Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile

On a post-travel, post-exhibit, post-finished work high, I am. The 2019 edition of  Verona Tessile ended on April 28. If you are a fiber art or quilt lover, definitely put Verona on your 2021 list. Now, let me try to separate the thoughtful threads currently tangled in my brain….

By their hands, we are fed. Alanna Nelson, 2019. Cotton, wool felt.

Finished and photographed a week before my departure, relief and gratitude abounded as I tucked my contribution to Annamaria Brenti‘s Finestre Migranti project into my carry on duffle (You can read more about my thought and construction process).

What a gift it was to have the time and contemplative moments to create this work. My goal: let this quilt inspire you to savor your next meal and consider how it arrived on your plate. Here are a few detail shots…

Now it’s time to work on other pieces that fermented while stitching. I hope to flat bed scan “By their hands..,” leveraging the hours of work and ideas into other projects.

Finestre Migranti at Verona Tessile 2019

Finestre Migranti Inaugural exhibit at Verona Tessile, April 2019
Wish we had a drone to show the creative installation envisioned by Silvanna Zenatello.

How to display more than 40 contributions totaling nearly 80 meters of fiber art – now that’s a curator’s installation puzzle to solve. Silvanna Zenatello, a key force behind the project, cleverly designed a serpentine path where each quilt flows into the next. Thanks to the Verona Tessile sponsor SEC Events, their crews adeptly installed the support structures following Silvanna’s CAD drawings.

Alanna's ready to help install Finestre Migranti in Verona
On the steps of Gran Guardia, ready to install!
SEC Events unloading at Verona Tessile 2019
SEC unloading show structures
Morning shadows and art at Verona's Gran Guardia
From the landing outside the Finestre Migranti exhibit at the Gran Guardia

Installation took a big chunk of the day, even with excellent preparations and layout instructions. Fortunately, Emmanuela, Katrina and I are tall enough to reduce ladder climbing. Sigrun became a master Pinner, and Maddalena dashed to wherever Silvanna asked. Silvanna brought many quilts with her from Roma and Lazio. Others were delivered to Ad Maiora in Verona, still others delivered on installation morning.

Finestre Migranti – first public exhibit, many emotions

After working alone on my Immigration Windows/Migrating Windows project, I relished hearing experiences and emotions that mirrored and differed from my own. With contributions from Chile, the US, Italy, Kenya, and Gambia, the artists presented universal and timeless perspectives on immigration. I reunited with Lazio quilters from my Frascati days. Many quilts were delivered by hand, so new friendships developed, including SAQA member Shoshi Rimer.

Our shared experience making an Immigration Windows quilt created immediate kinship even if it was the first time we met. We had a fun meal out together after the opening day, and I found myself stopping by the exhibit just to chat with whoever was white gloving.

Katrina Montesanti
Katrina Montesanti answers questions about her quilt
Condor Pasa at Verona Tessile
Textile artists from Chile created “Condor Pasa” piece
Bimba a Finestre Migranti Verona Tesille
A young visitor reads messages in a quilt. Many included words as part of their piece.
By their hands we are fed quilt by Alanna Nelson in Verona exhibit
The inner wave opens the Finestre Migranti exhibit
Finestre Migranti quilts at Verona Tessile
Looking from away and up close
Nadia a Verona Tessile
Nadia shares stories that inspired a quilt

Visitors responded thoughtfully and with great interest to the project. Nadia, a dynamic interpreter, was like a pied piper leading groups through the exhibit. In addition to enjoying the visual aspect of the work, visitors definitely enjoyed hearing the stories and understanding the techniques. With the artist statements and techniques in Italian, English and Spanish, people could alternate between the stories and the art.

On Friday morning, the Chilean textile artists gave a talk about the creation of their gorgeous contribution to the project. I shared strategies to encourage quilters to consider a conservation perspective when creating their quilts. We honored the young Italian residents with international heritage who explained the meaning behind their Finestre Migranti quilt.

