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Del Ray Artisans Says Goodbye to Their Message of H*O*P*E

The first COVID-19 Hope Quilt candlelight vigil was held in October 2020 on a glorious fall day amid a spectacular sunset. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

Alexandria, VA – “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” ~ Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Marking the second anniversary of the pandemic’s start and the tragic loss of a million American lives, it was time to bid H*O*P*E a fond farewell. The massive letters in the Artists Garden of the Del Ray Artisans Gallery were taken down last month after almost a year and a half display on Mount Vernon Avenue, offering passersby and the community an artful beacon of HOPE.

COVID-19 Hope Quilt founder Diane Canney created the HOPE letters as a means of using art to help heal those suffering from the loss of loved ones and those in recovery and honor the frontline-worker heroes struggling throughout the pandemic to ensure that life goes on.

Artists from Del Ray Artisans and the Torpedo Factory contributed panels expressing their experiences during the pandemic, copied for placement on the HOPE letters. DMV area artists, home crafters, high school students, families, tourists on the National Mall, and guests at the two Loudoun County wineries Diane owns with her husband Mike Canney created the colorful “quilt” panels making the mosaic of grief and gratitude.

Del Ray Artisans held candlelight vigils during the pandemic, leaving the HOPE lights on throughout the holidays and beyond as many kept HOPE illuminated around the DMV. (Photo Scott MacConomy)

Mike and their contractor friend Ron Lebaron designed the humongous eight-feet high by six-feet wide (weighing up to two hundred pounds) public artwork. They engineered the installation and transport of the letters to Del Ray, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and the long haul to New Jersey, where the HOPE letters were recently on exhibit.

Original fiber artwork and images printed on fabric were incorporated into the HOPE quilts traveling around the country. The quilts were exhibited last year at the Virginia Quilting Museum in Harrisonburg and represented at the prestigious Houston International Quilt Show.

Del Ray Artisans hosted several HOPE candlelight vigils in conjunction with the COVID-19 Hope Quilt and Marked by COVID, another nonprofit COVID awareness and advocacy group found by Kristin Urquiza after the death of her father in 2020. Last year the COVID-19 Hope Quilt partnered with another organization, COVID-19 Rami’s Heart culminating in this year’s Pandemic Remembrance Candlelight Vigil on March 5 at the Lincoln Memorial.

Rami’s Heart is a 501(c)(3) organization founded by Rima Samman and her partner Travis Whitaker to honor her brother Rami whose young life was cut short by the virus. The memorial began January 25, 2021, when Rima created large heart-shaped perimeters out of yellow-painted clamshells on the beach at Belmar, New Jersey. Each heart was filled with stones commemorating the loss of loved ones. Throughout the winter and into spring, the tribute grew beyond what the beach could sustain as the summer season approached.

Covid-19 Rami’s Heart at Allaire Community Farm in Wall, New Jersey is the first national memorial to the over one million American victims of COVID. (Photo Rima Samman)

Joann and Sean Burney, owners of Allaire Community Farm in Wall, New Jersey, came to Rima’s rescue, offering Rami’s Heart a permanent covered space for the ever-expanding monument to the casualties of COVID. This generous offer of hospitality resulted in the first national COVID-19 memorial in the country.

Allaire Farm is a fitting location for Rami’s Heart and the HOPE Quilt letters. The farm’s 120 rescue animals, community support programs, and advocacy are therapeutic for special needs children and adults, families of cancer patients, and veterans who have PTSD. It’s also a hopeful refuge for people challenged by at-risk behaviors that escalated due to the pandemic.

The H*O*P*E letters featured panels from Del Ray Artisans and Torpedo Factory members as well as area artists of all ages and abilities. (Photo Kelly MacConomy)

On March 19, Allaire Farm was the site of A Night of Remembrance organized by Rima Samman, Travis Whitaker, and Diane Canney. The HOPE letters made the 208-mile journey to Wall Township, where hundreds gathered in another moving tribute. Eloquent testimonies by Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Cory Booker spoke to the strength and persistence of dedicated frontliners while grieving for the victims represented by the monument stones and panel portraits.

During the past 16 months on display in Del Ray, the HOPE letters drew unrelenting interest from selfie-seekers and Instagramers within the city and beyond. H*O*P*E is now gone but not forgotten. It’s time for Nicholas Colasanto Park to make room for the Nancy Dunning Memorial Garden and Splash Park. What expresses hope for the future better than the gleeful joy of children playing?

“Hope is the last thing ever lost.” ~Italian proverb.

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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