Peace Quilt Project

In the Cold War heyday of the early ’80s, Psychology Today magazine published a survey about children’s fears, with nuclear holocaust heading the list. They continued by saying that children were less afraid if they felt they could do something about it.

I wondered how I might empower my own school-aged children to move past fear toward friendship, rather than to objectify people our society identifies as enemies. I had heard of peace quilts being made, and, as an artist, decided that I would offer to help classes of schoolchildren make their own peace quilts.

Eventually, children in a sixteen classes made quilt squares—with the teachers braving the possibility of censure in a society that considered the U.S.S.R. our staunch enemy. My daughter Sunny (age 12 at the time) stitched the squares into quilts. Then the logical step was to give them to schoolchildren in the U.S.S.R.

I cast around for ideas. The “citizen diplomacy” movement was getting underway, and I went to see Rama Vernon, Director of the Center for Soviet/American Dialogue. She was taking a group to Moscow in a month, and she proposed that I come with her and bring the quilts—suggesting that I could finance the trip by making another quilt—to be given to Gorbachev—and gathering signatures and donations of Americans interested in promoting peace.

To my astonishment, I raised the required sum in this manner. I made the trip, and delivered the children’s quilts to Russian young people. I also was told that in the Russian culture, patchwork quilts are considered to be an indication of ultimate penury, rather than a treasured piece of heritage, so the people who received the quilts were rather bemused by the American gesture.

However, we were unable to make the connection to Gorbachev. So, I took the quilt to the Soviet Union and brought it home again. And I felt a need to do something further with it, because of what it represented.

A friend suggested that, to get access to Gorbachev, I make a second quilt. This one, he said, should be signed by American Governors, Senators, and Representatives, and by Members of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R.

Over the next two years, I spent a lot of time traveling, and the elected representatives signed it. But despite trundling both quilts back to Moscow again, I still did not succeed in giving the first quilt to Gorbachev.

And then the world shifted, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist; and Gorbachev was no longer in power.

So now these the two amazing quilts exist, each saturated with wishes for peace. Signatures are still being added to the first one. Both are being periodially displayed, and they are available to venues in which their inspiring messages of warmth and friendship can be both added to and drawn from.

In late 2006, after founding Altai Mir University, I was working with National Peace Foundation in Washington, DC, on an exchange program for indigenous peoples of Russia and the U.S., and I mentioned the quilts. The response at NPF was electric; they were inspired to create a new annual international "Peace Quilts" awards for on-going citizen diplomacy, with the first awards going to my daughter Sunny Gagliano (now 35, and president of Trillium Publishing, which develops children's educational materials) and to me, Carol.

I look forward to seeing what further adventures these quilts will inspire.






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