Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quilts as Memorials - Remembering 9-11

Quilts have a long history as memorials and that has only increased since the last quit revival began in the 1970s and really took off again in the 21st century.  The 9-11 memorial quilts and the Quilts of Valor are just some of the most widely publicized examples.

After reviewing all of the 9-11 quilts that were posted on the ArtQuilt list in October 2001, I sat down and tried to write about my feelings. I was living in Northern Virginia at the time, just outside Washington, D.C.  It was a very traumatic time for all, to say the least. Given that Washington had also been attacked, rumors were rife. 

As a 20 year old, I had lived thru an attempted coup d'├ętat in East Africa in January 1964. That was shortly after Kennedy's assination. I thought the world had fallen apart on both occasions. 

So much terror and tragedy has transpired in world history since 1964 but nothing really holds a candle to the atrocities of the 20th century when millions and millions died under incredibly repressive government regimes and wars. 

All I could think of on 9-11-01 was that it had finally reached American soil as well. A new generation of Americans were now experiencing a wake-up call just like we did when Kennedy was assassinated. How very sad.

I mostly stick to prose and research...very very seldom write poetry. But that night the prose just didn't "work."  So I had to resort to poetry, clumsy and rough though it may be.  (Hiaku it is not!) I use quotation marks liberally on purpose.

At the time I wrote it, I sent it to all the artists on the Art Quilt List who had made a quilt to hang in Houston at Karey Bresenhan's invitation. I decided to post it here this -- the 11th year anniversary -- in honor of all those who perished in 9-11, as well as all those who were injured or helped with the clean-up.

"America From the Heart: Quilters Remember September 11, 2001" hung in Houston in October 2001.

Here is another blogger's take on the event. Don't trust all the links on that blog though. Some are way out of date.  Here is a pinterest site with more 9-11 quilt photos. 

See many of the arts made to memorialize this day by clicking here.

Karen Alexander

Independent Quilt Historian

Reflections on 9-11 ArtQuilts

How moving each piece of  9-11 art
meditation comes effortlessly as I gaze …
piercing deeply
its metaphorical nature;
expressing that which has no words
yet in spite of
"no words"
striking at the heart of
"unconscious knowing"
in both
heart and head

Hearts and heads
another “attempt”
at metaphor…
expression of "universal truths"
that in fact
know “no boundaries”
never can be

“universal truths”
ever be
than a fleeting moment
even in

when "captured"
even for
that “moment”
many do not
recognize it
for what it is;
Again and again “truth”
"invisible in our midst
"hidden behind the veil"
of our blind unknowing.

“Universal truths”

a closed mind…
any specific
or philosophy…

“Concretized” vision
too easily
in its
for “natural”
in the
of the

No artist need apply here.

What happens then
when “truth” is
The concretized

pulverized concrete blowing in the wind.

the images
of “horror”
become carriers
“universal truths”

once again
September 11
to ask
with no answer…
"Will we humans ever
'get it'…..
'once and for all'?"

Will we
the "vaccine"
future generations
the death and destruction
that comes out of
"concretization" of
“spiritual” truths…
“pulverized concrete blowing in the wind?”

I think not.
simply continue
to "dance the dance”
of individual

to “fruition”
wholely unique


“One” human being at a time
one “random” act at a time
one “moment” at a time
the “endless” cycle
“being and becoming.”

nothing new

I do not ask
“expecting” answers…

it's just me
because this is
how I express
creative impulses…
how I
attempt to
and process
the “shock”
the "senselessness"
of such
projected onto others.

Thank you,
each one of you,
not just for your 9-11 art-quilts,
but for all those
wonderful “images”
that you
bring forth
giving us not only
a “glimpse” of your
creative “imagination,”
a chance
to take a deeper
at our own "stuff."

You dare us
“responsible” ownership
the paradoxes
“saints” and “demons”

Karen B. Alexander
October 27, 2001

My little memorial wall hanging Sept 2012 made simply from scraps from my scrap bag.

9-11 Memorial websites:

Voices of September 11

World Trade Center Memorial Quilt

Stitchers, Through Internet, Touch, Care, Heal

"With Needle and Thread, Precious Lives We Hope To Mend."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Virginia Avery's Passing

(page from "Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts", Feb 1997, article by Jinny Avery)

On a very personal note...honoring a friend;
the Legendary Jinny Avery, 1912-2012

The photo below was taken in 1988 when the Enchanted Quilters of Lopez Island, Washington brought Jinny to the island to teach a class on art clothing. My mother-in-law (Wini Alexander) is the 2nd person on the left in a green shirt and is the one responsible for getting me into quilting in the first place. Wini passed away in August 1999.

