Sag Harbor Artist Builds Community One Quilt at a Time

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A Community Quilt comes together at the Lowe Mill in Huntsville, Alabama.

During a political climate obsessed with building up walls — both literally and figuratively — Mare Dianora is busy tearing them down.

Artist Mare Dianora, who has spearheaded the Community Quilt project.

And she is doing it with a quilt.

“A quilt is a symbol of warmth and comfort, and I love the idea of it being pieced together and connectedness — and that’s what I want to celebrate, with community,” the Sag Harbor-based artist explained. “We can be very, very different, yet still connected. And the quilt squares are very, very different, yet still connected.”

On Saturday morning, Ms. Dianora was still digesting her workshop session in Huntsville, Alabama, from the night before. It was her third stop of the “Community Quilt Project,” which will make its triumphant return on Sunday, June 9, to the Southampton Arts Center, where it all began last November.

“It’s evolved and it’s certainly brought up some issues and conversations and tensions,” she said, “but it’s definitely reminded me of what we have in common, versus what our differences are.”

Ms. Dianora’s sons, Finny and Ollie, at the border fence in Nogales, Arizona.

On April 27, Ms. Dianora took the project on the road, along with her husband, musician Claes Brondal, and their two sons, 6-year-old Ollie and 10-year-old Finny, who received a free America the Beautiful Pass, as part of the National Park Service’s “Every Kid in the Parks” program.

From Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana to Idaho, Oregon, California and Texas, the family of four camped their way across the country, stopping in national parks along the way — as well as one border town: Nogales, Arizona, and its Hilltop Gallery and Arts Center.

By the time they arrived, the city of 20,000 was infamous for its reels of razor wire that cover the tall border wall running through its downtown, separating it from its twin Mexican city on the other side, also called Nogales.

“The razor wire basically appeared overnight,” Ms. Dianora said. “The residents were quite shocked and very unhappy about it. The fence is a part of the daily life, and you used to be able to go freely into Mexico. People come back and forth all day, every day. There are school kids going back and forth, and people visiting family on both sides.

“It’s not like, ‘it’s us versus them’; it’s one place,” she continued. “That was really the feeling I got over and over again, from everybody, was that ‘we are one.’”

At each Arizona workshop, Ollie and Finny insisted on sharing photos of their favorite places in Sag Harbor, and the residents of Nogales shared their stories, taking Mr. Brondal and the boys on a tour while their Ms. Dianora was teaching.

“They got up close. They got to see the fence and the wire,” she said. “Ollie, who’s 6, told me that he saw two people holding hands between the wall — like one on each side — and that made him very sad. That definitely stuck with him.

“We felt such warmth from the community,” she continued. “We were so welcomed and they were so grateful we came. It was like a big sharing session. It was just so lovely and I do hope to get back.”

Nearly every quilt square that came out of Arizona depicted “the fence,” as they call it, in some way. In Alabama, one participant made a rainbow flag out of mosaics, while another focused on the women’s rights and pro-choice rhetoric sparked by the abortion ban in her home state — though, admittedly, Ms. Dianora expected more spaceships, considering Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

On the East End, the imagery mostly revolved around the sea and the beach, though she anticipates that may shift during the second workshop session. The project has changed, the artist said, and so has she.

“I’m humbled. I’m just really humbled by the people I’ve met and spoke with, both here in Alabama and in Arizona,” she said. “Across the board, people wrote and drew about family and friends, and love connecting us. In all of the workshops, that was an important thing to people.

“It feels like we’re all working toward the same goals of community, wherever we are, and holding onto the things that are important to us and shared experiences,” she continued. “It’s just what matters.”

 

“Community Quilt Project, Phase 2” with Mare Dianora will be held on Sunday, June 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. Admission is free and drop-ins are welcome. For more information, call (631) 283-0967 or visit southamptonartscenter.org.

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