State By State, Stitch By Stitch, Local Quilter Creates Support For SkillsUSA

When she returned to Kansas City last month for the annual SkillsUSA competition, Adell Mastro arrived with her latest quilt creation. A queen-size quilt, “Kansas City: Thank You And Farewell,” had been designed and then hand stitched by the Newtown resident, and was her entry for this year’s national convention.

SkillsUSA returned to Kansas City June 23-27. It was the 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC), a showcase of career and technical education students. This was Mrs Mastro’s fourth venture to Missouri for the event, and the fourth consecutive time her work became the top lot during a fundraising auction.

The national organization, which partners students, teachers, and industry leaders to prepare students for trade job industries, serves more than 264,500 high school and college students as well as professional members enrolled in training programs. The 2014 conference offered 99 competitions. More than 15,000 students from across the country were expected to compete, representing their home states. The national event follows state competitions held each spring.

“When you go to nationals, you are representing your state,” Mrs Mastro said this week. “You are no longer your school.

“Connecticut did phenomenal this year,” she continued. “We won a whole bunch of medals.”

The SkillsUSA Auction, traditionally held the final day of the conference, is a fundraiser for NLSC. “Kansas City: Thank You And Farewell” sold on June 27 for $2,050, going to the same woman from Texas who has purchased all three of Mrs Mastro’s previous quilts.

Mrs Mastro was an adult volunteer at the national competition a few years ago, having traveled with a group of Henry Abbot Tech students, and was so impressed with the student volunteers, who pay their way to work at the national championship, that she promised to help raise money for the students’ cause.

A quilt that was a collaborative effort between Mrs Mastro and Abbot Tech students was auctioned in 2011 for $700. The following year her donated handiwork raised $875, making it the highest selling lot of the auction; and her 2013 offering was also the top selling lot of the auction.

The 2014 auction was held on June 27.

“When the bidding got to $1,500 I started to get excited,” Mrs Mastro said this week. “When it hit $2,000, and then $2,050, I was off the wall, over the moon.”

The quilt is a tribute to the United States, with blocks for every state plus the provinces of the United States for a total of  56 blocks. Her 2014 quilt, Mrs Mastro said, involved “well over 750 hours of work.” Each block features the outline of a state and the name of the state, its state flower, and a point of interest.

That latter point was where Mrs Mastro had a lot of fun, and received an education, in recent months.

“Each state is so different,” she said. “I learned so much while doing this. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of educational fun.”

Shying away from the traditional interests of some states, Mrs Mastro opted to look for unusual points of interest for some locations. Mississippi is graced with Kermit the Frog sitting atop the northern state line, playing a banjo, under a rainbow, representing the home state of Jim Hensen; North Dakota is represented by a few figures from The Enchanted Highway (“There’s all kinds of strange things there, all made out of metal, just set up along this roadway,” she said); Utah, “The Beehive State,” has a beehive, but also includes a pair of seagulls, which feature prominently in the folklore of Latter-Day Saints; and New Jersey features the corner of a Monopoly board, representing Atlantic City.

Georgia is represented with Scarlett O’Hara emerging from Tara, a scene from Gone With The Wind, which was released 75 years ago. The state’s block also includes a small costume diamond, a personal touch to honor Mrs Mastro’s daughter Sasha, a former Newtown resident who now lives in Savannah and recently became engaged.

Kansas’s block features a yellow brick road, honoring another epic film released in 1939.

“I tried to hit anything that had a big anniversary, like The Wizard of Oz,” said Mrs Mastro. “Likewise, I chose to put The Arizona Memorial in for Hawaii. Pearl Harbor was a sad thing, but it’s important, and that memorial, I believe, is the number one tourist attraction in Hawaii.”

New Hampshire is represented by Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, the same lighthouse used on the United States Postal Service New England Coastal Lighthouse Forever stamp series. The choice of the lighthouse by the artist honors her son, Thomas Mastrocinque, a member of the United States Coast Guard who happened to have been stationed in Portsmouth upon completion of boot camp.

A few states are pretty traditional. Missouri has the St Louis Arch, Maine has a lobster, California has the Golden Gate Bridge, and Louisiana has a Mardi Gras mask.

Connecticut is represented by the covered bridge at Cornwall.

“Connecticut’s not really that exciting,” she said with a laugh.

Blocks feature beading, ribbons and/or metallic thread. All but one block includes an embroidered star in the area of the state capitol; Oklahoma’s capitol is represented with an oil rig.

In addition to the state blocks, the center block, which measures nearly 40 by 40 inches, incorporates the Kansas City emblem of a fountain.

“There are fountains everywhere,” she said of the city’s emblem, which also appears on  utility hole covers and municipal employee hats and uniforms, among other things.

Mrs Mastro used patriotic fabric to create the cascading water for the center block.

Although she started thinking about what she would do for this year’s convention shortly after the 2013 SkillsUSA event closed, the seed for this year’s quilt design truly sprouted when Mrs Mastro was at The Big E last fall, she said.

“We went into the quilts display, and there was this gorgeous quilt with the states and their birds,” she said. “I liked the idea, but I wasn’t going to do birds. I thought it would be more fun to do points of interest.”

With so much new information about her home country, Mrs Mastro is ready to do some exploring.

“Now there are a lot of places I was to go see,” she said. “They’re all on my bucket list.”

Mrs Mastro named her quilt to pay respect a new chapter the conference will be entering next year. After 21 years in Kansas City, SkillsUSA will relocate its national conference to Louisville, Ky.

The conference has doubled its size since moving to its current location, which has necessitated the move. While she has enjoyed the time in Kansas City, Mrs Mastro is already looking forward to the new venue.

“I can drive to Kentucky in a day,” she said. “The trips to Missouri have been a day and a half.”

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