A group of volunteers smile behind a table

Why I volunteer at The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show – read a Q&A with Char Braxton

August 21, 2023 Tara Lovdahl Leave a Comment

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show brings together a community of quilting enthusiasts Sept. 7-9, 2023, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison to enjoy educational workshops, an extensive vendor mall, stunning quilt exhibits and more. Presented by PBS Wisconsin and Nancy Zieman Productions, proceeds from the event help support PBS Wisconsin programming and community outreach projects.

The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show would not be possible without the help of our wonderful and generous volunteers. 

Char Braxton has been volunteering with The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show since 2017, and has helped with the PBS Wisconsin live auction for more than a decade. PBS Wisconsin spoke with Braxton about her Quilt Show volunteering experience.

PBS Wisconsin: What inspired you to start volunteering with The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show?

Char Braxton: My grandma used to quilt. I have done a little sewing — like a couple of squares that I patch together — and it helps me stay connected with the craft that supported my grandmother. And it’s the same craft that helped people who were enslaved, and kept people warm when a quilt was a necessity.

It’s also a way of giving back to the community. Volunteering for PBS Wisconsin just touches my heart and my soul, and it just puts me in a place where I feel at peace.

PBS Wisconsin: What duties have you had while volunteering at the Quilt Show?

Braxton: A lot of times I’ve helped out with the lectures, and that’s what I like the most, whether it be distributing handouts or putting up slides. I’ve also been able to hold up quilts, and then I leave the stage and take the quilts closer to the audience so they can gain a clearer sense of the intricate work that goes into the quilting as the presenter tells the story.

PBS Wisconsin: What other tasks have you done as a Quilt Show volunteer?

Braxton: I call it “the big house” when I work in the area where all the quilts are being displayed. I like putting on those gloves and knowing that I can create a more in-depth experience for people by telling the story behind the quilt.

If you look at the history of a lot of quilting, quilts told stories. Maybe a quilt told a story of difficult times that we were going through, or maybe it served as a map, or maybe it was an opportunity for a woman to socialize with other women in the community.

And when I volunteer, I feel like I’m socializing with other people, and telling the story of the person who created this amazing piece of work. Not only do I hold the quilt up so they get to look at the other side, but I share stories.

Braxton with Big Bird in the background and candy canes in her hair, holding up a DVD copy of "Wisconsin Winter from the Air"

Braxton volunteering for live auction with PBS Wisconsin

PBS Wisconsin: How do you share the stories about the quilts? Do you receive a sheet that explains information about the quilt?

Braxton: Yes, but it’s more about the exhibitor. When we’re going through training, we also receive a little background information about the area that we will be volunteering in.

I’m a person that just wants to give back and share, so I read the information that’s posted for the public, and as people walk through, they may give me a tidbit about the quilt. They might have known the quilter, or who did the quilting, or about techniques or fabric and machinery, and I listen to their stories and pass that on to other people as they’re coming through. So there’s a wealth of sharing going on.

I will listen to what other people are saying as they’re walking through, and then I make it into a story. And so I continuously can add on to the story that I’m sharing with others, or tweak it in a way so that it’s the best representation of that quilt.

PBS Wisconsin: Would you say it’s rewarding to volunteer at The Great Wisconsin Quilt Show even if you’re not much of a quilter yourself?

Braxton: Oh, definitely. I would say, even if you’re not a quilter, you can gain a wealth of knowledge about quilting. Or maybe you like to paint, or you like to do pottery. You can gain new ideas from another medium. 

I also like the fact that I am giving back and helping out the community by supporting PBS Wisconsin. The wealth of programming that is broadcasted is phenomenal. So even if you’re not a quilter, you’re helping PBS Wisconsin and sharing your gifts.

PBS Wisconsin: Do you have any creative hobbies?

Braxton: Well, a lot of my hobbies have been put on the back burner because I’ve been in school. I just graduated with honors from Madison College this last spring and was accepted to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall. I will be studying Chinese and Creative Writing. But when I have time, I really like painting, whether it be with acrylic or watercolors, it doesn’t really matter. I just feel a sense of freedom when I paint.

PBS Wisconsin: What subject do you usually paint?

Braxton: It’s normally whatever’s in front of me, and I surround myself with a lot of flowers and plants. Those are the things that mean a lot to me.

PBS Wisconsin: How long have you been volunteering with PBS Wisconsin?

Braxton: At least 10 years. I watch PBS Wisconsin. It’s one of my favorite stations since when I was little watching Sesame Street, and I’ve seen the transformation that the programming has made to align with the current culture that we’re in right now. I really like watching the cooking shows and programs with historical information where you can learn so much. Why not give back?

A line of smiling volunteers wearing colorful wigs and outfits sitting in front of phones in a recording studio.

Braxton second from left during a live auction for PBS Wisconsin.

PBS Wisconsin: Where do you think you gained your sense of volunteerism?

Braxton: I know a lot of my volunteering stems back to my grandmother. My grandmother would take me with her when I was younger, and we would go and visit the sick and shut in. We would sing songs, take them food. My grandmother sewed everything from curtains to her own clothes that she wore, and she would share these with other people.

And I saw how the gift of bringing a smile to someone’s face and lighting up the room was phenomenal, and it was a gift that was priceless. Well, little did I know how that gift would help to transform me when I give back.

PBS Wisconsin: What’s one of your favorite volunteering memories?

Braxton: One of my favorite experiences volunteering was with the live auction for PBS Wisconsin. It felt like we were a family of volunteers that would come together and help raise money for a good cause. I’m sure that there’s a lot more work going on behind the scenes that I never got to see. But the people coming together, moving the equipment, learning their lines, taking the phone calls as people were bidding on things — there’s no piece of electronic equipment that can replace that. It’s just like I always say, I know what a good tomato tastes like. It’s a good tomato. It’s an heirloom.

PBS Wisconsin: Well, your grandmother sounded like a great tomato.

Braxton: She was a resource to other people that were looking for a better life. My grandma just helped others. She really did. She believed taking a different path would give them a sense of direction and put them back on a journey where they were loving themselves and making positive assistance. So I learned that from my granny, and she taught me a lot.

Featured image by Ingrid Laas. Char Braxton in red. 

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