Carolyn Lingone stares intently at a silver needle just a few inches from her face as she does the meticulous work of quilting. As she keeps her eyes and hands focused, three other women a few feet away are doing the same. They are about 500 total hours into working on this quilt, which so far is a mix of red triangles sewn together to resemble angular pines. They’re lined up in rows against a cream background.
The women work inside Hesperia Hall, a brown clapboard building tucked away on a quiet road, under the shade of a few trees, deep in rural South Monterey County. The front doors are wide open and bright sunlight pours into the building. The women, most of them retired, swat at flies with thimbled fingers between bites of homemade lunches. For the first part of the day they talk – about weather, the gardening, errands, covering all of the small talk. After an hour or so, their conversation slows as everyone turns their focus to the task at hand.
One of the regular quilters, Kate Snell, reflects on the activity as more than a community get-together, but something much bigger: “Hand quilting is a very transformative experience,” she says. “After some time, you’re not thinking about quilting anymore. You’re just in a meditation. (Though) it does take a lot of patience since it is very time-consuming, but I definitely feel more relaxed after a session of quilting.”
The closest grocery store to Bryson Hesperia is about an hour away, either to the north or south. The community consists mostly of aging ranch homes, nestled in the hills between Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio.
Hesperia Hall dates back to the early 1890s and is kept up by the Hesperia Hall Foundation, which has membership representing about 150 households in Bryson and nearby Lockwood. Members host monthly potlucks, annual cook-offs, open mic nights, yoga classes and craft fairs. One of the starring crafts are quilts made by this group of local women, which consists of four to eight members depending on the week. They’ve been meeting for almost 20 years, and make about 15 to 20 quilts for donation each year. This group shows up the first and third Wednesday of each month, working to complete the collaborative quilt by the end of the year, while also each working on their own designs.
Every December, the group votes on a handful of traditional quilt patterns, which consist of colorful, geometrical designs. For 2019, they chose the red, white and cream-colored pattern they’re working on now. The triangle resemble rows of pinecones, a traditional geometric quilt pattern.
Many in this group incorporate their pets, including livestock like chickens, and specific flowers from their gardens into designs on their own personal work. This design is a collaborative process that takes all year, and will be raffled off as a fundraiser.
About one-third of the group’s quilts go to the Valley Heritage Quilt Guild near King City, which donates them to adults who are ill. The Guild recently gave some to families who had moved from the King City area to Paradise, then lost their homes in the wildfire last year. The remaining two-thirds are donated to the Almond Country Quilt Guild in Paso Robles, which then distributes the quilts to sick children and children in foster care. One final quilt is raffled off each fall – generally generating an impressive $6,000 in sales of $1 tickets – and the money goes to a scholarship for a local student from the Bryson Hesperia area. The quilters decide which scholarship applicant will receive the money based on participation in hall activities and their willingness to help out with local events.
Snell and her husband, Ed Buntz, have lived in Bryson Hesperia since 1982 after Buntz worked at the nearby Fort Hunter-Liggett Army base. “It’s a real mix of people out there,” Snell says. “(But) it’s hard to keep a youthful community.” To help bring in a younger crowd, the quilters offer for local kids ages 9-17 to learn the craft. Last summer, a half-dozen kids attended.
Catherine Bartley doesn’t quilt herself, but she won last year’s raffle and loves the details of the design and fabric.
“It’s a replica of patterns of the Civil War era,” she says. “It is a beautiful pattern. I love the brown and burgundy colors.”
Bartley, who has lived in Bryson Hesperia since the 1970s, and visited often since the early ’50s, has supported quilt raffle for years. She bought a few hundred tickets last summer. “I support the hall every year, so winning was just an added bonus,” she says.