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Friday, July 3, 2009

Sacred Threads Exhibition: Beyond the Barrier part 1

On the eve of celebration our Country's proclamation of freedom from Great Britain, I thought it would be good to focus on the special exhibition portion of the Sacred Threads exhibition.

In late 2008, Jami Burns, the prison chaplain at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio, started a new activity for inmates of the prison. The women who participated would explore their lives and thoughts through the medium of quilting.

In many cases, these women had never quilted, and some were new to sewing as well. I found these pieces fascinating in what they revealed about the women as well as how the quilting opened them up. I thought I'd share some of the ones I found particularly moving or interesting.
Soon, the whole exhibition will be posted on the Sacred Threads website at

This quilt (above) was made by Cynthia Standifer and is called "The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart." This piece was Cynthia's first attempt at quilting. Here's what she said about her piece:

"I have attempted to paint a picture with traditional quilting fabrics to obtain a quilt that would look like it was made by my grandmother who taught me to sew. The losses I experienced on my journey are reflected in the quilt. A million stitches have replaced a million tears in an attempt to heal my broken heart. This quilt is dedicated to all the women of the Arn Complex who have taken their losses and put them in the past while once again being stigmatized by the simple pink collars they wear--expectations and identity defined by their status as close and max inmates, not by who they are. Thank you to all my sisters who threaded eyes of needles I could not see, who donated and sold to me decorative threads from their own projects. To my bunkies who put up with pins on the floor and being asked million times, "What do you think about this?" To those who lent their artistic talents by drawing and cutting out shapes that my cramping hands could not manage with dull scissors and to the officers who helped provide tools that were needed. Thank you to all that helped make my vision a reality."
A personal note from the quilter: The quilter is a 57 year old first time "Art Quilter." She is incarcerated for taking the life of her son, and attempting to take her own life. Upon her release, she would like to pursue projects involving fabric art and developing desserts for diabetics especially those using chocolate as the primary ingredient.

Joy Major's quilt, "The Hands of Time" is one of several two-sided quilts in the "Breaking Barriers" part of the exhibition.
Her artist's statement includes the following poem:
Turn the Hands of time slowly, turn the hands of time back.
To a time that I've missed and bring those people back.
To a time of laughter, to a time of joy.
Turn the hands of time slowly, turn the hands of time back.

The back of the quilt has columns of the names of the women who are imprisoned at Marysville and the length of their sentences.

The columns also have commentary, little snippets which have meaning. Some of them are oblique and obviously have meaning to individuals who are incarcerated or who understand the process better than I.

Joy's personal note states: "I was born to Sandford and Betty Major. I came to prison in January of 1998 and I'm serving a life sentence with parole eligibility upon twenty five full years. I enjoy reading and sewing. I spend most of my days doing community service work. Upon release I will return to Cincinnati Ohio.


Sue Reno said...

I am really enjoying your excellent coverage of the Sacred Threads exhibit--thanks for posting.

Lisa Ellis said...

I hope that this special exhibit will be just the beginning for showing how quilts can be a powerful instrument of healing in our prisons. And for the viewers a new understanding and compassion. I'd love to see quilt guilds adopt their local women's prisons and provide materials, lessons, etc. Thank you for posting this. I look forward to seeing what other pieces moved you.

Michigoose said...

Thank you so much Sue! It means a lot to me. I really loved the show and I hope that I can convince more people to try to attend it, even if they are not quilters or are more interested in traditional quilting. I also hope that perhaps I can finish one of my pieces in time fr the 2011 show.

The hardest part of doing this is chosing what ones to use as they were all so great; of course some of the ones I'd like to use, my photos weren't the best. The pesky close up feature which I used to shoot the artist statement had a habit of not being off when I went to shoot the overall....which meant I have some very artistic shots of the quilt....but not posting quality! I regret not taking my higher end camera where I could have seen better on the tiny frame what I was doing.

Michigoose said...

Thanks,Lisa. I agree whole heartedly with the concept of getting more programs like the quilting program Jami Burns started into other the prisons. Certainly, most quilters have a stash which would have materials which could be donated.

I'm thinking of emailing a number of quilt groups in the area about it. There aren't any institutions such as this near me, but I'd think that battered women's shelters would also be a good place to have similar healing groups.

I run into quilters who are often pondering what to do with those 1980s prints which found their way into their stash and are still there. Even donating materials would be a great boon. It was hard for me to read Cynthia Standifer's statement knowing how much I have in my stash at home.

Thanks again, the other Lisa