Clara Wainwright’s Mending Boston quilt project also looks to mend souls
ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE GLOBE
With their needles pinched between fingertips, a group of teenagers in Chinatown gathered quietly around a large cloth adorned with an impressionistic map of the Boston Marathon route and began to sew.
Sometimes in unison, and sometimes to an individual rhythm, their arms would reach above their heads, stretching out thread before swooping back down, sinking needles into the cloth to add the smallest details, such as angel wings, to the giant map.
Last Tuesday, the teenagers, members of Boston Asian Youth Essential Service on Harrison Avenue, became some of the first people to work on a new project called “Mending Boston” by Cambridge artist Clara Wainwright that aims to bring people together to mend their souls, talk, and honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“You just give people interesting materials, and they do wonderful things,” said Wainwright, 76, who also founded Boston’s First Night celebrations in 1976.
Her project focuses on a giant piece of cloth 12 feet long and 4 feet wide, and is decorated from one end to the other with a patchwork of different fabrics representing Boston-area landmarks including Trinity Church, the Hancock Tower, Fenway Park, and Boston Common.
Running across the center of the collage is a long strand of yellow fabric that represents the Marathon path into Copley Square.
Wainwright worked with fellow artist Eve Perkins to create the collage, and now she is hoping to make contact with friends and family members of the bombing victims to see if they would like to contribute to the project.
At the corners of the artwork, which she prefers to call a collage, not a quilt, she has set aside space to honor the four people killed in the attacks.
Wainwright said she is looking for help in reaching friends and family of Arlington resident and Medford native Krystle Campbell, to sew on messages or details about the bombing victim.
“I just need someone to help me do her portrait,” Wainwright said last week. “I can do it myself, but I would much prefer someone who loved her” do it.
Already, Wainwright said, friends of bombing victim Lu Lingzi have spent time sewing a likeness of the late Boston University student on the project. They have added math equations and fabric in the shape of an ice cream cone to the collage, because they said Lu liked math and loved to cook with her friends.
Wainwright plans to visit the Dorchester neighborhood of 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richard.
She is also reaching out to MIT police, inviting them to add some details about fallen Officer Sean Collier, who was allegedly killed by the bombing suspects as he sat in his cruiser the Thursday night after the attack in Boston.
The night Collier was killed, Wainwright said, she had been out walking her dog at 11 p.m. in her Cambridge neighborhood, which is right next to the Shell station on Memorial Drive where the bombing suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, allegedly stopped for gas after carjacking a man on Brighton Avenue.
Like many people, said Wainwright, she was “freaked out” by the bombings and subsequent events, and that inspired her idea for a collaborative mending project to help bring Boston back together in a positive way.
The artist said she has worked on up to 60 collaborative quilt projects before, in which she helps people with a design and they do much of the work to make the quilt.
Some of the fabric on the Mending Boston piece is being held on by glue until someone sews it to the cloth. The map is also not to scale, which contributes to the artwork’s folksy charm.
When Wainwright contacted the Boston Asian Youth Essential Service about whether they would be interested in helping with the project, the center’s director, Jane Leung, said she told Wainwright it would be an honor.
“When Clara had the idea for the quilt, we knew that it came from the heart, her warmth, and her caring about people and wanting to bring people together,” Leung said.
Wainwright is taking the project on the road to a number of other locations across the Boston area in coming weeks.
In addition to a visit to the Codman Square Health Center last week, she also took the project to the Gardner Museum for a mending session Friday.
Peggy Burchenal, the museum’s curator of education and public programs, said the museum became interested in hosting Wainwright’s project because it is a “beautiful idea” to bring people together around art.
“That is what I love about this idea, that you never know who you are going to meet,” Burchenal said.
Wainwright plans to go to Trinity Church Tuesday, where, weather permitting, she will hold a mending session outside near the memorial for the bombing victims from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
On Wednesday she also plans to hold an outdoor mending session at Old South Church on Boylston Street from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., weather permitting.
Wainwright, who grew up on Hereford Street in the Back Bay, said she enjoys the mending projects because they can bring people together for a common purpose.
“I love all kinds of people, and I’m just curious about all kinds of people, so to be sitting with maybe some kids who were classmates of Dzhokhar’s, who are mixed in with some Muslim women, who are maybe mixed in with some men from an athletic club is just my idea of heaven, because they are all talking to each other,” she said.
Wainwright said she imagines work on the project will continue into June, but she does not know where it will end up once it is completed.
She said she hopes to hang it in Boston City Hall.
Anyone interested in having their organization work on the mending project can contact Wainwright about the work at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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