Winter 2017 Newsletter
(January, February, March)
It has been two week since the new president of the United States took office, but instead of spending too much time and too much space of this newsletter espousing on this man, I want to say thank you and give tribute to Marian Hayes.
She was the VERY FIRST person to support The Lynch Quilts Project.
In case you don't know the story, in the beginning, I was a sculpture, the Internet didn't function the way it does now and you could barely find quilting groups. I was an outsider to a traditional textile process I had not historical connection too (so I thought) and no way to find where to begin. Back then, a long time ago in the Internet dark ages, Facebook didn't exist and only businesses, NGO's and government orgs had websites. It was a much different world than today, where any and everyone has a website, snap chat, Instagram and a million and one ways to connect to people. Back then, we were at the dawn of the Information (Overload) Age.
The only way I could find quilt groups was to look up news articles about quilting and research the bibliography of books on quilts. Taking that information to then search for mentioned individuals in the white pages, or write the journalist of the article to find folks. For months, I sent letters across the United States when I identified an African American Quilt Guild asking for help. Books such as A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories by Roland L. Freeman, Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South by Gladys-Marie Fry, and Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts by Cuesta Benberry also guided my hand.
And then lightning struck.
In the same day.
In a casual discussion with my priest, who was also a theatre professor, I mentioned the struggle I was having getting the project off the ground because I couldn’t find a quilt guild, even in Chicago. He casually said something on the lines of,” Oh I know a quilter. She made a couple of quilted back drops for our play a year ago. I’ll contact her.” At the same moment, a letter I had written to the quilt group Sistah’s of the Cloth in Fort Wayne, IN hit pay dirt. They knew of the quilt guild in Chicago and contacted one of its members.
Marian called me a day later and I explained the project. She then invited me to attend the Needles and Thread Quilters Quilt Guild monthly meeting, which was in a week. Before that we ran around the fabric store and she showed me things about quilting and sewing. A few days later, I spoke with Trish Williams, also a member of Needles and Thread. She told me to come to the same guild meeting.
A week later I attended my first ever Needles and Thread meeting and presented about my vision for a quilt that had no name at the time. There were a little over a hundred people at the meeting that day. After the presentation, I asked if there were any questions. I got crickets and a look of silence mixed with terror, hope, pain and shame. A look that I would later become very familiar with over that past 14 years and its many variations when one opens their mouth and says, “I’d like to talk to you about the history of lynching.” I went to the back of the room with my little scraggly hand drawn version of what I thought it could be and set out a sign-up sheet. About 10 people signed-up and we agreed to meet the next weekend over coffee to discuss how to proceed. And that’s all she wrote. Those original 10 plus Marian have remained with the project as it has grown over the years.
So today I want to say thank you to:
I especially want to say thank you to Marian Hayes. A little over a year ago, she left this earth while walking across the street and was hit by a distracted driver. May she rest in peace.
- Otis G. Grove, who continues to grow and support the project in every single way he can think imaginable from bringing in a genealogy group, to recruiting all over the Chicago-land area and most importantly calling to give me pep talks when I want to quit and cannot go on with this most difficult of community efforts.
- Arthur King, who learned how to hand quilt because he "JUST HAD to put a stitch in that quilt.”
- Marva King, who jumped right in and continued with Quilt II and Quilt IV, adding 50 blocks to that one quilt alone.
- Tamara T. LaVille, who continued to assist and support the overall project and make blocks for Quilt II and Be/Coming.
- Sharon Matthews, who after leaving Chicago, relocated to California and planted the seeds of LQP on the west coast and worked with her new LA quilt family to contribute 80 blocks to Quilt IV.
- Juline McClinton, who continued to assist and support the overall project and make blocks for Quilt II and Be/Coming.
- Margaret Robinson, who continued to assist and support the overall project and make blocks for Quilt II and Be/Coming.
- Pamela Tabor, who spent many, many hours teaching me to hand piece and hand quilt, and always is willing to help with LQP. Who jumped in at the last minute to ensure the children had a voice in Quilt IV and started the process for getting Quilt III off the ground.
- Alexine Taylor, who continued to assist and support the overall project, making blocks for Quilt II and Be/Coming. Alexine donated a quilting frame her husband had made for her to sew on. We used this quilting frame to sew Her Name was Laura Nelson. In honor of memory of the mundane things that are the foundation of all live that frame was cast bronze and became the sculpture Framed Memories.
- Patricia M. Williams, who continues to bring her unique form of quilting to each Quilt in the series and her consistent encouragement.
So today I won't really say much about Trump, but celebrate those individuals that have stepped to the plate to take on addressing issues of racial and social Justice. And thanks again to Marian Hayes, first member of The Lynch Quilts Project team. She made me believe it was possible and quelled my initial fears about sewing.