I was not yet involved with The  Quilters Hall of Fame when the above photo was taken and would not be for another 10 years. I discovered the photo in my MIL's files about 2005 just as I was beginning to work with Jinny on the plans for her Induction into the hall of fame. I had never known that she had visited the island, much less my in-law's home. Indeed, I now look out upon this very scene every day of my life as I work at my computer for my husband inherited the house they would later build around this very deck that now holds all my quilt stuff!

As a result of working so closely with Jinny over many months for almost a year on behalf of The Quilters Hall of Fame on her Induction process  (2005-2006), I became close personal friends with Jinny. The fact that both Jinny and my husband were jazz musicians also brought us closer together. I will never forget my visit to her home in the fall of 2006 on my way home after a fabulous two week textile study tour to France. She was so excited for me and wanted to hear all about what I had seen and learned and insisted that I stop in New York on my way home and stay with her so she could hear all about the trip. She had a way of making you feel like one of the family instantly.

At home September 2006
Notice the pin at Jinny's throat. It reads "IT'S OK"

Notice the pin on Jinny's garment. This pin had a very special significance in Jinny's life. It came into her life sometime after her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving her with 4 children to support and raise. Several years later she  experienced the unexpected loss of a son as well.  As a result of the life-lessons she learned from these losses and challenges in her own life, Jinny inspired all who knew her to live life with gusto. I have never forgotten this pin and her take on life. She wore the pin everywhere on everything. It continues to inspire me today.

The pin.

My goodies from my textile study tour to France all spread out on
the sleeper sofa in Jinny's living room. She was such a generous friend
and wanted to hear all the details of my trip.

With Jinny in her home.

 Jinny was "only" 93 at the time of my visit and you would have thought she was 63 for she drove us to the train station to catch the train into the city, something she frequently did on her own! We three (Jinny, myself and her other house guest Deborah) hopped the late afternoon train into New York City to attend a gallery opening of the work of a long time friend of Jinny's, Marilyn Henrion.

After the exhibit opening, Donna Wilder drove us across New York City and out to Westchester where we had dinner. To go out to dinner -- to do anything with Jinny Avery --- was one incredibly FUN TIME! What an amazing woman she was! What a spirit and zest for life she had! 

Dinner in Westchester after the exhibit open in New York.
L-R: Jinny Avery, her house guest friend Deborah,
Donna Wilder, Karen Alexander

This is a delightful piece Jinny made based on a cartoon that one of her friends drew 
to celebrate the  King Street Stompers, a group she had jammed with and 
performed with publicly on occasion for over 50 years.

September 6th I received the news that Jinny passed away that morning, just three weeks short of her 100th birthday. A year ago, before I knew I would have a much awaited grandson due at this time, I had planned to fly back to New York for Jinny's 100th birthday party. She was so looking forward to that party and for awhile we all thought she just might make it. But sadly, she left us today. 

But never fear, Jinny....Gary and I will still be celebrating come September 29 from across the country!  And we know you will be present in SPIRIT wherever the celebrating is taking place!!!

To read more about Jinny's professional life, read my tribute to her on The Quilters Hall of Fame blog by clicking here. There you will also find links to two video interviews that exist of Jinny and her professional work.

Adieu, dear friend.

PS: Below are photos of Jinny's retrospective exhibit that our TQHF team put together for her induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006.

Photo on right by Amanda Little

Jinny Avery inspects Come to the Cabaret.

Right: Bog Coat Goes to a Party. 

It was pure joy to have the opportunity to hear and see Jinny play the piano with a Dixieland-style band, including my husband Gary on clarinet, at her Induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2006. Gary, a jazz musician all his life, admired her talent so much and enjoyed exchanging emails with her occasionally.  He told me after the jam session that Jinny was clearly the best musician on the stand that day!  

Gary is also a jazz and classical DJ on our local radio station.  Today he just played the New World Symphony at 2:15 (Pacific Time) on his classical program, and then he will play a solo jazz piano version of “Going Home” (from that symphony), dedicating it to Jinny. Then he will play about 20 minutes of music from Jinny’s 2011 album, “It’s OK” (recorded when she was 98 !) during the first 30 minutes of his jazz program, from 3:00 to 3:30 Pacific time. If you have access to the internet, you can listen to the show live Friday afternoon, September 7 at  Once on the Website, just click on the words, “LISTEN LIVE” TO TUNE INTO THE STREAM.

Jinny, we salute you, grand lady that you are!

Karen Alexander