A varied mix of quilts makes up the "Quilt Connections" show, on display at the Eagan High School library.

One depicts the story of the Book of Ruth through nine vignettes. Another, titled "Underground Railroad," is inspired by folklore that symbols in quilt patterns provided messages to runaway slaves.

Some quilts are traditional, with pinwheel or churn-dash quilt blocks. Others are more unique and representational, like one that depicts the ancient bronze sculpture "Boxer at Rest."

The exhibit, now in its 19th year, honors Women's History Month.

"So much of women's history was really told through their handiwork," said Laura Nagel, an avid quilter who organizes the show. "You really see some political statements." During the Civil War, she said, women sold quilts to help with the war effort, and women made money for the temperance movement by making and selling quilts.

"Women are still leaving a legacy and telling their stories," she said. A handout available at the entrance to the show tells the story behind each quilt.

"I love it," said Sue Chad of Woodbury, who checked out the show last week. She said she started quilting after going to a quilt show and that she finishes a quilt about once every decade. "I love seeing everyone's quilts up close."

She pointed out the "Chicken Quilt Series," five quilts with chickens in various poses in detailed hand applique, with individual titles such as "Marlene and Her Fruitcakes, Going to the Dakota County Fair to Enter in the Baking Division."

"It's way out of my comfort zone," Chad said of the vibrant series. "I like the math of it, while some people like the creativity. I went to Catholic school."

Her sister, Jill Schultz of Ramsey, liked a quilt titled "Sylvia's Bridal Sampler," with its hodgepodge of blocks. The pattern for the quilt is based on one of the books of Jennifer Chiaverini, who writes a popular series of novels featuring quilters.

"I'm attracted to smaller [piecing]," she said, "which is why it takes me forever to finish a quilt."

Schultz hosts a quilting day at her house one Saturday every month. "I really believe it's my mission to get people together for quilting," she said.

According to Nagel, most of the featured quilts are from quilters in the Dakota County area. "It's very eclectic," she said. "We don't ever have a color or a theme or a style."

Students get involved

"The kids are really receptive to it," Nagel said. Organizers started awarding prizes after students asked, and they now award a student choice prize as well as a prize chosen by the general public.

"They've never chosen the same ones," she said.

She added that the students "always gravitate to something bright and bold and contemporary."

She said instructors often bring their students to the library and have them do projects related to the quilts. Art classes study the use of color. Math classes look at the geometry. The English classes do creative writing activities.

"They [students] really like them," library assistant Laurie Kochis said. "It's so colorful and fun. When we take them down, it's like when you take all the furniture out of a room, and you're ready to paint."

Nagel said that when visitors come during the week to view the quilts, they often comment on how students are polite or on how hard they are working. "I always get compliments about the kids," Nagel said.

"It just works out on a whole lot of levels," she said.

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.