With gratitude to all who have walked this journey,
A PEEK INSIDE Failed State (TBA)
In my glee to post photos about our most recent finished in The Lynch Quilts Project series, I failed to provide context and insight into Quilt IV, Failed State (TBA). Although the fourth in the series, Quilt IV has been a sketch an idea for nearly 12 years, in production for at least the past 6 years, has more than 468 blocks and 75+ participants that assisted with the work.
At 131” x 132” x 2” inches, this quilt explores the juxtaposition where American rhetoric,ideologies and mythologies collide with the reality and veracity of history. Failed State (TBA) spells out (literally) important foundational principles that have guided American policies, choices and blindness within a historical framework.
Each block represents a letter in an alphabet spelling out important phrases from important historical documents and myths. Putting these in context allows us to understand American race relations and the on-going and continued rancor for the past 400+ years.
This quilt began as an exploration of how to transform these words and letters into a visual system that must be decoded. I looked at embroidery, hieroglyphs and translating braille writing into quilt blocks. And then I found Omniglot, the on-line encyclopedia of languages and writing systems. And I was in heaven. I had (re)discovered my tribe. Years ago, blerd and geeky sci-fi me tried to write my own sci-fi fantasy book and develop a language for “the others” to use.
I was about 11 years old at the time. We had moved and my entire world flipped upside down. Instead of the multi-culti urban world where I grew up, we had moved across country to a rural county in Michigan. It was 90% white with about a 2% black population. To find this place, you drove through fields and fields of corn, arrived at the top of a hill and at the foot in the valley was a town.
This is the place where the racial justice warrior in me was born.
Here I learned all sorts of nasty things of about race including students telling me that I needed to leave because the town was getting too black (really? I graduated with 5 black folks), being chased to the bus after a sports events will hails of “niggers get out of here” to arriving to school day after day to find “nigger” scrawled across my locker and the teachers standing guard in the hallways shocked that this had happened and never knew who could possibly be doing this although they stood literally 3 feet from my locker 6 times a day when the bell rang. To a classroom where when filling out the bubbles on the standardized test forms the teacher said, “No don’t fill in the black bubble if you turn white after you take a bath. Only fill in black if you're still a darkie after bathing like LaShawnda.” A place where I drank so much racism and bullying that the internalized racial oppression and self-hate issues that emerged took years to unravel and heal.
Needless to say, my ultimate escape during that time was reading, reading, and more reading, especially science fiction and fantasy books. DUNE, The Dragon Riders of Pern Series, Riddle Master of Hed Trilogy, Margaret Weiss with Tracey Hickman, Strange in a Strange Land, Asimov, Tolkein, Steven King, Greg Bear, Ursula Le Guin, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Shannara, Shannara and more Shannara. You name it, I read it and could knock out 3-5 books in a week. Eventually, I turned to writing them. Not bad really and maybe one day I’ll finish those stories. But more to the point, it is the desire to recreate language and writing and how you could hide meaning, double speak and code things in words, rather written or spoken that followed me 30 years later to the creation of Quilt IV, Failed State (TBA).
So here enters Omniglot and that entire world of coded language was opened again. Spending hours and hours exploring all the ancient languages and writing systems on this site became my past time for weeks on end. And then I stumbled across a writing system called BETAMAZE designed by graphic designer Terrana Cliff.
I loved it.
Each letter looked like a quilt block and I loved that it was designed around the idea of building mazes. That idea of mazes further grew the symbolism of Quilt IV as I thought about how difficult it is to get out of the quagmire of race relations. How we get blocked, lost, confused as we stumble through the haze of living in a white supremacist society, how the path forward is crooked as all hell.
I contacted Terrana Cliff and she was cool with using the language for the quilt.
As the quilt evolved and different folks came to the table, the directions were simple.
This is where the magic began.
- Here’s the pattern. Make “x” number of blocks. Please.
- Make it how you want. But 9-Patch block is a good method. But do what you want.
- Black must read black. White must read white. But use any fabric you want. Explore.
- Embellish if you want. Must be tone on tone. Please.
- Just make sure we have a 6.5 x 6.5 inch block. Please.
Sewing is like writing. No two machines, no two techniques, approaches, choices of fabric, etc. are alike. As the blocks began to flow in they were all so beautiful and different at the same time. There was fur and buttons added and lace and some outright beautiful fabric.
Their uniqueness joined together amplified beauty.
