Hanging near the forefront of Beacon Gallery’s showroom is a large (approx. 140″ x 110″, to be exact) colorful, hand-stitched quilt. Composed of well over a thousand swatches of cloth sent in from individuals around the world, the still-expanding piece tells the story of many lives, whether from the past, present, or future, stitched together to display as one shared humanity.
Cascading from the ceiling down to the floor where more stories of lived lives branch out towards the viewers’ feet, the team reminds viewers not to overlook the opposite side of the quilt. By circumventing the immense fabric, one can find the ‘backstory’ – a stitched paper quilt crafted from all of the letters, notes, and messages that were sent alongside swatches of fabric, voluntarily. Many who sent fabrics of their lives, though unprompted, wanted to share their stories.
While I expected simply the swatches, each seemed to arrive with a story attached. I read of loved ones long gone, places frequented years ago, and family treasures. I was humbled and touched by the thought and care people gave to my request. People from as far as South Africa, England, Germany, Israel, and across the United States sent me cherished pieces of garments and heirlooms they had held onto for decades, even a lifetime: a one-hundred-year-old nightcap from the ‘old country’, a sixty-year-old baby bonnet, a swatch from a wedding dress worn over thirty years ago.
The notes which arrived with each swatch hand-stitched together became the “backstory,” a glimpse of our shared humanity. Stories varied from triumphal to tragic. A friend donated her first scrubs from a medical residency completed more than twenty years ago. A mother who had lost her child in a car accident donated a sock reading, “The World is a Dick.” To these precious pieces, I added my own — pieces from my now-adult childrens’ baby blankets and a leotard from gymnastics days long gone.Caron Tabb
In Caron Tabb’s show “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport”, which is on view now through mid-January 2022, she confronts the bold issues of racism, privilege, and inequity. While much of the artwork is striking in its brazen perspective, many are drawn to her piece “Fabric of Humanity – Repairing My World” as it stands as a reminder of the connections and shared existence we share, rather than the divisions and differences that remain. While both serve a shared purpose in the meaning of Tabb’s artwork, “Fabric of Humanity – Repairing My World” stands as a metaphorical and physical reminder of the many ways in which our worlds are intertwined.
As the Covid-19 pandemic settled in, it became apparent that we were all, in one way or another, connected together by an invisible enemy; an unseen thread ran across the planet, uniting us in a way one never might have imagined…
This concept is very much linked to a core Jewish tenet of repairing the world “tikkun olam.” My Fabric of Humanity became a living, breathing time capsule of hope, love, and optimism. In my studio, it felt as though I was actively stitching together some of the deep divisions in our world. I was stitching through the pain, hurt, and separations that have plagued the United States over the past few decades. I felt as if I was making families whole, connecting family members with their now-deceased loved ones. I had the power to stitch back together a world that may feel dark and broken on the outside but remains vibrant and alive on the inside.Caron Tabb
For centuries, quilting has served as a way to tell a story, express a message, and identify groups of people. Deemed a core artistic form of North America and the United States, quilting has acted historically as a means of bringing the ability of artistic form to those who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have the capability or materials to create.
It just so happened that, while Caron Tabb’s “Fabric of Humanity – Repairing My World” was being installed at Beacon Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was showcasing “Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories”, featuring a span of 300 years of American quilts. We made a special visit to the exhibit to learn more about the history behind the art of quilting, connect shared ideas from Tabb’s work, and view the evolution and different types of quilts from around the world and throughout time.
As I perused each of the corners of the expansive exhibit, I overheard an interesting sentiments from fellow patrons. While many remarked on the aesthetic beauty of some, or the intricate detail or method of others, there remained a consistent commentary among all – viewers, as they explored the showroom, continued to draw ties to their own lives and experiences, shared stories and feelings, thoughts on the ways in which humanity is connected across time and space. To me, it became clear the role quilting can play in encouraging conversation – and maybe sometimes even what one would refer to as ‘difficult conversations’, a central theme of Caron Tabb’s work and show.
The quilted works featured on the walls of the exhibition confront difficult topics and questions such as what it really means to be American, dark scenes of hidden life in an unequal society, the enduring burden of colored skin, and raw, uncovered glimpses into our contemptible past as a nation. The “warmth and security” of the fabric compiled in the quilts both battled with the subject matter displayed on their surfaces and, at the same time, promoted a softer way to broadcast these hard realities. By introducing these difficult conversations in the form of a material comfort, perhaps viewers are more open and comfortable with allowing themselves to engage. Below are a few that I feel more plainly embody this idea. Each tells a complicated story, yet somehow remains soft, inviting, and familiar.
Upending expectations about quilt displays—traditionally organized by region, form, or motif—“Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories” is a loosely chronological presentation in seven thematic sections that voices multiple perspectives. Visitors see and hear from artists, educators, academics, and activists, and the remarkable examples on view are by an underrecognized diversity of artistic hands and minds from the 17th century to today, including female and male, known and unidentified, urban and rural makers; immigrants; and Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and LGBTQIA+ Americans. The exhibition invites visitors to celebrate the artistry and intricacy of quilts and coverlets and the lives they document, while also considering the complicated legacies ingrained in the fabric of American life.MFA Boston
Like Caron Tabb’s “Fabric of Humanity – Repairing My World”, each of these quilts connects a wide range of stories and scenes, broadcasting them as one, shared truth. While the individual stories may vary in their details, the overwhelming truth and message among them all remains the same.
For those interested in learning more about the history behind American quilting, as well as how this form of artwork ties into the lives of politics, culture, and more, I highly encourage a visit to this exhibit. “Fabric of a Nation” is open to the public now through January 17th, 2022. Caron Tabb’s work will be available for viewing in Beacon Gallery through the same date.
For more information on Caron Tabb’s Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport, please visit our website and follow us on instagram @beacongallery
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