The Coffin Quilt

The Coffin Quilt
The Coffin Quilt, by Alethea Ballard, 2019
The Coffin Quilt Story
The Coffin Quilt has raw edge appliqué and quilted appliqués and photo-transfer coins.  The quilt will be on display at the Alden Lane Quit show this weekend, and I wanted to share the story of making it.  It was started in a class I took in April, 2018 with South African artist Rosalie Dace.
Rosalie Dace is an extraordinary person, a wonderful art quilter, and an excellent teacher.  I had wanted to take a class with her from the first time I saw her at the Quilters Affair in Sisters, Oregon.
When the class was scheduled I was very excited; I was ready to learn, to be cheerful and to bust out a quilt by the end of the week.
The class was scheduled during a time that I was part of a family team caring for my 99 1/2-year-old mother-in-law, Bee Whiteside, in her home. She had a live in caregiver at the time, so I thought I could make the class, no problem.  However, Bee went into hospice the night before the class started, and I felt torn about leaving her.
My paper circles
My paper circles from day one of class
I did attend the class, Positively Lines and Shapes,  and I chose the circle as my shape to explore. Throughout the first day of class I cut circles out of paper, but felt no connection to what I was doing. I felt guilty for being away from the family.  I felt that I should be taking care of my responsibilities, being with my family and not wasting my time faffing around with paper.
The Mourning Quilt
The Mourning Quilt, by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell, 1843

 

detail, The Mourning Quilt, by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell, 1843
Lying awake late in the night I remembered the Mourning Quilt that was created in 1843.  It had coffins on it for family members with their names.  When someone died the death date was added.
Coffin for Bee Whiteside
Coffin for Bee Whiteside
I began to think about the possibility of creating a pretty coffin for Bee and also for the other people close to me whom I had lost throughout my lifetime. I wanted to create something that felt like “them” and which would express my emotional ties to them. This helped me connect to the work I was doing and help me explore the idea of life and death and celebrating and remembering and memorializing and creating strands or ribbons of memory to the past.
Coffin for Alethea
Coffin for Alethea
I also created a coffin for myself that would hint at how I wanted people to remember me. Messy and colorful and creative!
Coffin for Ronald Smith
Coffin for Ronald Smith
Coffin for Pat Brook
Coffin for Pat Brook
Coffin for Asher
Coffin for Asher
The other coffins are for the three beloved friends and family members each whom died tragically, and those deaths have molded and shaped my entire life.
in progress with Pins
in progress with Pins
After the class, I did not work on the quilt for a year. In August, as the deadline for the Alden Lane show was coming, I took the pieces of the quilt out and put them up on the design wall. But again felt at a loss for meaning. That week there were three mass shootings in the United States, and after the one in Dayton, Ohio, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. It was as if I’ve gotten used to the mass murder of people going about their lives as a regular occurrence in my life.
An hour later it hit me! I was becoming used to the mass shootings.
And that was terrifying.
In this, I saw an opportunity for me to explore my feelings about shootings and assault rifles and the killing of children in schools and public places.
Gun violence and senseless killing has special meaning to me as my step-brother Asher Montandon was murdered at the age of 24 by a stranger with a .22 pistol as part of an aborted mugging. No money was taken, no killer was ever found.
I fell on the the project with new meaning and sense of purpose.  I wanted to create a coffin for each person who had been killed by assault rifles between the time I began planning the quilt in February 2018 and completing it in September 2019.
It’s a small memorial, a thought and connection in the waving stream of our humanity as Americans.
I researched and discovered that a bullet only costs about quarter.
side view with pins
side view with pins

In the small coffins I have represented the 106 victims of domestic terrorist, mass shootings perpetrated with rapid-fire weapons.

This includes 24 children, one unborn child and one police officer.
The Coffin Quilt
The Coffin Quilt, by Alethea Ballard, 2019
Large coffins top to bottom: Alethea Ballard born in 1964,
Beatrice Rose Gauthier Whiteside, 1919 to 2018, natural causes
Ronald Smith, 1964 to 1971, accidental poisoning
Asher Allen Montandon, 1968-1992, murder
Patrick Read Brook, 1949-1990, car accident

5 thoughts on “The Coffin Quilt”

  1. this is so powerful and beautiful and haunting and all the things. thank you for sharing it and the story of its becoming. I can’t wait to see it in person.

  2. So amazing! You are such an inspiration and great artist. I wish I could see this in the garden but I’ll see it soon! Love you and all you do!

  3. My husband’s daughter gave me some of your notecards…. So, I explored your website…. I love your coffin quilt! I so identify with it. I have some 3D art pieces that keep getting added to because of more mass murders…. it’s a way to deal with the pain….. the senselessness.
    Thank you for your work.

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