Healing Power – by Joanne Weis
Feminist artist Miriam Schapiro, in her 1983 essay Geometry and Flowers, asks: “What is a quilt? Among other things it is the history of women, a receptacle of passions, attitudes, largess and anger. It is a reassembling process… It is inspiration, a connection with self, the dogged will to make something extraordinary in the midst of family routine, … It is also discovering that making something beautiful heals exhaustion”.
Shapiro’s definition of a quilt goes well beyond our traditional understanding and her definition leads us to embrace the process of quilting as a significant element in empowering women. Women made considerable financial contributions during the Civil War by selling quilts to raise funds in both the North and South, while the northern “Sanitary Commission” collected and distributed an estimated 250,000 quilts during the war. During the Great Depression, women contributed to the survival of family by using available material to piece and sell quilts. These are just two examples of quilts being a source of financial and political strength for women.
An overlooked instance of empowerment through quilts is their importance to women who have been intentionally ‘disempowered’. Battered women, survivors of sexual assault or abuse, women who have been controlled and demeaned to the point of danger – what do quilts mean to them? In the Louisville area, the Center for Women and Families is a place where women, children and men come following domestic or sexual assault or abuse, a safe and protected environment where people hope to begin a healing journey. It is important that this environment visually communicates peace and wellbeing and one way to achieve that is through art.
Center President Marta Miranda saw that need and recruited Valerie White and Joanne Weis to co-chair a committee to work toward this goal. More than twenty local artists, many of them working in the quilt format, donated work, not for fund raising nor to cover the walls or fill the spaces but to introduce the message of Hope and Healing for those coming within the walls. Visitors, staff and volunteers are now surrounded by art with images of peace, protection, health and joy.
One exception is a quilt donated by Collis Marshall in 2007. In the late 1990’s, with a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council, Collis went to the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women. Within the context of an “educational project” with inmates, they used the quilt format, allowing participants to safely explore and express their experience with assault and abuse. The painted and stitched images on the textile almost radiate pain, fear and anger, again confirming Schapiro’s sense of quilts as a “receptacle of passions, attitudes, largess and anger”.
The reality is harsh. In the United States, a woman is physically assaulted every 15 seconds. Domestic violence is a crime with serious and sometimes fatal consequences for the victim, children and the community. In Kentucky, between September 2010 and September 2011, at least 39 women were murdered by their intimate partner. In 2010, 1,381 women reported being raped in Kentucky and data indicates that is a small fraction of women who were actually sexually assaulted.
The reality is also that women are resilient and, with adequate support and safe vehicles for growth, they become survivors rather than victims. As evidence at the Center for Women and Families by both the Hope and Healing Project and the KCIW Domestic Violence piece, quilts can be very much a part of that passage from hurt and victimization to hope and healing.
– Joanne Weis
Top: “And The People Shall Color The Earth #3” – Art Quilt by by Marti Plager
Right: “There is a Rainbow Somewhere” – Art Quilt by Kit Tossman
Left: KCIW – Domestic Violence Support Group (1999) Quilt, Donated to the Center for Women and Families by Collis Caroline Marshall in 2007
Bottom (left to right): (1) Center for Women and Families Art Gallery; (2) “And The People Shall Color The Earth #3” – Art Quilt by by Marti Plager; (3) “Bride” – Art Quilt by Penny Sisto; (4) “The Guardian” – Art Quilt by Valerie White; (5) “Canna Curve” – Art Quilt by Pat DaRif; (6) “Don’t Step on the Crack” – Art Quilt by Marti Plager; (7) “Shaman’s Belt” – by Joanne Weis; (8) “Holding It Together” and “Dream Weaver” – by Joanne Weis; (9) “There is a Rainbow Somewhere” – Art Quilt by Kit Tossman; (10) “Kneeling Madonna” – Art Quilt by Penny Sisto; (11) “Urban Exodus” – by Penny Davis; (12, 13, 14) KCIW – Domestic Violence Support Group (1999) Quilt, Donated by Collis Caroline Marshall.
Photography by Ekaterina Balaban (unless noted otherwise).