Head of the Class
by Marcia Barker, Vice President of Education for Quilts, Inc.
‘Tis the Season
'Tis the season for an inspiring story…
As many of us do, Cassie spent many hours volunteering at her children’s preschool where she noticed that the kids’ favorite activity was painting. Their creations left them “beaming with pride” and Cassie set out to capture the art and the emotion in a quilt!
With the discovery of Jacquard Textile Dyes, she had found her medium—small jar, bright colors, washable, and they left the fabric soft. She sought to make the quilts interesting and joyful, as they were more about color than specific images. She donated them to the annual school fundraising events where they were a huge hit, and let’s just say, good news travels fast!
Soon she was approached by a foundation asking if she would be interested in working with young patients at the Children’s Hospital in Denver. Understanding how truly valuable these snippets of artwork could ultimately become to family members of seriously ill children, she proposed to work with the kids in the Oncology/Hematology Unit where she would once again turn their art into beautiful art quilts for the hospital’s fundraising auction. There would be one very important stipulation though—all proceeds must be used to defray the medical expenses of the young artists. And so began her inspiring journey…
Cassie provides the children with light colored fabric in lopsided shapes (never white, never straight) ironed to freezer paper. The odd shapes seem to communicate to them that there are no rules here, no limitations—this is time to just be kids! They all gather around a big table with chemo IVs and blood transfusions in place, and paint whatever makes them happy in the moment. Sometimes there is a topic of conversation that spurs an artistic topic, but mostly it is just random.
Cassie collects two paintings from each child so the second block can be made into a small wallhanging for their family—a practice that has become deeply appreciated—and any additional art goes to a group of quilt helpers who make small blocks for the children themselves.
A favorite story in Cassie’s own words:
“…there is one little girl that I will never be able to forget. She was from Dallas, 8 years old, and had been at Children’s for several weeks by HERSELF. Her name was BreAndrea and her mom was a single mother with several other children at home. She could not take time away from her job or other children as well to make the trip to Denver while BreAndrea had her treatment. When I would arrive with my basket full of paints, she would squeal and push her IV bottle stand as fast as she could towards me, “The Paint Lady!!!!” Her sweet little smile will be etched in my heart forever.
One dreary morning we were all seated around a long dining type table. All the kids dressed in their assortment of hospital gowns. Some with surgical masks covering their mouths, everyone hooked up to their IV bottles and nobody has hair. BreAndrea is seated to my left painting away and chatting.The other kids are painting away as well and there is a little boy at the very end of the table who needs the red paint. He enthusiastically begins, “hey. Hey!…HEY DUDE!”, as he snaps and points and tries to get BreAndrea’s attention as the red paint is directly in front of her. She looks at him with a very concerned and disgusted face and says in a very matter of fact way, “Hey. I AM A GIIIRRRRL.” with her little finger wiggling back and forth in front of his face. Her big announcement that she was a GIRL, set off a round robin with the boy next to her saying, “boy”, then the next child “boy”, “girl”, “girl” and around the table it went until everyone had established themselves as the appropriate sex. To this day, I can still hear their little voices.”
Cassie Wieder’s quilt last year brought $12,000 at auction—
money that went directly to defray medical costs.
Some of her auction quilts have been loaned back to the hospital and now hang in the hallways of the Oncology Unit.
Photos are of Brushstrokes of Hope, 2005, currently on display.
Along with the children’s names and ages, the quilt label includes this note:
On the canvas that is a human life, the brushstrokes of a child are the boldest, the brightest and the most full of promise. May the promise of hope in
this quilt be fulfilled by the lives of these children.
I write this in honor of quilters like Cassie who use this art form to add depth and connection to the world, and in memory of BreAndrea and others, whose families have “The Paint Lady” to thank for their single-block quilted wall hanging as a bright remembrance of a life too short.
May we all share the gift of time and caring for one another this holiday season…