Ragazzi artisti a Verona Tessile
Young artists and their supporters were honored at the Finestre Migranti

Immigrants to Italy also visited the exhibit. I met three young men who are living in limbo without passports or an easy road to immigration. The enormity and duration of their endeavor was palpable in their demeanor.

“Forza,” I encouraged them. “Each day seems heavy now, but resolution will happen.”

Of course, resolution will happen. But when? How? How can I bolster and support people who are living in transient times? This window on immigration was living, not in textiles.

The opening day, April 25, was a national holiday, commemorating Italian liberation at the end of World War II. With the Festival taking place during the week after Easter and with free attendance, turnout included local, national and European contingents.

Annamaria just posted a video that followed the waves of the Finestre Migrante exhibit. Take a peek.

With Verona Tessile 2019 over, the next objective is to send the exhibit on the road. There are definite ideas and connections being made, so stay tuned for more details!

With those first threads of my travels untangled, it’s time to get back into the studio. I’ll share more people, sites and stories about Verona Tessile soon!

Distilling Fiber Thoughts

Distilling Fiber Thoughts

Last summer, I felt certain my Finestre Migranti Immigration Windows quilt would be complete by October. In October, my expectation was surely complete it by the end of 2018. Ha! As winter 2019 begins to thaw, I’m still feverishly felting and stitching.

Alanna Nelson Finestre Migranti Window quilt background components
Background piecing for Finestre Migranti (Immigration Windows). My large square units weren’t a perfect fit – most likely due to my conversion from metric to English measurements.

Perhaps you read about my inspiration and thought process for my contribution to this international initiative. Although immigration and its ties to our food certainly focused my theme, the opportunities to express it swished and swirled until little lights sparked. This one quilt can’t do it all. There could be a series here.

Never had I written an artist statement before a quilt was complete. To meet the exhibition deadlines, choosing less than 75 words powered those lights. Suddenly, a path of color and texture appeared. I knew where to go next. Let this quilt brings a moment of reflection and gratitude for immigrant labor as we enjoy a meal.

wet felt wool fills Alanna Nelson's Immigration Windows quilt
A few of the wet felted pieces created for my cathedral windows quilt.

Annamaria was in Boston, and we enjoyed a trip to the New England Quilt Museum.  It was wonderful to talk about possibilities, logistics on the way up and then jump into the wonderful world of fiber art and quilts.

The Finestre Migranti exhibit opens at Verona Tessile on April 25. Annamaria revived my desire to go… dare I?

Follow Immigration Windows on social media using #FinestreMigranti.

You can see my #ImmigrationWindows posts on Instagram

My Windows on Immigration Quilt

Annamaria Brenti reached out in May 2017 with details of her Finestre Migranti/Immigration Windows Quilt project. Did I want to participate?

“Of course!” I immediately responded.

As I write, I realize it is twenty years that I’ve known Annamaria. Our paths first crossed in Frascati, Italy when word traveled that a new quilter had moved to town. She was Italian, but began quilting in America. Having lived in several countries and traveled extensively, Annamaria’s curiosity and intensity observed and absorbed traditions from around the world. With this toolbox of skills and love of Italian history, her quilt vision blossomed.

A little aside: The oldest extant quilt (trapunto). is Italian The magnificent “Tristan Quilt” was made during the 1200s CE in Sicily. Quilts are layers of fabric with wadding that are held together with stitching.

Tristan Quilt V&A museum

The Tristan Quilt, from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

Patchwork is the assembly of fabric pieces to create a flat surface. Patchwork quilts are a relatively recent (1800s) needlework tradition with roots in the US and England. The patchwork trend migrated to Europe as it gained popularity in the 1980s.

It was the beginning of patchwork’s popularity in the Castelli Romani. When Annamaria moved to Frascati, QuiltItalia, Italy’s national quilting organization, was a tiny bud. Patchwork led me to friendship with Silvana Zenatello di-Manzano, Madalena Lucchetti and Giovanna Mostardi. Days of patchwork, nights of group meals in Monteporzio Catone and exhibits in community arts centers gave my quilting an anchor as I explored techniques and considered my vision.

