters always enjoy the demonstrations as well as experienced quilters. We try to provide a variety, something for everybody,” Parlato said.

 Many of Johnson’s quilts have won awards at previous Autumn Comforts quilt shows, a Marquette County Quilter’s Association bi-annual tradition since the ’80s.

 “I think it’s very worthwhile,” Johnson said of quilting. “It’s a good way to end up with something that maybe will bring a little bit of joy to somebody.”

 It’s safe to say Johnson has brought a little bit of joy to a lot of people. In addition to the quilting she does for friends and family, she also does an enormous amount of quilting as charity work, making up to five full-size bed quilts a year for the Women’s Center’s Harbor House, up to 10 small quilts annually for Bay Cliff Health Camp, and teddy bear quilts for the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. She also makes quilts to give away at raffles for her church.

 As a result, her quilts have traveled far; Finland, Canada, to the state of Washington, to Arizona, to Illinios, to Minnesota, to North Carolina and all over the state of Michigan—according to Parlato.

“Esther was overwhelmingly chosen by the membership to be the featured quilter,” Parlato said. “It’s an honor to be able to do this.”


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