Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forever Covered With Their Love

Genevieve Kaplan and Joan Gaither with
the National Black Theatre Festival Quilt.
It was recently pointed out to Dr. Gaither and I that this blog has provided a very interesting way for people to get to know Dr. Gaither’s work as well as her and to a lesser extent me. Through my blog postings readers are able to have glimpses into our lives and the way we interact. You have come to know that I love to tease and surprise her while she completely amazes everyone around her including myself at her incredible ability to put people at ease and make them want to share their stories and themselves with her. Some of the stories you have seen me write about have been written with the intention of getting a rise out of her. Well, I will be honest, most of the stories have been written with that goal in mind. In my defense, she completely knows that and I always remind her that “that is why she likes me.” (She agrees with that by the way.)

There are other stories on here that have been more serious in tone, striking into the heart of the person that I have been so honored to call my friend and sister. For Dr. Gaither quilting is her release and way of expressing emotion and sentiment in a way that cannot always be expressed in a conversation. For me it is writing. Hence why we make such a good team. She creates and I document her work through my posts, articles, and other writings. In this way we are able to celebrate each other as well as the people and places documented in the quilts. It is my hope that you readers are able to see this celebration in the posts and the quilts.

Katherine's Quilt, (c) Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither
As I was thinking about writing this post, I went through some of the video clips I shot of her while her social justice exhibition was on display at the Maryland State Arts Council. In particular, I was drawn to the videos on Gordon’s Quilt and Katherine’s Quilt.  Each of these quilts focus on one person, but have common themes of celebration and love within them. In each of these quilts Dr. Gaither endeavored to share her love of the people depicted as well as their families and friends as a means of “celebrating the individual and that which supported them.” She calls them healing quilts because they hold good memories and celebrate life.

This is something that I have been thinking about quite often over the past few weeks and months. The concept behind these quilts is a positive and loving one – allowing people to honor those who have touched their lives and the lives of others through fond memories and stories. This is the root of documentary storyquilting. It is at the heart and soul of what makes Dr. Gaither’s works powerful, emotional connectors between people, places, and events. When she begins brainstorming quilt subjects with workshop participants, she does not say “pick a person, place, or event and create a picture of them.” Instead she asks participants to think of their memories. "What are three things you associate with them? What are three words you would use to describe them? Is there a color, smell, action, habit, etc. that you think of when you remember them?”
Kayla's Quilt
(c) Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither

By using these types of questions to encourage memories to flow, each person is able to connect to their subject through a space of warm memories and love. I have often thought that it is a good way to think about life and those around us in general. Dr. Gaither said in her description of Kayla’s Quilt, a work done in memory of a family member who died in their childhood, “it helps us to be more aware and to protect ourselves and those around us.” Especially in trying times, this way of thinking represents what we can do to help us heal. “Sometimes forces around us are stronger than what we can handle on our own.” Through Dr. Gaither’s quilts and her special way of capturing memories, it allows one to celebrate while moving forward.

By putting all of the information she gathers into a quilt, Dr. Gaither is able to interpret people visually while creating an artwork out of something commonly associated with home, warmth, and love. She often talks about quilting being an age-old tradition that gathered people together to share stories and memories. I know this to be true based on what I have witnessed at the community quilting sessions over the past several years. People sit down to quilt and begin to share their stories, creating connections that perhaps never would have happened otherwise. Whether these connections are fleeting or last a lifetime, they have been created through the love around them. Dr. Gaither’s quilts take that concept of creating quilts with love one step further by incorporating images and memories into the quilt itself, allowing the subject to literally cover this symbol of comfort and protection. The memories included on the quilt become intertwined with the concept of a quilt providing cover for the person using them. In doing so, whomever experiences the quilt is forever covered with their love.


Lakita Bee said...

We should live by our own principles.
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