At a glance: PeaceQuilt Project
"Patience To Raise The Sun: Art Quilts from Haiti & their Power to Change Women's Lives," is a brightly pictured, soft-bound 60-page collection of photographs by Harvey John Beth, and essays by Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin and the Vineyard's own Nora Nevin. With clarity and efficiency it connects craft, culture, history, and mission.
It is a good and worthy story. The book - actually, the catalogue that accompanied the November 2009 exhibition of Haitian quilts at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont - is a words and pictures primer of how a simple humanitarian project begun in a Haitian Catholic school evolved into what has become the nonprofit PeaceQuilts Project. It demonstrates how, with the efforts of dedicated and informed volunteers, a modest idea can have an impact on culture, and change lives for the better. Funds raised from the sale of the quilts are spent on materials and training to support the Haitian women's cooperatives. Haitian women were introduced to quilting, which is not a native craft, as a marketable enterprise, something they could do to support their families. The craft combines traditional Anglo-American, African-American, and African textile and quilting techniques and styles. The Haitian women then infuse their work with the sensibilities of their own culture. As the photographs show, the quilts are colorful, elaborately embroidered, with bold primitive designs.
The quilts include figurative interpretations of bible stories, abstract geometrics, and designs from nature and Haitian life.
Ms. Franklin, curator of collections at Bennington, writes: "In addition to widespread embroidery skills amongst its female population, Haiti has a rich artistic and cultural heritage upon which to draw... Haitians surround themselves with art. These typically aren't refined works of art made by trained artists, but rather the product of an honest unaffected outpouring of creativity that abounds amongst the Haitian people."
In her essay, Ms. Nevin provides an animated introduction to the PeaceQuilts initiative and Jeanne Staples, the founder and director who brought it to fruition, her challenges and successes.
Her descriptions conjure images of Haiti, "...the blinding glare of the sun, the weight of the tropical heat, the thin, acrid smell of the charcoal fires, the heavily armed guards at the gas stations and supermarkets; the small tin-roofed buildings...."
But the real purpose of the catalogue is to introduce the quilters, tell their stories, describe their lives and routines, and show their brilliant handiwork.
Mr. Beth's photographs also tell the story: beaming faces of volunteers and the Haitian women, children, a quilting collective and, of course, the quilts, fierce in color, design and bold expression.
The show at the Bennington Museum includes 22 quilts that will comprise a traveling show. At the conclusion, all the quilts that have been sold will be released to purchasers. The catalogue, published by PeaceQuilts, (Bennington, Vermont, November 2009, $19.95) is a personalized record of both process and results that merits a place in a home library.
"Patience To Raise The Sun: Art Quilts from Haiti & their Power to Change Women's Lives," can be purchased at Rainy Day, Beach House, and Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven; C'est La Vie in Oak Bluffs; and at Federated Church in Edgartown. Profits go to the PeaceQuilts Project.