Frontier Fellowship Report: Eliza Fernand

Family and Consumer Studies students’ patchwork pieces for Eliza’s community quilt.

I came to Green River from Grand Rapids, Michigan (the other GR). It was almost one year from the day I was interviewed as a Fellowship applicant over the phone in my California home, to the day I arrived at the volunteer house after a solo drive from Michigan. In that time I always knew that Green River was coming, and had so many ideas of what it might hold. After months of dreaming, I had decided on a tidy project that would have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I arrived in Green River with the idea that I could make a quilt that embodied the town.

After stopping in at the grocery, the coffee shop, and the diner on my first day, I went to collect fabric from the Green River Thrift Store; pilfering through clothing and bedding that had been used and donated by strangers in the town. The next day, I met Maddy, the Family and Consumer Studies Teacher at the Green River High School; Family and Consumer Studies used to be called Home Economics. Her position in the community interests me because she is responsible for teaching kids how to be adult members of society, with very straightforward lessons about how to pick out fruit at the grocery store, and what symptoms might tell you that a baby has the flu. Do you remember how you learned all of these things? How do we learn to trim our toe nails, how to fill out a job application, how to read a nutrition label, or set the table? I often teach young people how to sew, and I see it as an important life skill. Once you know how to sew, by hand or by machine, many things are possible.

Epicenter and the Green River Boys & Girls Club patchwork workshops

Maddy excitedly welcomed me into her classes to teach improvisational patchwork, and her classroom is well-equipped with sewing machines and cutting mats. Using discarded clothing that students donated to the quilt, and those I chose from the thrift store, I taught two dozen teenagers how to recycle these fabrics into patchwork. In the following two weeks, I taught workshops with the Epicenter staff in their office, and then kids from the Boys & Girls Club and other visitors at the library. At each workshop, I collected the patchwork that students made, and finished their work by connecting all of the pieces into one 12.5′ by 6.5′ quilt.

The final community quilt before going on display at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum

Once the patchwork was complete, I returned to Green River High School to teach students how to bind the quilt with hand-stitching. After several days of quilting the piece by hand, I presented the quilt at the Green River High School during a girls basketball game, where I gave a shout-out to each of the student contributors. On my last day in town, I installed the quilt in the John Wesley Powell River History Museum where it is on display on a long-term loan to the Green River Archive. In all, thirty-seven Green River citizens made patchwork for the quilt, and more than that donated fabric. I would like for the community members who have contributed to this quilt to be able to admire it— be proud of their work, and notice how their design fits in with the others around them.

The Green River Quilt project went so smoothly thanks to co-ordination between Epicenter staff and all of the amazing townspeople involved- it all went as planned and is now on display in the best possible place I could think of. While I worked on this project, I longed for more disarray, more experimentation and unexpected discoveries. I wanted my residency to push me beyond these tidy concepts and design, so in any time I had off from the quilt I kept busy with more explorations.

My explorations played out in adventures to beautiful landscapes, experiments with people and friendships, and inquiries into familiar materials in unfamiliar places. I shot video of billowing patchwork in ghost towns and on rock formations. I dug up clay from riverbeds, pinched it into pots to dry in the sun, and left them to be found or to disintegrate. I went on vacation to a cabin in the mountains with a dozen strangers and became the Karaoke Host. I trespassed unknowingly and with wild abandon. I attended a quilt guild meeting and made a quilt square following a pattern for the very first time.

Patchwork experiments at Sego Canyon and Goblin Valley

I also had the opportunity to create a mailer for the Frontiersmen; Epicenter’s special donors. I sent them each a piece of artwork based on the Green River Quilt. Using the fabrics from the workshops, I sewed 13 patchwork envelopes, each one a different arrangement. In the envelopes I included xerox copies of the High Schooler’s patchworks in progress, a photograph of students with their work, and a letter of explanation and gratitude for their support.

I spent four weeks in Green River. Each day I was struck by the sight of sunshine on the cliffs, the ongoing improvements that the Epicenter staff strive for, and the local characters I met around every corner.