Community Quilt

City of Chicago commission for Englewood Senior Center.

The conceptual point of departure for the two forms of this project is a quilt.

Quilt as comforter. Quilts are made for home and family. They signify home and family. They are welcoming. They offer comfort, warmth, and safety. These are all aspects of the Senior Center as part of the city’s “quality of life” initiative and also qualities associated with a community center as place.

Quilt as a community. A quilt is a new form created by diverse materials from various sources that come together with the sole purpose of creating a cohesive and useful group. A quilt than is a type of community as is the group of seniors and staff that meet at the Senior Center every day. Not only is a quilt a community but also the act of creating it is communal. Quilting by tradition brought people together in recreation as respite from work. Quilting embodies a long and lasting tradition and thereby refers to time. I like the association of tradition and time in reference to seniors.

Englewood. One can easily say that the city of Chicago itself is a patchwork quilt as a city of neighborhoods and ethnic communities. On a more intimate scale, the history of Englewood is like a patchwork quilt in the immigrant groups it has sheltered over time. Swedes, Germans, Irish, Scots, Poles, African Americans and others all share in the history of Englewood and all have a quilting tradition as well. Diverse cultures coming together to build a neighborhood.

Englewood has seen more than its share of racial and religious tensions and crime in its relatively short life. Another reason why I favor the concept of a comforter.

Because today and in the recent past the people living in Englewood are mostly African American, I looked at quilts made by African American women for inspiration of form and color. A book called The Quilts of Gee’s Bend was my primary source. Gee’s Bend is a region in Alabama from which come generations of women who have kept alive a rich and creative tradition of quilt making. Their works are: improvisational; asymmetrical; utilize simple geometry; and create unique and distinctive variations of traditional patterns. One such variation, blocks and strips, is used often. This is my formal starting point. A blocks and strip variation utilizing colors that appeared frequently in these quirky and fabulous quilts.

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© Yvette Kaiser Smith 2004