Quilt to help survivors tell their stories
Hope — Sweet Tree Arts is a local host for The Monument Quilt, a national arts project to honor survivors of rape and sexual abuse that will eventually display quilt squares from around the country on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
According to the project's website, themonumentquilt.org, The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of thousands of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. By stitching these stories together, the women behind the project are creating and demanding public space to heal. Blanketing more than a mile of the National Mall, thousands of fabric squares will be stitched together to spell “NOT ALONE.” The project gives churches, schools, towns and the country as a whole clear and accessible steps to support survivors of rape and abuse when people often do not know where to begin. Through public recognition, the quilt reconnects survivors to their community.
Quilting sessions at Sweet Tree Arts take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Mondays through the end of May. Sewing machines and materials are provided, and quilters are also welcome to bring their own.
The sessions are facilitated by Lindsay Pinchbeck, director of Sweet Tree Arts, Alexis Iammarino, a community artist in Rockland who teaches classes for high school students at Sweet Tree, and Kali Bird Isis, a expressive arts/dance-movement therapist. Iammarino knows the Baltimore-based women who started The Monument Quilt, and suggested Sweet Tree get involved with the project.
She sees art as a vehicle for “community discourse” on many issues, including sexual abuse. It helps people move from intellectual knowing to the deeper understanding of the creative process.
The three facilitators stressed they wanted the quilting sessions to be safe for participants. Isis will be available to help anyone for whom working on a quilt square brings up painful feelings or memories. She feels the project is especially important for rural areas like Midcoast Maine, where it is easy for people to avoid addressing uncomfortable issues.
“We need to bring the secret of sexual abuse into the open,” she said. “If I have one mission, it's to break down the wall between survivors and their community.”
A project like The Monument Quilt normalized the experience of sexual abuse, she said, showing survivors that their experience, while it is unique to them, is not uncommon. She also thinks it is important for those who have not been abused to hear the stories told by the quilt.
“Every time you get a survivor out telling their story, it changes society,” she said.
Pinchbeck noted that art, like a quilt, is a non-threatening way for people who have no personal experience of sexual abuse to bond with survivors, creating empathy between artist and observer. “Both the audience and the individual 'get it',” she said.
Participants need not be experienced quilters or artists, the facilitators said. Squares can be spray painted, decorated with items sewn onto them, or whatever the individual chooses. Those who want to make a square for a friend or loved one or simply to support others are also welcome.
Donations of cash are also welcome, since there is a submission fee for each square of $10 to $30. Contact Pinchbeck at 542-8008 to sponsor a square.
The three women said they plan to attend the display of the full quilt in Washington in two years. “Part of seeing this through is actually being there,” said Iammarino.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.