UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
At a recent fundraising event held during the Gabriola Fall Fair, the Positive Energy Quilters covered four finished quilts with black fabric "oil blobs" and invited viewers to clean up the symbolic oil spill by donating a dollar and removing a blob. Photo by Jean E. Wyenberg.
Marilyn Geater's captivating baby otter peeks out from its veil of "oil." Photo by Jean E. Wyenberg.
Quilter and activist Jean McLaren removes a "blob" of oil.
It would be impossible to pinpoint the first quilt that was used as a narrative medium to express a strongly held belief or a cause championed by its maker. Quilts have been used to convey social, political, and religious points of view probably as long as people have been quilting. Whether their message is subtle or overt, quilters have long known that their quilts can be powerful tools for communication.
This is certainly the case for quilter and environmental activist Kristin Miller, who founded a group known as the Positive Energy Quilters. The group is based on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, in Canada’s Strait of Georgia, which can arguably be described as one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and also one of the most environmentally sensitive.
Kristin recalls the group’s inception this way: “My first involvement in ‘protest quilts’ and quilting for an environmental cause came in 2002. I joined a grass-roots group that was opposing the construction of a gas-fired power plant [in Nanaimo, near Gabriola Island]. Mostly to avoid committee work, I suggested making a protest quilt. I was used to tackling problems with needle and thread, and invited others to make squares expressing their thoughts and feelings about the proposed power plant.
“Fifty people became involved in the Positive Energy Quilt project, and we made six eye-catching quilts, which we took to meetings, demonstrations, and official hearings over a period of three years. We quilted in public to raise awareness of the issues, marched on the streets with the quilts, and hung them in art galleries. The quilts played a small but significant part in a much greater campaign that won its battle and blocked construction of the power plant.”
Following that success, the group fell dormant after making “three peace quilts, and a quilt addressing local issues.” But it was recently resurrected in response to the proposed building of an oil pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to a small port town on the northern British Columbia coast, where the oil would then be shipped to China in huge tankers traveling through the narrow, rock-strewn waterways of the Strait of Georgia. With the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico fresh on her mind, Kristin suggested that the Positive Energy Quilters start a new project to raise funds for an environmental group opposing oil-tanker traffic in British Columbia waters.
“The ‘UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project’ was started, and we invited both quilters and non-quilters to make quilt squares in celebration of something precious and worth protecting on our coast,” Miller says. “An enthusiastic group of 30 to 40 people contributed about 55 squares and worked throughout the summer to create four beautiful and eloquent quilts, with another eight quilts still under construction. In September, we held our first fundraising event at the Gabriola Fall Fair.
“We covered the four finished quilts with black fabric ‘oil blobs,’ and invited viewers to clean up the symbolic ‘oil spill’ by donating a dollar and removing a blob. Besides raising funds, we wanted to increase awareness of oil-related issues, so information was available about the proposed pipeline and tanker route. A very knowledgeable quilter and a representative from the No Tankers campaign discussed the issues with visitors.”
A video of the targeted area can be seen at http://dogwoodinitiative.org/blog/great-bear-rainforest-a-pandora-in-bc.
Describing the Positive Energy Quilters as “a very informal and fluid group” that welcomes anyone to join, Miller is quick to credit her fellow activists with the group’s success: Shena Meadowcroft, Sue Vohanka, Marilyn Geater, Susan Paynter and the Saltspring Island Quilters, Sylvia Edlund, Liz Ciocea, Margie Grimble, Iain Lawrence, and Jean Weyenberg.
The quilters plan to raffle or auction the quilts to benefit the No Tankers campaign and other oil-related environmental concerns. Before they do that, however, they want to exhibit the quilts in other locales and hold more “un-blobbing” fundraisers.*
Miller, who originally hails from Seattle, is a self-taught quilter who did not start quilting until she moved to British Columbia in the mid-1970s. Quiltmaking captivated her “right from the start.” However, since that time, her quilts have been exhibited in many shows and galleries and featured in various print publications. She has also authored a book, The Careless Quilter: Decide-As-You-Sew, Design-As-You-Go Quiltmaking (Rutledge Hill Press 1994), and has written numerous articles about quilting for a variety of books and magazines.
*Please contact the group at PositiveEnergyQuilters@shaw.ca to suggest events or venues where the UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilts might be displayed.
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