An Iowa soul

10 Dec


Donna Wishman Miles (’81 craft design) has lived in Vermont for 20 years, but she still stays true to her Iowa heritage.

“I like to say that Vermont is beautiful and a wonderful place to raise a family,” she says. “But my soul sometimes gets all crumpled up in these mountains, and every so often I need to get out to Iowa where it is flat so I can spread it out and breathe more deeply.”

A native Iowan, Donna was a third-generation Iowa Stater. In her art program, she specialized in surface design.

“I learned to quilt and weave from Iowa State,” she says. “ I learned to butcher a chicken and bake bread from my mom.”

The first quilt Donna made at Iowa State was “funky.” But her designs became more traditional when she accepted a job caring for the quilt collection at Living History Farms in Des Moines, where she met her husband, David Miles (MA ’81 history).

Today, Donna’s quilts have come full circle, she says. The inspiration for a recent quilt came to her when she was in Italy.

“I was in Rome, and I finally got to see the art I studied in college,” she says. “It affected me deeply to be standing in front of it. I needed to make a quilt that reflected the masters’ influence.”

The result, a quilt titled “Off the Beaten Path” (shown with Donna, above), includes not just the art and architecture of Rome but also the cobblestones, lemons, olives, almonds, tomatoes, garlic, coffee beans, and other sensory influences of the Mediterranean.

Her current project, still in the beginning stages, is an Iowa landscape. She’s carefully choosing the colors and patterns that remind her of Grant Wood’s Iowa as well as her grandfather’s farm. Once it’s pieced, she’ll hand-stitch the quilt.

“I’m a hand-quilter,” she explains. “I need to be close to it and feel it. I like putting little, tiny stitches in it.”

Donna’s quilts take time: She has a full life in Woodstock, Vt. She works with the local elementary school’s farm-to-school program and volunteers at Billings Farm and Museum. She raises chickens and ducks, grows pumpkins, and sells eggs (and the pumpkins, too). And she has two dogs, a cat, and two sons: Eric, a senior at Champlain College, and Yeabsira, a sixth-grader whom she and David adopted at the age of 4 from Ethiopia.

IMG_2861Oh, and here’s one more tie to Iowa: Donna’s Vermont license plate. It reads “IOWAST.”

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