Alexandria, VA – Driving, running, or perambulating down The Avenue in Del Ray the last two months, you likely have noticed the 8 by 6’ wide H*O*P*E letters outside the Del Ray Artisans gallery. The letters have progressively been covered with 10-1/2” square “quilt” panels created by people from all over the country submitting their artwork. Visitors to the gallery have been able to pick up free fabric squares and information about the COVID-19 US Honor Quilt, the nonprofit sponsor of HOPE in Del Ray.
The COVID-19 US Honor Quilt Foundation initiated the H*O*P*E Project this summer under the guidance of founder Diane Canney, owner with her husband Mike Canney of Sunset Hills Vineyard and 50 West Vineyard. Diane wanted to honor her mother, Phyllis Laedtke, with an extraordinary 95th birthday gift. When asked, “What do you want for your birthday, Mom?” Diane expected her usual reply, “I don’t need or want anything!” Phyllis instead surprised Diane by saying, “Why don’t you do something to help people affected by COVID?”
Diane explains that she was all for presenting her mother with something more exciting than a box of chocolates and a scarf, although Diane hand-paints silk scarves that any mother would cherish. Before long Diane plunged wholeheartedly into creating the wooden H*O*P*E letters inspired by the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles. HOPE has already been displayed at Freedom Plaza, the National Mall, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, as well as the Loudoun Arts
Film Festival in September
After a conversation with Cleve Jones, founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, Diane reconsidered the magnitude of displaying and storing quilt panels the size of the AIDS Quilt, which after 35 years is the equivalent of 54 tons of quilt stretching for miles with heart-wrenching tributes. The HOPE Quilt’s much more manageable 10-1/2” x 10-1/2” fabric panels are readily copied and uploaded to an online gallery. Virginia quilt crafters have been enlisted to help, assembling original panels into traditional-sized quilts for display throughout the country.
On Saturday, November 21, one of the first HOPE Quilts was on exhibit in the gallery at Del Ray Artisans, complementing “Women’s Voting Rights:100 Years Since the 19th Amendment,” an exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage. Karen Schmitz, who co-curated the November exhibit with Amy Kitchin Hower and Drew Cariaso, was one of the contributing artists to the HOPE Quilt. Twenty-four original artwork panels submitted by Torpedo Factory and Del Ray artists were added to the remaining spaces on the HOPE Letters followed by a sunset candle and holiday lighting of the display.
Del Ray Artisans hosted the paint-a-panel event with Diane and HOPE Quilt social media team leader Shelly Walsh. The gallery collected many more unique squares inspired by compelling personal stories. One mother and daughter came from Sterling to honor their pastor who lost his life due to COVID.
Another Del Ray resident, who had lost his aunt, the family matriarch, and was himself a COVID survivor, has been watching the progress made on the HOPE Letters these past weeks in Z Hood. Pulling his young son along The Avenue in a wagon to enjoy the lights and the recently added artwork, he conveyed his gratitude to the gallery volunteers, the artists, and Diane, who was on hand to hear how COVID has touched his life and family.
Artist/illustrator Guy Jones, who works out of Studio 337 in the Torpedo Factory, created a stunning new panel portrait for the quilt project during the event. Several reproductions of his always popular work are currently displayed in Del Ray on the HOPE Letters. The original of “Black Bird“ was on exhibit in the gallery. Not to be missed are Karen Schmitz’s endearing “Covid Cat” and uplifting “Butterfly Effect” quadtych.
Alexandria artist/photographers Nina Tisara and Terry Atkin-Rowe, who have exhibited at both DRA and the Torpedo Factory, also attended the event. Nina’s eloquent mosaics conveyed both hope and triumph over COVID. Terry, one of Alexandria’s top photographers, stepped out of her usual two-dimensional medium to also create stitching meditations, “each piece adding a metaphor for holding away the darkness.”
DRA’s multi-talented, mixed-media artist Kathy Turner created a hand-stitched piece expressing hope, depicting rising doves and olive branches, adorned with mother of pearl. Torpedo Factory artist (Studio 331) Sermin Ciddi contributed three spiritually evocative paintings titled “Eternal Hope.”
Out and About Zebra Press Live Reporter Lucelle O’Flaherty covered the event, touring the artwork on exhibit outside and inside the gallery, which was judged for special recognition with prizes awarded by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker. The Washington Post also covered the event. The HOPE Letters and the HOPE Quilt Project have been spotlighted on NBC, ABC, and FOX and featured in Northern Virginia Magazine.
Diane had the HOPE Letters created especially for Del Ray Artisans to kick off Art On the Avenue. Since the 25th annual art festival went virtual for 2020, what better way to participate in the most popular art event in the DMV than to create your own quilt panel to submit online? Artwork images must be square but you don’t need to use the free fabric available at the gallery. Panels may be dropped off at Del Ray Artisans. Original panels should be 10 1/2” x 10 1/2” and either left at the gallery, mailed to the foundation, or uploaded to the website. For more information and to upload a quilt panel go to www.covid19ushonorquolt.org
Diane hopes for a COVID-19 vaccination soon and effective treatment to stop the loss of life and suffering. Moving forward she envisions HOPE as an ongoing effort. A talented painter and jewelry designer, Diane believes that expression therapy is a universal salve for a dispirited world and divided country. “We can’t all be Picasso or Betsy Ross. But we can all convey our thoughts and feelings- even if it’s stick figures and sad emoticons. Collectively we can send a message of HOPE for the future. Together we are stronger, like the quilt panels. United into one blanket of comfort. The quilt is an American tradition. We all treasure heirloom quilts and baby quilts. It’s proof of life. A leap-of-faith. HOPE for the unknown ahead.”
HOPE is eternal. But the HOPE letters will not be on display forever. Come down to the Del Ray Artisans Gallery at 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria. See for yourself what a gift HOPE can be.