Since 1997, Monte Prozio Catone promotes patchwork and quilters.

Monte Porzio Catone

Annamaria shared her international experiences with the Castelli Romani quilters.  Around 1999, Annamaria and Silvanna drafted a friendship quilt pattern based on motifs found in Japanese iconography and Roman mosaics. Once the blocks were assembled from Japanese and Italian quilters, I hand quilted the silk and cotton quilt. In June 2001, Annamaria and the Castelli Quilters hosted the Japanese quilters and the friendship quilt was admired from all sides. Somewhere I have photos of that…

The Finestre Migranti/Immigration Windows Quilt project differs from other group quilt projects Annamaria’s organized. Annamaria wants worldwide perspectives on immigration within a framework. Past group projects implemented an already established pattern that was executed with individual contributions curated by Annamaria.

For the Finestre Migranti/Immigration Windows Quilt each quilt:

  • uses a variety of cathedral window shapes, both square and rectangular, in columns seven units tall
  • measures 90cm/36″ high and at least 150cm/60″ long
  • allows each quilter to mix and matches nine different columns configurations.

The framework gives complete control to individual interpretation while still linking each piece. Annamaria has been very successful in recruiting quilters from around the globe. The work will debut at the 2019 Verona Tessile. Annamaria, Silvanna and others maintain an active Facebook page where participants share photos of their process.

The framework was straightforward. The possibilities were endless. I decided to limit myself to the 150cm width. Annamaria, who thrives on making art in large scale that is filled with mesmerizing details, has declared that her quilt panel will be 177″ wide. I realized that the larger the quilt, the more difficult it would be for me to focus on my theme. My challenge would be to distill a theme and present it clearly within the 63 windows of my quilt?  What will my immigration windows quilt say?

When Annamaria contacted me, a poster from a fundraising appeal from the UNHCR stirred emotions each time I entered the kitchen. “The only thing stronger than fear is hope,” in large white letters topped this photo of an overcrowded boat filled with refugees. Massimo Sestini‘s award winning image resonated throughout the world. Immigration Windows quilt inspired by Massimo Sentini photo

The expressions of those passengers off the Libyan coast in 2014 vary. Some are happy, some preoccupied with children, some fearful and other look blankly at the camera. Many look cold and worried.

Initially I thought that the Mediterranean travels of refugees would anchor my quilt. Refugees are a world wide phenomenon. The flight and twisting journeys of those forced to flee cover the earth. Between 1997 and 2016, twice as many people live with forced displacement. The UNCHR estimated that more than 65 million people were refugees in 2016. That is a mind boggling number. The majority flew crises in Syria and South Sudan, and half of the refugees are children. Words like hope, movement, work, adaption, journey filled my inspiration list as I searched for my theme.

Of course, immigration issues in the United States frame the United States since colonial days. The first immigrants, the Pilgrims, fled religious persecution. Later, indentured servants and slaves came to the US for agricultural work. This tradition continues today. Our agricultural economy relies on immigrant labor; a fact that we may not see but touch every day with the food we eat. Upon learning that nearly half of the US farmworkers are illegal migrant workers, ideas started moving into focus. California industrial farming relied on migrant workers. Dairy farms in Wisconsin and Vermont rely increasingly on migrant workers. Small farms in Massachusetts are worried that immigration enforcement will prevent them from bringing product to market. Unless you grow all of your own food in the US, you rely on migrant workers. Without immigration reform, with a US administration that sees immigration as bad news for America, my quilt theme developed.

I’m still assembling my 63 blocks. Undoubtedly I will look at the structure and adjust my plan for the felted and stitched pieces I plan to insert into the cathedral windows. Using hand painted and commercial fabrics can sometimes be tricky, but my first finished window looks promising. Alanna Nelson Finestre Migranti Quilt Block with felt I haven’t picked the project up since April, but the next couple of weeks will focus on this. Block by block, I hope to have my immigration window quilt done by October.

If only we could reform our immigration system to acknowledge and support the people who work so hard to feed the United States by October….