Katrina Recovery Quilts
Broken Borders (19.5” x 29.5”). Left over from the border of a previous quilt, these bruised and fragile red fabric pieces, recovered from the sand, have to be held in place by fine netting.
Buried Treasure (19.5” x 29.5”). The quilt that started it all. Quilted in swirls to mimic the hurricane. Bleached parts left to look like fluffy clouds. Background and backing is Solveig's bed sheet that she found tattered in a tree. The top was once a single color—sand and water “tie-dyed” it.
Broken Hearted (20” x 26.5”). These hearts symbolize broken hearts and dreams of Katrina survivors. Hearts are pant pockets buried in the beach. Pink and blue background from the filing cabinet. Backing from the beach.
Hopes and Dreams ( (14.5” x 20.5”). "Bubbles, beads and hearts flowing on light and dark curves with fanciful stitches like dreams that interpret our hope."
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi with a 28-foot storm surge. Solveig Wells watched the storm coverage on television as she lay in a hospital bed in Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada, recovering from hip surgery.
Solveig and her husband, David, divide their time between Canada and Mississippi, since David—Professor Emeritus in Geodesy and Geomatics in the Engineering Department at the University of New Brunswick—still teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Marine Science near Bay St. Louis. The couple calls both locations home.
Katrina reserved its full force for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The eye of the hurricane passed right over Bay St. Louis, killing 12 people and completely destroying half the homes in the small Gulf Coast resort town. Solveig and David were unable to see the damage firsthand until December of that year, when they made their way south toward Bay St. Louis.
“As we turned onto Highway 90 toward Biloxi and saw all the destruction—debris everywhere, trees gone, only porch steps where entire houses used to be—that’s when it really hit me,” Solveig recalls. “I started to cry.”
Although the house in Bay St. Louis where they spend part of each year was not as badly damaged as most others in the community, no home was left un-flooded or unscathed. Anything remaining was subject to the horrible mold that proliferated in the brutally hot weather that followed in the wake of the storm.
Adding insult to injury was Solveig’s discovery that crews cleaning up the rubble had discarded all of her quilting fabrics and supplies.
Weeks after the Wells’ return to the Gulf Coast, while walking on the beach, Solveig noticed something sticking up out of the sand. On closer inspection, she realized that it was the frayed edge of some of her own material, and she started to pull on it. Fifteen yards later, she had recovered the border fabric she’d been saving for a project. Looking around, she found still more buried treasure—some in a wheelbarrow and some in a filing cabinet— and she eventually retrieved most of the quilting fabric she had assumed was lost forever.
Some of it was discolored and faded in a tie-dye like manner, and although weathered and still wet, much of the material was intact and happily mold-free. Who knows how it got there? Perhaps it was washed away during the storm or fell out of a trash truck. Whatever the means, it’s difficult not to ascribe the discovery to fate.
Finding her fabric triggered a creative frenzy that helped Solveig deal with the raw emotion and sense of grief and loss caused by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. For the next 12 months, she became what she describes as an “obsessed lady who spent a year making 55 wallhanging-sized quilts out of my Katrina damaged fabrics.” She calls them her Katrina Recovery Quilts.
Stitched into the quilts are not only her own fabrics, but also things such as vintage men’s ties and quilt blocks, made as Christmas ornaments, and rescued from the mud in the remains of a friend’s store, salvaged scraps of embroidery and yarn, and Mardi Gras beads and flip-flop ornaments found on the beach.
Also stitched into the quilts are Solveig’s expressions of appreciation for all those who volunteered to help in the aftermath of the storm, her sympathy for those who lost loved ones, and her awe at the magnitude of nature’s power. And channeled was her sorrow and frustration shared with friends and neighbors whose homes, businesses, and communities were destroyed or damaged and whose lives were irreparably altered.
The quilts have helped Solveig deal with the catastrophic effects of the storm, and they have served to help others as well. They have been displayed at libraries, museums, art galleries, and quilt guilds both in Canada and the southern United States and at the Gulf States Quilting Association’s quilt show.
The Canadian Quilter, a quarterly publication of the Canadian Quilter’s Association, did a feature article about them, as did the alumni magazine for David’s alma mater. They have been exhibited as part of fundraising efforts to restore libraries in Hancock County, Mississippi that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Taken together, Solveig Wells’ Katrina Recovery Quilts form a jewel with 55 facets, each one representing an aspect of the artist’s effort to come to terms with a tragedy that affected not only her own life, but the lives of millions. Her creation is a moving tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Such is the healing power of quilts.
Click here to see all 55 of Solveig Wells’ Katrina Recovery Quilts.
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Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
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