Cartographics and quilts: Shelley Cords-Swanson’s unique art is on display October-December

Photo of an art quilt with blue background

When Shelley Cords-Swanson was engaged to be married, she thought she should get a sewing machine and learn how to use it to hem pants, patch garments and other such duties.

“I got the idea one day to see if I could make a quilt,” the Odin, MN, resident said.

So she ordered a quilt pattern book, picked the eight-point Lone Star design that featured 596 diamond shapes and got started.

It took four years to complete.

Because so much work was put into it, she didn’t even want to use the completed quilt as a blanket. Instead, it was hung from her and her husband’s slanted ceiling like a bed canopy.

“I said, ‘You’re not putting your feet on it,’” Cords-Swanson remembered.

It was after that quilting experiment that Cords-Swanson was inspired to try quilting in a different way. Her educational background in recreation, parks and leisure services as well as geography allowed her to look beyond what a quilt usually is, the quilted lines reminding her of topographical lines in maps. In 1985, she created her first topographical quilt.

“I like to hand quilt,” she said. “It’s a really relaxing process, and it’s really tactile.”

Her art quilts are true cartographics — quilted maps. The lines represent contours of terrain, or even weather. Most are imagined representations of landscapes instead of re-creations of actual maps, and Cords-Swanson wants people to go beyond seeing a landscape to appreciating the flow of the contours on the quilts.

Photo of an art quilt with many squares

A selection of Cords-Swanson’s art quilts will be on display October-December in the eARTh exhibit area at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji. An opening reception will be held in her honor 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5.

Appetizers and wine will be served, and Cords-Swanson will give an artist talk at 6 p.m. Guests will also get to ask questions about how she creates her unique works of art.

Cords-Swanson will also teach a youth art class 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Dickinson County Nature Center. Kids ages 9-11 will have the opportunity to make their own treasure maps during the one-hour class.

Cords-Swanson will provide different shapes of cut and painted plywood which kids can layer to create their own contours.

“I collected all kinds of little nature treasures they can put on it,” Cords-Swanson said. “They can mark trails.”

She also found some old topographic maps that she plans to give out so youth can make their own map projects at home as well.

The Treasure Island class will cost $5 per child and is limited to 10 participants, so call 712-336-6352 to pre-register. All materials will be provided.

Don’t miss Cords-Swanson’s exhibit at the Dickinson County Nature Center as her creations will help you to see quilting and cartographics in new way.

“I think everybody is intrigued with maps in some way,” she said. “You get the bigger picture.”

For more information on Cords-Swanson and other art exhibits or programs at the Dickinson County Nature Center, visit our environmental education page or call 712-336-6352. You can also keep up with the latest happenings on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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