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The fabric of our life

An erupting Mount Fuji. A prayer for peace in Somali. A cross-stitch of the human head, all sinewy veins and arteries.

When the Rochester Public Library put out a call to needle workers to contribute on a communitywide quilt project, library volunteer coordinator Gail Harris never expected the response it would receive.

In the end, the project received 55 blocks from Rochester area quilters, far more than the 30 or so blocks she thought could reasonably be expected.

"We were just so amazed by the community response to our request. We never expected it," Harris said.

The resulting quilt includes artistic representations from every continent and 40 cultures. Quilters ranging in age from early 20s to 80s submitted 8-inch-square blocks. Depending on the intricacy and needlework involved, some sewers put in four hours to create their blocks, others as many as 40 hours.


Weighing 15 pounds and measuring 18 feet in length, the creation presents a picture of Rochester less as a melting pot than a crazy quilt of ethnic and cultural heritages, all rendered in the common language of embroidery: A rural Vietnamese countryside, a New Zealand swamp hen, an elephant deity from India.

The "Threads of Our Community" quilt was officially unveiled last weekend, during the opening of the "Race" exhibit at the library that runs until Sept. 4. The quilt hangs inside the library's stairwell. A book that describes each block and the artist who created it, indexed according to artist and culture or region, rests on a podium near the quilt. Each quilter received a copy of the book, which was paid for through private donations.

What surprised Harris was the broad way quilters chose to define the "culture" they identified with. One was a tribute to the '60s counter culture. Another depicted orcas as symbols of the Rochester Swim Club.

"What's been interesting is that different people define their cultural groups in different ways. That's been enlightening as well. We never expected that," Harris said.

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