Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Helped to Create That

The last three weeks have marked an unbelievably busy touring time here at the Banneker-Douglass Museum with more tours coming through in that short time span than nearly the entire two months prior combined. Tour groups have come from near and far to see the museum and J2WH. At least two of these tour groups, unbeknownst to me, included people who had come to the museum and added their stitches to the quilt.

One such tour took place yesterday with a group of children from Mount Moriah AME Church here in Annapolis. For those who are not familiar with the Banneker-Douglass Museum, I will mention that the museum is housed in part in the former Mount Moriah Church building. After a lengthy battle during the 1970s about whether or not the building should be preserved rather than torn down to make way for a parking lot for the courthouse when the congregation moved to a new location, the church was converted into the Banneker-Douglass Museum. In 2006, BDM expanded its building with an addition to the former church, using one of the former exterior walls of the church as an interior wall of the new addition. J2WH actually hangs on this wall. When this group came to the museum I was aware of the importance of the students coming to see the place where their church once worshiped.

Little did I know when I began to talk about J2WH with the students that I was speaking to someone who was not only very familiar with the church but also with one of the exhibits. When the student identified himself and members of the group started to look for his initials on the quilt you could see the excitement and pride in his eyes that he was able to share this moment with his friends. A few of the children around him appeared to be just as excited as he was. Unfortunately we couldn't find his initials in the short time we had, but the pride was there.

As I began to tell him and the rest of the students about the many people who have come to see J2WH and learn about it here on the blog, he beamed with pride, held out his arms, and proclaimed that the success of J2WH meant that he was a "Superstar" because he was a part of it. Everyone around him seemed to agree with that statement.

One of the great side effects of J2WH and the other community-based works I have seen Dr. Gaither create is the amazing sense of ownership they create among the people who are involved with the works. Whether they physically add a component to the quilt, help provide information or inspiration, know someone, something, or an event included, or were a part of the subject that her work depicts, people truly feel as though they have a stake in her work. They are able to take away with them a sense of pride knowing that they have recognized some part of themselves in her work. Knowing that something they were involved in is in a museum and that they can say "I helped to create that" is very powerful and unique. There are very few opportunities for people to be able to do and say that.

J2WH has brought out such an amazing sense of ownership and pride among those who worked on it and those who view it. People see an event they participated in (the 2008 election) commemorated in a unique way and feel a part of the quilt. Those who came and helped to stitch J2WH feel a part of the quilt and an even more intimate connection as they recognize their accomplishments in creating this amazing work and can see it completed on the wall. More importantly, they are so proud of their work that they come back to see the work again and again, many times bringing with them family and friends to share the quilt with and to say "I helped to create that."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Gaither, It was so nice meeting and talking with you at Cracker Barrel. Enjoyed the articles. Thanks for sharing your pictures with me. Rhea Buchan, cashier Ashland Cracker Barrel