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Haiti PeaceQuilts: Lifting Up One Quilt at a Time

Founding members of PeaceQuilts. Maureen Matthews McClintock third from left and Jeanne Staple
far right.
Founding members of PeaceQuilts. Maureen Matthews McClintock third from left and Jeanne Staple far right.
David Barreda

'Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a person to fish and you feed him for a lifetime'

African American Museum of Philadelphia

This past weekend Haiti PeaceQuilts celebrated its newest alliance with Shephard Fine ArtSpace in Oak Bluffs, participating in the Cape Verde Festival exhibition. The spacious 2600-foot gallery with high ceilings is the perfect place to display the exquisite quilts that are coming out of Haiti. This culturally diverse show also highlighted Angel Quinonez, tattoo artist and owner of Amity Ink in Oak Bluffs. and outsider artist Dugg DesJardines who creates paintings and sculptures from found objects. It was a wonderful collaborative and cohesive effort with all of the proceeds from the Haiti art quilts going directly to the quilters during the post-earthquake reconstruction. Live acoustic music by Carlos Cabral set the mood and the Verdean dish Jag was served to sate the appetite.

Not only has PeaceQuilts found a new space to hang their quilts on-Island but also a translator in curator Melissa Breese who speaks fluent French. If all goes as planned she will be accompanying the team on their November trip to Haiti.

Edgartown artist Jeanne Staples has been traveling to Haiti since 2006 in an effort aid and empower impoverished women which in turn supports families and ups the economy. The size of Maryland, Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere, the third hungriest in the world. It's population is approximately nine million and life expectancy is forty-seven years. Seventy percent are illiterate.

When she arrived she recognized the inherent artistry of embroidered tablescloths that were produced by the students of the Centre Menager, a home-ecomonics type of on-the-job training at the school of Marie Reine Immaculee in Lilavois. An excellent seamstress , Jeanne talked to the instructor, Sister Angela Belizaire, about switching from tablecloths to quilts which would garner more attention and appreciation, thus more profitable, than tablecloths.

It was serendipitous that a bit later Jeanne found herself seated next to Vermont quilter Maureen McCormack at a Historical Society dinner. Jeanne and Maureen went to Haiti together and the rest is history. Three years ago quilting didn't even exist in Haiti and there still isn't a Creole word for it. It’s called Artisanat Patchwork de Solidarité.

This grass roots organization started out as a core group of seven women, The goal is to build cooperatives that can be self-managed and self-sustaining. It wasn’t long ago there was only one and now there are seven. There are one hundred women organized into seven cooperatives in Lilavois; Croix-des-Bouquets; Milot; Bel Anse; Roche-a-Batteau; Cité Soleil, and Port-au-Prince with plans to expand. PeaceQuilts provides training, materials, supplies, marketing assistance, and educational opportunities. A safe place for women to be and create with dignity.

This past year post-earthquake has been a vital one for PeaceQuilts. Last September the touring quilt collection “Patience to Raise the Sun’ kicked off it’s national tour at the Bennington Museum in Vermont. Co-op manager Nadge Florian and Sister Angela Belizaire traveled from Haiti and were guests of honor at the reception, speaking to guests of their lives and country.

To coincide with the tour is the sixty page Exhibition Catalogue written by Nora Nevins giving the history of Peacequilts and their quilters with full color reproductions of all the quilts in the exhibition. Beautifully photographed by Harvey John Beth, it’s called ‘Patience to Raise the Sun: Art Quilts from Haiti & Their Power to Change Women’s Llives'.

In October Macy’s and Fair Winds Trading picked up part of their Heart of Haiti collection selling the art quilts at Macy’s, in retail stores and on-line. The range is being expanded so that costs vary depending if you want a special size one-of- a kind piece or seeing something that pleases your aesthetic and more modestly priced. Check out PeaceQuilts’ on-line store. The essence and joy of the Haitian people shines through in the beauty of their work.

From January through March, 2011, the collection was installed at the African American Museum of Philadelphia.

Then came the party. The fourth annual Celebrity Waiter’s fundraiser was in March at the Federated Church in Edgartown and the parish hall was packed to the rafters. Waiters and volunteers Dressed in costumes.There was Noah, Cleopatra and Angela Lansbury. Then a nurse walked by. Somebody asked her who she was. “A nurse, I couldn’t get out of work on time.”

The guests of honor were Nadege Florian and her new husband who made the trip from Haiti. Quilts hung around the room and a table was filled with unique hand crafted items as raffle prizes and for sale. Balloons, streamers and spaghetti. It was a blast.

Full circle back to Melissa Breese of the Shephard Fine ArtSpace in the ‘Soho’ district of Oak Bluffs who is curating an exhibition featuring PeaceQuilts for the last week of August, 2011. The current show will be up through July 1, 2011. 8 Uncas Ave., Oak Bluffs, MA., 508.693.8001.

There will be a show at the always stunning New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Mass. beginning in October. Keep checking tour listings, new ones are cropping up. The FaceBook url is listed below.

Building better lives through art. A concept that is growing by leaps and bounds.

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