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The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt, sometimes called "Thousands of Pieces of Pittsburgh" and "The Pittsburgh Quilt", was constructed at Pittsburgh's (then) Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science from July 1987 through September 1988 with the help of many volunteers. The quilt project, begun by Buhl's Jane Werner and Martha Bell, evolved from a Smithsonian "Millions" exhibit on numbers . When Martha couldn't continue to oversee the project, Janet Kaiser was asked to be the Quilt Coordinator.
Baskets of 2.25-inch fabric squares of many colors were available at Buhl for visitors to sign. Kits with squares for signing were sent to schools, cultural and ethnic organizations, dignitaries, sports teams and many others. The signed squares were sorted into the colors of the spectrum and machine-stitched together by many enthusiastic volunteers, who spent over 600 hours putting the more than 32 000 squares together. Carol Weston of Buhl Science Center designed the wonderful eight-foot by 80-foot exhibit made of 21 Plexiglas panels.
This photo at the right shows The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt on display in Buhl Planetarium in 1988.
Each panel is about 4 feet wide by 8 feet high. The entire quilt is 80 feet wide.
The quilt contains over 32 000 squares.
The quilt was described in the Buhl 50th Year Anniversary Souvenir Guide (1989) as "a lasting symbol of Pittsburgh's people and community spirit." (To see images of the souvenir guide, click here and here.)
The presentation of The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt at Buhl Science Center took place on October 31, 1988. Volunteers, guests and friends had fun trying to locate "their square" and those of some of the famous people represented: President and Nancy Reagan, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, former "First Ladies" Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson, Pittsburgh's then Mayor Richard Caliguiri, Pittsburgh's beloved "Mr. Rogers " - Fred Rogers, "Mr. McFeeley", athletes on Pittsburgh sports teams, and many, many Pittsburghers.
See a list of organizations
The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was displayed at Buhl Science Center from October 1988 to March 1989. It was hoped that the quilt would be displayed in various venues throughout the city and find a home at the new Carnegie Science Center. Instead, the quilt disappeared for twenty years.
Due to serendipitous circumstances The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was rediscovered in 2008 by members of Quilt Company East, a quilters' guild. It was found in the basement of the SportsWorks building of the Carnegie Science Center, where the Plexiglas panels were piled one on top of the other on pallets. The building was scheduled to be demolished, but The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was saved in the "nick of time"!
After some repairs were made, by members of Quilt Company East, the quilt looked almost as good as new except for a broken corner of Plexiglas and a few "mouse holes" in the green section.
The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was on display for three days in August 2008 during the Quilt Company East quilt show in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. It was on display again January 24-25, 2009, at the Senator John Heinz History Center's Second Annual Quilters Weekend; in May 2009 at the Internationational Quilt Market, a trade show, also in Pittsburgh; and in November 2009 at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.
The photos in this section were taken during the Quilt Company East quilt show August 1-3, 2008.
THE PITTSBURGH FRIENDSHIP QUILT: Its disappearance and rediscovery by Janet Kaiser, Quilt Coordinator. September 9, 2008.
The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was displayed at Buhl from October 1988 to March 1989 and then it disappeared.
In January 1990, I wrote an article about the vanished Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt for Quilter's Newsletter magazine and sent a personal letter to the director of the Buhl Science Center, with a copy of the magazine article. I received no response. I concluded that the Science Center was not interested in displaying the quilt and that it would remain in storage somewhere in the recesses of Buhl. I often wondered whether the quilt would ever be seen again.
Years passed and I thought the quilt was lost forever. In 2007 I sent correspondence on the lost quilt to Terri Blanchette of the Heinz History Center and Jane Werner, now the Director of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, with the hope that one of them would be interested in trying to find The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt to use in Pittsburgh's 250th celebration. Both women were interested in the quilt, but didn't have time to pursue the idea. Then, "out of the blue" in April 2008, I was told that Quilt Company East Quilter's Guild had possession of the quilt and planned to display it at their quilt show in August 2008. I was absolutely thrilled. After attending the quilt show and seeing The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt once again, I learned the circumstances of its re-discovery:Earlier in the year, Elizabeth Jones, President of Quilt Company East, was laid up with an injured knee and had time to read some old quilting magazines while recuperating. She ran across the January 1990 article that I had written for Quilter's Newsletter regarding The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt. When she saw the photo of the quilt, she decided that the Quilt Company East guild should find the quilt to exhibit at their summer quilt show.
Elizabeth enlisted the help of fellow Guild member Kathy Crawford, who persevered in calling the Carnegie Science Center until she finally found an employee who was willing to look for the quilt. It was found in the basement of the SportsWorks building of the Carnegie Science Center, where the Plexiglas panels were piled one on top of the other on pallets. The building was scheduled to be demolished, but The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt was saved in the "nick of time"!
Guild members, husbands and friends transported the quilt to Sandy German's home where the exposed edges were cleaned and the Plexiglas panels were polished. The quilt looks almost as good as new except for a broken corner of Plexiglas and a few "mouse holes" in the green section.
The quilt was on display at the Quilt Company East quilt show from August 1 until August 3, 2008.
It is my understanding that The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt is now in storage at the Carnegie Science Center, but NOT in the basement!
I give my heartfelt thanks to all those who helped in the re-discovery and refurbishment of The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt. The Pittsburgh Friendship Quilt is an incredible piece of history representing Pittsburgh's melting-pot heritage -- many different colors and individual pieces working together to make a unified whole. Let us hope that it finds a permanent home here in this wonderful city.
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