June 1, 2005

A Common Thread

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:27 pm

Zimbabwe is the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic. Nearly a quarter of the population ages 15 to 49 have the virus. One million children in Zimbabwe have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.

Putting children in orphanages is an outdated model in Zimbabwe. Children who have dead or ill parents are raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings. The focus in Zimbabwe is to help the generations affected by this trauma with family-based solutions, since over 95% of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS are living with a close relative.

One of the ways the Lafayette-based J.F. Kapnek Trust is helping orphans and their families is by developing preschools and centers for early childhood education. The preschools not only give young children a head start on their education, but they also allow for a much-needed respite in the middle of the day for caregivers. Thus far, the Kapnek Trust has helped build eight preschools, each of which has 80 children enrolled. The preschools are lacking toys and educational materials for all these kids, and here is where creativity and the arts come in.

Last summer, Susan and Arden Strasser initiated Hope for the Heart of Africa, based at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Lafayette. Arden is a pastor at Our Savior’s and Susan is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who is working on a Ph.D. in Public Health. Susan and Arden lived for six years in Zimbabwe and South Africa and founded Hope for the Heart of Africa based on work they had done with African partners in health, welfare and the church.

While in Zimbabwe last year, Susan and Arden met a security guard, bored at her job because nobody came through her gate. To pass the time, she would knit. Susan says knitting is a large part of Zimbabwe culture and that the women are incredibly talented and creative knitters.

Susan saw the guard knitting with old crooked needles and asked the guard to knit a sweater for her daughter. Three days later, Susan received the beautiful sweater and an idea was born. What if the need for toys at the preschool was married with the untapped knitting skills of the local women? If the Strassers could generate seed money and knitting supplies, the Kapnek Trust agreed to help get the Knit Together program going.

Knit Together provides women in the Zimbabwe community a creative and therapeutic means by which to connect with the preschool children. By making dolls, teddy bears, fabric books, puppets, blocks and even color swatches for learning color names, the knitters are enriching the lives of Zimbabwe’s next generation. The women who agree to participate in Knit Together are provided with an equal amount of sewing materials for their personal use or to sell as a source of income.

The common creative thread of knitting reached across the world and touched the community at Our Savior’s, which has collected tremendous amounts of knitting supplies. Five large boxes have already been shipped, and a shipping container will be taking another huge load to Zimbabwe at the end of June. Some avid knitters couldn’t resist knitting something themselves to give to the children of Zimbabwe so a Baby Cap mini-project was launched to warm the heads of Zimbabwean newborns.

Monetary donations for Knit Together are accepted throughout the year by sending a check to: The JF Kapnek Trust, Re: Knit Together, 936 Dewing Ave., Suite E3, Lafayette, CA 94549. Monetary donations for Knit Together will enable the project to buy knitting supplies in Zimbabwe, which helps the local economy and cuts down on shipping costs.

August 27, 2004

Stitching Together the Events of September 11th

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:32 pm

A friend sent me the web link to a picture of a quilt entitled “Ground Zero,” conceived of and created by a woman shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The quilters name is Lois Jarvis of Madison, Wisconsin. Her memorial to those who died is so powerful that no matter how often I look at the image of the quilt, I feel like someone just punched me in the chest and the tears start pooling in my eyes. If you’re sitting near a computer, go see for yourself right now, http://www.gzquilt.com/About_the_Quilt/about_the_quilt.html.

This is one of the cases where a thousand words can’t do the picture justice, but I’ll try. Jarvis used a Lone Star pattern comprised of over 700 diamonds to look like an explosion blasting out from an epicenter. On each diamond, she printed the face of someone who died on September 11, using photos she downloaded from CNN shortly after the tragedy. Bordering the blast are panels of gray to represent the smoke, the dust and the sorrow. It sounds too simplistic when I describe it here. Please go look at it for yourself.

In her artist’s statement, Jarvis writes, “I am not as eloquent with words as some people are. And why I needed to make this quilt I could not say. I do not personally know anyone who perished that day. I don’t plan to sell this quilt. So why I made it is a mystery to me. All I can say is that I felt I should do it because I knew I could do it.”

Jarvis’ written statement strikes me almost as profoundly as her quilted one.

