One of the seven-inch fabric squares, sent from New York, features a baked bean wearing a Band-Aid. A square from Germany shows a cuckoo clock with a heart springing forth instead of a bird. Boston team logos fill several squares, as do hearts, many of them broken.
On Thursday, the Museum of Fine Arts unveils a mile-long display of 1,500 tiny flags, sent from around the world, to honor the victims of the Marathon bombings and bring messages of hope to a city trying to heal.
The project, called “To Boston With Love,” is on display, strung across the Shapiro Family Courtyard, as part of the MFA’s Free Memorial Day Community Weekend. The flags — quilt squares without the quilting — have poured from every continent but Antarctica, and almost every state in the United States is represented. It is as much a work of heart as art.
“Like everyone else, I wanted to do something,” said Berene Campbell, head of the Vancouver Modern Quilt Guild, who came up with the idea within hours of the April 15 bombings.
“I even conceptualized it in a dream: a whole host of quilt squares or flags celebrating peace and love and letting the people of Boston know the world stood with them,” she said. “The question — since I had never been to Boston and was nowhere near the city — was how I would pull this off.”
The answer was Amy Friend of West Newbury, a 38-year-old married mother of three and a former museum and art gallery curator. She had become “digital friends” with Campbell last year, when Campbell reached out to compliment her sewing.
“Still, our personalities are really different,” the soft-spoken Friend said, smiling. “Berene’s a little more lively, more outgoing. I’m the cautious one, maybe more organized.”
Which is exactly why Campbell reached out to Friend for help with the project. The women quickly got word to sewing and quilting enthusiasts online that they were looking for contributors. Meanwhile, Friend set about finding a home for the flags.
Campbell thought the best they could do was have a few of the squares shown in storefront windows. But when 800 flags arrived at the West Newbury Post Office in just over two weeks, Friend knew they needed a big display space.
“They were still coming in,” Friend said. “I’ve been joking with the postal workers near my home that I know they hate me, and I understand. That’s why I reached out to the MFA. It’s a great symbol of Boston and a public space where everyone can go.”
Friend got an enthusiastic reaction. Indeed, Malcolm Rogers, the Ann and Graham Gund director of the MFA, said the flag project is a perfect fit for the museum.
“Since the attacks on April 15, we have seen heartfelt responses from all over the world,’’ Rogers said. “Messages that remind us we’re not alone have poured into Boston. The hand-sewn works of art from nearly every corner of the globe will be hung in our Shapiro Family Courtyard to illustrate how people stand in solidarity with our beloved city.”
The project mirrors that of Cambridge artist Clara Wainwright, whose “Mending Boston’’ quilt project is under way.
The three-day Memorial Day Community Weekend at the MFA from May 25 to May 27 will also feature three paintings on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a growing community collage; and donation boxes for the One Fund Boston, which helps support victims of the attack.
Amid it all, the seemingly endless variety of flags promises to be mesmerizing.
Sarah Watson, a fabric designer from Brazil, sent in flags with simple brightly colored geometric shapes and single words on them, including “Friendship,” “Love,” and “Peace.”
Flags from South Africa feature saturated colors and patterns. One boasts giraffes, another leopards. One square has the words “With Love” in Braille. Others feature the Boston skyline, the Zakim Bridge, and, of course, the Citgo sign.
One particularly poignant series of flags came from Kathy Wylie of Canada. The squares spell out “No More Hurting People Peace,” the words once written on a bright-blue poster by Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy killed in the bombings.
Friend and Campbell, who arrived in Boston on Tuesday, hope the squares will still be displayed after they come down at the MFA. They imagine taking the project to the Boston Public Library and other local museums.
MFA officials say “To Boston With Love” will stay up through July 7. They hope to bring it back in 2014 to mark the anniversary of the attacks.
“This isn’t fancy, but it’s from the heart,” Friend said. “And honestly, that’s all we’ve wanted to show with the flags — that care and warmth can come from everywhere and in small packages.”James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@
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