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Quilt it out. It's a motto many quilters rely on to get them through sad,
difficult times. After all, stitching as an emotional refuge is deeply ingrained
in the quilting tradition. "Quilt it out" took on a new urgency for fiber artist
Lois Jarvis, on September 11, 2001. Struggling to make sense of thousands of
senseless deaths, there was no doubt what she needed to do.
"I didn't want to make this quilt. I had to make it,"
states Jarvis bluntly. The result? Ground Zero, a Lone Star quilt, blazing
with the faces of 600 victims of the World Trade Center attacks, has become an
internet phenomenon, prompting a new look at the World Wide Web as a mixed media
tool for fiber artists.
From the beginning of the Ground Zero project, the Internet
provided crucial material for Jarvis, whose artistic vision has always been rooted
in found objects. "I knew I needed to do or say something about the people," Jarvis
explains. CNN's missing persons web site was a repository of faces and names in the
aftermath of the attacks. "I was sure it would be locked up at any minute," Jarvis
recalls. Family and friends worked with Jarvis to make sure that every possible
image was saved. Printing individual faces as fabric diamonds was also a team effort.
Deciding who made it onto the quilt, however, was Jarvis' choice alone. "I just
decided based on light and dark values of the diamonds themselves. I couldn't think
about 'who was this person,'" she points out. "It would have been too much."
Haunted by the raw emotion of street shrines and missing
person posters, Jarvis knew Ground Zero had to be an interactive piece. "This
didn't just happen to the families of those people, it happened to all of us,"
she explains. "My original intention was the viewers of the real quilt could pin
comments on to it." The notes quickly became worn, and by the third quilt show,
Jarvis removed them. Through her web site, however, Ground Zero has achieved more
viewer interaction than she ever thought possible.
Since March of 2002, over 125,000 visitors have found
their way to Ground Zero, from as far away as Australia and the Netherlands.
Jarvis' husband carefully watches the statistics on the site. "Most people find
us through links they get from friends or chat rooms," Jarvis says. Site
statistics clearly show that images of the quilt are what people are coming for.
"We expected a spike in visits around September 11, and then for it to taper off.
But it never did," says Jarvis. Links emailed between friends are Internet word
of mouth, and their power is exponential. Daily visits have climbed ever since
and are now over 3,000 a day.
Comments in Ground Zero's guest book have replaced the
paper notes Jarvis originally envisioned. "People are sharing stories with me-people
I don't think would otherwise ever put up a piece of art or say, 'here look at this'."
In this sense, viewers' comments embody the powerful folk art qualities that gripped
Jarvis' imagination when she saw the missing person posters.
Victims' families and friends find their way to the site,
and want to know if their loved one's face is on the quilt. To keep ahead of
inquiries about specific victims, Jarvis recently began the painstaking process
of mapping each individual's location on the quilt. She fights back tears as
she recalls the beautiful letter a victim's father wrote her. "He was thanking
me for making the quilt," she says in disbelief. "It's easier for me emotionally
if they're not there. I let them know that the faces are meant to represent
everyone who died."
Many comments express admiration for Ground Zero as a
tribute to the victims, a perspective, which at first baffled Jarvis. "I wasn't
trying to make a tribute," Jarvis maintains. "People have helped me see Ground
Zero differently, though - to see more in it then I knew was there."
Ground Zero can be seen at theQuilterCommunity.com's
booth in Chicago during the Quilt Fest in April, through a special arrangement
with American Spirit Quilt Collection. To visit Ground Zero on-line, go to
For more information about the American Spirit Quilt Collection, please follow these links.