SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. -- Dr. Don Locke has been told by quite a few people, including his wife, that he must have been crazy to tackle a project such as the 51,816-piece "Supper Quilt" depicting Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece "The Last Supper."
But 11 years, 35 states and six countries later, he still is quite sure that it has taken him on an adventure that he and his wife, Mariyln, will never forget.
"We didn't know it would leave the house when I made it, but we have been on the road with 'The Supper Quilt,'" said the retired dentist from Waxahachie, Texas. "We have seen a lot of different places and met a lot of people. It has been a lot of fun."
"The Supper Quilt" is the premier feature exhibit at the 2012 West Virginia Quilt Festival, June 21-23 at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center. The 15-foot-wide, 5 1/2-foot-high quilt took Locke an estimated 1,200 hours, 2 1/2 years and more than 350 fabrics -- many hand-dyed -- to make. It was just his second quilt.
It all started when the Lockes took a trip, and the dentist, a photography enthusiast, received an enlarged group photograph taken on the trip. It had been cropped to isolate each couple into a single photo. The enlarged photo came out in pixels.
Locke, who had seen his wife work on quilts, suggested that the individual pixel squares were similar to a patchwork quilt. He suggested Mariyln use the photo as the basis for a quilt using one square of fabric for each pixel, but she adamantly refused. Finally, he resolved that he would have to do it himself -- except he had never made a quilt.
"You can't tell husbands anything," Mariyln said. "I did buy him a sewing machine and taught him how to use it and how to quilt."
Locke's first quilt was about 45 inches square.
"I got through it and I said, 'That was neat,' and then I said, 'I believe I will do "The Last Supper."' I look back at that time and I wish I could tell you a 'Burning Bush' story that inspired me," Locke said. "I didn't know why I was doing it. I just started and kept plugging away. I didn't worry about how long it would take. I just set little goals. That's kind of what kept me going.
"I think I was more involved in the mechanics of piecing and working with colors to see the big picture. ... I was still working four days a week at the [dental] office, and, so, I would work on the quilt in the evenings and weekends."
Since he completed "The Supper Quilt," Locke and his wife have had quite a bit of travel to events where the quilt is displayed. It is contained in a special bag that fits through airport X-ray machines and into overhead airplane compartments.
When it is on display, it elicits different responses, Locke said, and just about everyone "has a bit of a spiritual jolt" when they see it. Some people fall to their knees in front of it. Some people cry. Some people just look ... and look.
One woman examined the quilt for quite some time and asked a few questions about its construction. She looked some more and then leaned over toward Locke and said, "You do know they have treatment facilities for people like you."