Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Journey

The J2WH exhibit is entering its final weeks at the Banneker-Douglass Museum. As the exhibition is nearing its closing date, I have started thinking about the amazing experiences I have had while the quilt has been on display. As I contemplated what to write about in this posting, I began going through some of the earlier blog postings and realized that I have never actually told the story about how J2WH came to visit and share its story here at the Banneker-Douglass Museum.

J2WH almost didn't come to the Banneker-Douglass Museum. I was aware throughout the late summer and fall that Dr. Gaither was working on an Obama quilt with friends telling me "Wait until you see her latest quilt," however I only saw it once in the very initial stages before December. After the election, the local ABC station contacted the museum about doing a story on unique perspectives and viewpoints on the election that would run in a series leading up to the inauguration. After going to a few different people, the media request finally ended up on my desk. We decided to ask representatives from the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the museum's Foundation to participate in the filming but the timing of the interview was bad and our original speakers could not take part. At that point, Mr. Ted Mack, the then-Vice Chair of the Commission, contacted Dr. Gaither and asked her if she would be interested in bringing J2WH down and talking about it for the filming. She agreed and a few days later, J2WH made its first visit to the museum in mid-December.

When the reporter and cameraman arrived, they were quite surprised with what they found. The quilt was unlike anything they had ever seen and as you can hopefully tell through the video clips on this blog, Dr. Gaither is quite the speaker when it comes to her work. The reporter spoke with Dr. Gaither for an hour on her work and while the cameraman was getting some final shots, turned to Dr. Gaither and myself and asked if BDM was going to put the quilt on display. At that point, we turned and looked at each other realizing that the thought of exhibiting the quilt at the museum had never occurred to either one of us. Our first response was "We don't know" and 10 minutes later I was getting final approval from the museum's director to put it on display for the inauguration weekend and the month of February.

From that day, it was a marathon to get the quilt ready for display. I launched this blog a few days after the filming and we started to go to work on preparing the new exhibition. Dr. Gaither was working at a breakneck pace to complete the quilt with friends and family helping nearly round the clock. This is quite a feat given that it was finals time for Dr. Gaither and the Christmas holiday was only about a week away. Did I also happen to mention that up until this point completion of the quilt was not planned until spring 2009? Compressing several months worth of work into one certainly caused some anxiety and chaos as well as a few threats of "I'm going to get you for all of this extra work" from Dr. Gaither directed my way. (Always said with a smile. Well, almost always.)

I am not sure when the quilting sessions came into play. I think they were always part of Dr. Gaither's plan, but we expanded them by adding dates at the Bates Legacy Center and at BDM. I don't think there could have been a better time for these sessions than the days leading up to the inauguration. Even though the sooner-than-expected completion date made life more difficult, it was all worth it with people from all over the country coming to participate, adding it as part of their Inaugural experience and making a long lasting contribution to documenting the country's spirit and emotions during this historic time.

I have always thought it fascinating that had it not been for the reporter's question, the quilt might never have come to BDM. Amazing how great things can come from asking one question. Had it not been for that question, the J2WH exhibition might never have existed, at least in the way it does now. It makes me stop and think about the numerous other journeys in life all launched from a single question.

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