Quilt examines the plight of Africa

August 25, 2003|EMILY TOADVINE

Marlene Martin of Danville chose to reveal her sympathy with the plight of Africa in quilt form. Now her work is a finalist in a national show in Nashville.

Her quilt, "Tears for Africa," will compete for one of 12 winning slots and $24,750 in prize money in the American Quilter's Society's Nashville 2003 Quilt Exposition.

It was one of 482 entries. The 50-inch by 58-inch quilt was made using crazy-quilted African fabrics in the competition's crazy quilt category. The work will be judged by an international panel of experts prior to the Wednesday opening of the exhibit. The awards will be presented at a luncheon that day.

Martin says the idea for the quilt came from a conversation with her stepson, who is a medical doctor. He talked about what would happen to Africa if there was a biological terrorist attack with smallpox.


"Africa would be decimated," she said. "They have such a high HIV rate that they can't have the smallpox shot because it's a live virus."

Martin decided to do some research about Africa and turn her findings into a symbolic quilt. She thinks the crazy quilt pattern is appropriate.

"It seems like it's a crazy time over there so it fit what I was trying to convey," she says.

Design includes diamond in the center

Her design includes a diamond in the center to represent that important natural resource of the continent.

"It's been a source of conflict because it's money and the people who have them have power."

Above the diamond is a reliquary figure, which is meant to guard the past. Martin embellished the quilt with many items, including crystal tears that fall from the reliquary figure onto the diamond. Moving away from the center are fabrics that depict traditional African things, such as masks.

"These are things we think of when we think of Africa."

One fabric has a person on it to represent modern-day Africa.

"The head is bowed because of everything," Martin said.

Other fabric shows dancing figures.

Animals are printed on the fabric on the outside of the quilt.

"When people think of Africa, they think of lions and giraffes. They don't really think about the problems."

About 40 different stitch patterns

Crazy quilts traditionally have stitching on top of the fabric and Martin's is no different. She used 40 different stitch patterns.

"I used two machines to do it because I needed more than I had on one machine," said Martin, who in addition to sewing is learning to work on the machines. Some of her details included fabric beads made from the scraps of material.

Martin did most of the work on the crazy quilt while she and her husband, Bob, a Centre College professor, were on sabbatical in Louisiana.

In addition to the Nashville show, Martin has other pieces entered in competitions. Lately, she likes painting on silk and working on silk kimonos. She based one piece, "Along the Silk Road," on an old trade route from China to Iraq.

"It moved silk all the way to Rome," she said.

Despite the many contests she has entered, Martin said the Nashville honor ranks as the top one. She laughs when she recalls when the letter announcing that she was a finalist came. She put it aside thinking that it was an announcement of new books offered by the American Quilter's Society.

"I didn't open it for three days," she says.

While only 12 quilts will win cash awards, all 297 juried quilts will be on display in Nashville through Saturday at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. A special quilt exhibit to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's trek across the eastern United States also will debut in Nashville. In total, the exposition will feature more than 400 quilts.

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