Overseeing hundreds of volunteers, welcoming 10,000 people to Sisters, and taking stewardship of 1,200 magnificent quilts is an immense responsibility. For some it would be overwhelming, but for new Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show executive director Dawn Boyd, it’s a challenge that excites instead of terrifies.
Boyd has spent years honing her skills as an event organizer and manager. Her educational background and experience fit well with the job requirements for the quilt show’s new director. When the position was posted last year, she jumped at the chance to be part of an iconic event that has grown over the past four decades. She started in the position in January and said the transition has gone well.
“[Former director] Jeanette Pilak has been so helpful in the transition,” she said, taking a quick break. “I inherited a history that goes back 44 years. It’s a matter of taking what’s there and polishing it before passing it along to the next generation. It’s different in the nonprofit world. I’m not the owner of a business, I’m the caretaker.”
From her many years attending the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show (SOQS) with family, Boyd has experienced the event from a patron’s perspective. She realized quickly that SOQS is more of an experience than an event. “There’s the smell of the pine trees, the sound of laughter and oohing and aahing at the art quilts in front of viewers. It’s an immersive experience, quite different from what you’d expect. It’s all-encompassing, with an entire town embracing the visitors,” she said.
Boyd understands that as guests walk around town taking in the beauty, they can’t know what goes into presenting the annual event. The small SOQS staff, a large team of volunteers, and the board, along with supportive sponsors, patrons, and businesses, all work together to make it happen. Not to mention the Sisters–Camp Sherman Fire District’s indispensable role in hanging quilts too high for a volunteer’s ladder.
“None of it could happen without this incredible group of people who step up and make our guests’ experience the best ever,” she said. “The volunteers are guides, support teams, hosts and hostesses. We have a quilt rescue team that makes sure the quilts are safe and secure.”
For the last couple of years, more than 300-plus SOQS volunteers, returning and new, have been welcomed into the fold. Boyd knows there’s always another job to fill. “We’d love to hear from anyone interested in volunteering. We have more than 900 volunteer jobs before, during, and after the event,” said Boyd in between sipping tea and checking emails.
Volunteers who help with pre-event jobs are hard at work. The process really picked up steam on June 17, when a team of volunteers helped move SOQS operations into their event office at Earthwood Timber Frame Homes. Quilt intake involves taking 1,200 quilts that are mailed or hand-delivered for processing, sorting for show placement, and eventually hanging.
During the sorting process, quilts are grouped by color, size, design, and genre. Boyd says it’s similar to hanging a large art show. “It’s part of what makes us different and so appealing. There’s the beauty and flow of what you’re looking at, which is so visually delicious. Placement choices help tell a story through design elements.” Many quilters don’t realize their quilts are welcome. “We’re a nonjuried show,” explained Boyd. “The few requirements or guidelines are in each year’s entry flyer.”
The hanging of quilts in Sisters started when SOQS founder Jean Wells began teaching quilting classes in her new shop. One July, Wells displayed 10 family quilts. The following year, she hung 25 quilts her students had made, and the tradition grew from there, held on the second Saturday in July. As the show continued to expand, it became a nonprofit organization. Wells is still a board member, head of the sorting team, and helps to coordinate SOQS special exhibits and the Wednesday night fundraiser.
Boyd is excited about an addition to the annual fundraising event this year. On July 10, the new fundraiser—Celebrity Sew-Down—will be held at Sisters High School. The celebrities are world-renowned quilters Tula Pink and Rob Appell. Team Tula and Team Rob will compete against each other to see who can complete a quilt top first. The quilt tops produced during the fundraiser will be put up for raffle. There are also silent auction items and lots of food and drink. All proceeds will help SOQS to continue producing the quilt show as a free event.
Years ago, when Boyd was volunteering to support her daughters’ high school marching band and working as a paraprofessional in public education, she realized she was happiest when she was working with events. Her volunteer roles often evolved into management positions in which she could help organizations produce events that brought joy to participants and work to create the structure to make volunteering and event production fun.
“I really loved event organization, so I went to George Fox University and graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in management and organizational leadership. When the executive director position opened, I knew I had to apply. Quilting and sewing was passed down through our family. I saw this job as a perfect combination of everything I loved—a beautiful place to live, an event with a strong organizational background, and a focus on the art of quilt making.”
With what she’s inherited, there won’t be a lot of changes in the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. Boyd knows it’s good to see first how things work and flow. “Afterwards, we’ll look at what worked and the things we can take to the next level. We’re looking at some technological enhancements that will make the experience even better. We’ll keep fine-tuning and continue to grow the quality of the show.”
You can find the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show online at sistersoutdoorquiltshow.org or follow the event on Instagram and Facebook. •