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Quilter Connects with Ground Zero Through Internet posted: 3/12/2003
by Lois Jarvis Printable Page
Category: Specialty Method: All
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Click on the quilt pictures to see more images

Quilt it out. It's a motto many quilters rely on to get them through sad, difficult times. After all, stitching as an emotional refuge is deeply ingrained in the quilting tradition. "Quilt it out" took on a new urgency for fiber artist Lois Jarvis, on September 11, 2001. Struggling to make sense of thousands of senseless deaths, there was no doubt what she needed to do.

Ground Zero Quilt

"I didn't want to make this quilt. I had to make it," states Jarvis bluntly. The result? Ground Zero, a Lone Star quilt, blazing with the faces of 600 victims of the World Trade Center attacks, has become an internet phenomenon, prompting a new look at the World Wide Web as a mixed media tool for fiber artists.

From the beginning of the Ground Zero project, the Internet provided crucial material for Jarvis, whose artistic vision has always been rooted in found objects. "I knew I needed to do or say something about the people," Jarvis explains. CNN's missing persons web site was a repository of faces and names in the aftermath of the attacks. "I was sure it would be locked up at any minute," Jarvis recalls. Family and friends worked with Jarvis to make sure that every possible image was saved. Printing individual faces as fabric diamonds was also a team effort. Deciding who made it onto the quilt, however, was Jarvis' choice alone. "I just decided based on light and dark values of the diamonds themselves. I couldn't think about 'who was this person,'" she points out. "It would have been too much."

Haunted by the raw emotion of street shrines and missing person posters, Jarvis knew Ground Zero had to be an interactive piece. "This didn't just happen to the families of those people, it happened to all of us," she explains. "My original intention was the viewers of the real quilt could pin comments on to it." The notes quickly became worn, and by the third quilt show, Jarvis removed them. Through her web site, however, Ground Zero has achieved more viewer interaction than she ever thought possible.

Ground Zero Quilt

Since March of 2002, over 125,000 visitors have found their way to Ground Zero, from as far away as Australia and the Netherlands. Jarvis' husband carefully watches the statistics on the site. "Most people find us through links they get from friends or chat rooms," Jarvis says. Site statistics clearly show that images of the quilt are what people are coming for. "We expected a spike in visits around September 11, and then for it to taper off. But it never did," says Jarvis. Links emailed between friends are Internet word of mouth, and their power is exponential. Daily visits have climbed ever since and are now over 3,000 a day.

Comments in Ground Zero's guest book have replaced the paper notes Jarvis originally envisioned. "People are sharing stories with me-people I don't think would otherwise ever put up a piece of art or say, 'here look at this'." In this sense, viewers' comments embody the powerful folk art qualities that gripped Jarvis' imagination when she saw the missing person posters.

Ground Zero Quilt

Victims' families and friends find their way to the site, and want to know if their loved one's face is on the quilt. To keep ahead of inquiries about specific victims, Jarvis recently began the painstaking process of mapping each individual's location on the quilt. She fights back tears as she recalls the beautiful letter a victim's father wrote her. "He was thanking me for making the quilt," she says in disbelief. "It's easier for me emotionally if they're not there. I let them know that the faces are meant to represent everyone who died."

Many comments express admiration for Ground Zero as a tribute to the victims, a perspective, which at first baffled Jarvis. "I wasn't trying to make a tribute," Jarvis maintains. "People have helped me see Ground Zero differently, though - to see more in it then I knew was there."

Ground Zero can be seen at's booth in Chicago during the Quilt Fest in April, through a special arrangement with American Spirit Quilt Collection. To visit Ground Zero on-line, go to For more information about the American Spirit Quilt Collection, please follow these links.

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