Sometimes we had too many of one letter. But to honor the work that all had done, I worked with embroiderers who modified sections of the blocks to convert them to missing letters. So a new layer was added. We then started to sew all 468+ blocks together. And things weren’t sizing up equally with each blocks. And that was okay. It was handwriting and handwriting is never perfect, never justified like a printed document. Each row was staggered the same way a written sentence would look. Each line flowing in and out like a wave with highs and lows, peaks and valleys. So we added extra strips of fabric here and there to make things equal, entire sections of black blocks on the end of each row to make it even.
Enter Trish William at the end to quilt the entire document down. She added her signature quilting style to those blank areas, further adding to the language of undulations.
So here is the link to Omniglot and Betamaze. Now see if you can decipher what we have written. HINT: The sections with the red strip start a vertical series of words. Can you decipher that one little piece?
Quilt IV: Failed State (TBD), Completed Nov. 2016, 132' x 131"
THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES
One of the most powerful discussions of the complexity of our national moment was aired on Black-ish during the episode Lemons.
You can see a snippet here,
to put our money where our mouth.Now is the time for each and everyone of us
Time will tell, because right now all the world is watching. There can be no more handing behind buzz words and being a click activists.
So for now America’s racism is standing front and center. The Emperor of democracy is naked as a jaybird for all the world to see. This is a time when all those who say they stand for justice, equity, equality and all the buzz words that follow diversity initiatives, multiculturalism, inclusion and others are called to task. Are you standing with us to fight against white supremacy? Are you going to fight to end oppression in a very real way? Are you ready to turn in your white privilege card at the end of this fight and for now use it to advance our causes for justice? Are you going to learn to be an ally, but also fight against other whites you know? Are you willing to talk to and call out your own friends and family when they start with the racist bullsh*t?
Time will tell, because right now all the world is watching. There can be no more hiding behind buzz words and being a click activists.
The emperor has no clothes. Are you ready to get dressed?
Me with Her Name is Laura Nelson wearing my community favorite uniform.
MUST SEE ARTICLES & MEMES
Here are a couple of articles and videos that I feel are a MUST SEE from my Facebook Page. I'll list no more than 5 each month.
Tess Asplund, with Fist Raised Against the Leadership of The Nordic Resistance Movement (Nrm). (Twitter/David Lagerlöf). Click here to learn more about her simple, but powerful stand against injustice and hate.
RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED
As we continue to do our work in the world, here are some additional articles and resources to assist us in having these conversations.
First, I will direct you here to The Lynch Quilts Project website, which has a list of organizational resources to help you get ready.
Second, I direct you to the site #CharlestonSyllabus, which has resulted in a nearly 20 page bibliography of articles, books, research, etc. that explore race in America. In addition, you can click here to purchase the book (Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism and Racial Violence), which is a condensed version of the on-line syllabus.
Finally, below are a series of articles that explore these issues that have become more focused on the national spotlight in regards
Understanding the past persecution of black Americans is crucial to understanding the racism that pervades the country today.
Insight, Violence and Resistance
We must continue to be the light!
PROJECT PROGRESS REPORT
So here is where we stand so far with the quilts. We'll be all steams ago for the next couple of months to finish off Quilt III, A Partial Listing. At the end of the summer 2017, we'll "officially launch" Quilt VII, All Around the World the Same Song and Quilt VIII, The Ties that Bind.
I say official because that is when my focus will shift directly and primarily here. If you are interested in working on any of the quilts just contact me and I can tell you where we are specifically on a particular quilt and how you can participate. Unless the quilt says "complete," there is an opportunity to participate. In the mean time, click here to checkout how to help get things started for the various quilts.
- Quilt I: Her Name was Laura Nelson, Completed 2004
- Quilt II: RedRum Summer 1919, Completed 2014
- Quilt II: A Partial Listing, actively in production, ETA Spring 2017
- Quilt IV: Failed State (TBD), Completed 2016
- Quilt V: The Making Quilt, actively in progress, ETA Winter 2018
- Quilt VI: Memoria: In Progress, On-going process, 2010-present
- Quilt VII: All Around the World the Same Song, start up Summer 2017
- Quilt VIII: The Ties that Bind, start up Summer 2017
- Quilts IX: Angels in America / Boyhood in Red, White and Blue, still forming and making itself in my mind and requires additional partnerships we are exploring.
PLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGY
I apologize if you are receiving this newsletter in error. A recent technical glitch required me to rebuild the database, which meant combining multiple email accounts, listserves and handwritten sign-in sheets. I have multiple emails without names attached. As such, I am sure I missed a few as I tried to delete as many as possible, before it became kinda exhausting given there are hundreds upon hundreds of supporters. So if you are here and not by choice, I apologize. Please simply unsubscribe.
Creative Power for Social Change!
Fighting for a racially healed and just future, since 2002.