Ms. Jarvis, it is no mystery to me why you made this quilt. You do not need words when you have been granted the language of imagery.
I am fortunate to have a job where I get to hang out with visual artists, and one apology regularly comes up in conversation when I try to talk to them: “Sorry, I’m not very good with words.”

Since I am a word-based life form, I always have to chuckle to myself when I hear this and contemplate replying, “Sorry, I’m not very good with images.” When I see what an artist such as Jarvis can create without words, I feel hopelessly inadequate. I can ramble on and on and never capture the emotional pit this country was shoved into on September 11. With even the fastest glance at “Ground Zero,” I can instantly be taken back to my emotions of that day. I am in awe of anyone with that ability to communicate, and I am sorry that anyone in the visual realm feels they have to apologize for not being able to deliver a snappy sound bite or newspaper quote. I am sorry that we live in a society where one’s glibness is a measure of communicative worth. I am relieved that not everyone can or wants to bubble over in verbiage. It gives my ears a periodic rest and my eyes something far more interesting to rest upon than reams of black type on white paper.

I wonder how many of the 2996 people who died on September 11 ever apologized for the talents they did not have. I wonder how many embraced the talents they did have and were mindful that the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. I wonder how many were thankful that human begins are blessed with the astounding gift of creative expression. I hope the spirits of everyone, living and dead, find peace with the voice they are given.

January 29, 2004

Textile Art for Girls

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:37 pm

My daughter, Allyndreth, is turning one. This marks the end of a challenging year trying to raise her in a gender-neutral fashion, not imposing the cultural conventions of pink frilly clothes, baby dolls, flowers, sugar, spice and everything nice on her.

For some reason, it was much easier to let our son, Tyrian, gravitate naturally to boy-type behavior during his first year. When I went through his old baby clothes, I noticed we managed to dress him in a variety of colors, with no emblems or insignia for almost a year. Then the trucks and diggers and fire engines started appearing on his T-shirts. It was about the same time he decided that crashing cars, doing cowabunga stunts at the playground and chattering about construction were the ways he liked to spend his days. I learned and accepted that there are certain behaviors and interests that attract boys simply because they are wired that way, and I was OK with that.

When we learned we were having a girl, a friend with daughters warned me that it would be like dressing a doll when I chose her wardrobe. But I have some sort of missing maternal chemical in my brain, and I have never been goo-goo about baby clothes. My approach tends to be “Do the clothes fit? Are they comfortable? Great, now get the kid dressed.” I doubted I would see my little girl as a living doll.

Wrong. I set eyes on her sweet face and I immediately wanted flowers and ribbons and bows and kitties. My mom had done an excellent job spreading the word that we wanted no pink for our baby girl, but when I stared at a closet with no pink to greet our baby, I felt something was missing. And suddenly, those gender-neutral hand-me-downs from her brother were a little too gender-neutral. I had become the ultimate girl by having a girl.

My behavior towards Allyndreth is very girly too. When I take her shopping, I imagine the day when we will be asking each other if these pants make me look fat. Oh, but we have to be careful about body-image issues, so I’ll need to talk to her about how the cut and style of clothing can completely alter her silhouette. It struck me that some day we will probably plan her wedding together. My husband is already talking about cleaning his shotgun in the doorway when young suitors come by.

We’re pretty strict parents, but it has been harder to discipline Allyndreth than her brother. When Tyrian does an obviously calculated manipulation to get his way, we hold firm to our parental reins. But Allyndreth is pretty darn cute when she’s being manipulative. Our resolve is strong, but we have to fight to hold onto it. And the minute the kids are asleep, we giggle about how adorable she is.

So I was stunned when I realized my gender bias began months before Allyndreth was born. When I decorated her room, I chose only textile art for her walls, an extremely female-associated artform. For shame, I scolded myself, looking at the hanging quilt made by her grandmother, the knitted blanket from her aunt, the framed needlework representing her great-grandmother’s hand and my own. There’s a handmade silk rug from India, no doubt woven by a woman, and a wall-hanging made by Cambodian women. About half of these pieces I owned when my son was born, but I never considered putting them in his room. Why not?

It occurred to me that I am celebrating the irrepressible artistry of the women in our family through their chosen form of self expression, textile art. I am surrounding Allyndreth with her legacy, and inviting her to go forth and carry on the family’s creative tradition. Happy Birthday, my daughter!