When I saw Park City GirlAmy's post about the first annual Bloggers Quilt Festival, I knew right away that the I had to share the story of my first art quilt, "Danny's Left Arm." Click on the button to check out the other festival blog posts.
The picture above is Dan with his arm still bandaged up, but much happier and painfree than he had been about ten days earlier. Saturday, April 16, 1988. It was one of those freak accidents. He had leaned on the window glass in his bedroom on the second floor. We had replaced the windows on the first floor, but not yet on the second. What we didn't know was that the glazing on the outside of his window had dried up and mostly fallen off except along the bottom of the glass. His weight caused the glass to break and when he fell, his arm was cut by a glass shard that remained in the bottom of the window. I was in the kitchen and heard the broken glass hit the porch roof, then I heard Anna call, "Mommy, come quick! There's blood." I yelled for Jim in his study and when I got to the top of the stairs, I could see that Dan was already in shock. He said, "Don't worry, Mom. It doesn't hurt." Blood went everywhere every time his heart beat, so I knew the artery was involved. Jim was right behind me getting to the top of the stairs. I grabbed a hand towel from the bathroom and twisted it around the wound and put pressure directly on it. Dan said, "I can't see." "Pick him up before he faints," I told Jim and we started down the stairs. Jim got Dan and me in the van and then ran to grab Anna who was still in her pajamas and shoeless. I kept my hand right on the wound and kept the towel tight with the other. Luckily we were only about two miles from the hospital. When we arrived in the emergency room, the first nurse we saw said, "Who's hurt?" At that point, we realized we were all covered with blood. After emergency surgery, we learned that the glass had cut all the way to the bone, slicing right through the median nerve and the brachial artery. Amazingly, he hadn't lost enough blood to require a transfusion.
What we didn't know was that our local hospital should have stabilized Dan and put him in a helicopter to Indianapolis. Instead, a local surgeon thought he could operate. Poor Dan endured terrible pain from this surgery until we got him to the Hand Center in Indianapolis where he had a second, successful surgery that properly reconnected the median nerve.
I can't say enough good things about Dan's surgeon,Dr. James J. Creighton, Jr. and the Indiana Hand Center and our priest, Rev. John Eberman. Every person who works at the Hand Center was caring and compassionate and helped Dan to make a full recovery. Father John was with us at the hopsital before Dan had been in surgery an hour. He took me back home to change and get a clean shirt for Jim. First, though, he helped me clean up the broken glass and wash blood off the stairs and the hallway. He came to the hospital every day and drove Jim to meet us in Indianapolis the day I took Dan to the Hand Center the first time. It's also one of those times that it's great to live in a small community. People from our church, St. John's Episcopal, Dan's school, and from Wabash College sent cards, brought food, came to visit, and helped us all through a really tough time. My husband always calls me a Pollyanna, but I do try to find something positive in even the grimmest circumstances. The best thing to come out of this was our family solidarity. We realized at that moment when we almost lost Dan that nothing in the world was as important to us individually as being together. Even when the children were teenagers, we did everything together.
While Dan was still in the hospital, I started sketching with Judy Chicago's words pounding in my brain. “The spirit of art is always affirming, even when it deals with painful realities, for the act of making an image transforms that pain into something beautiful.” I had been making traditional quilts since 1975, but seeing the work of Nancy Crow and Judy Chicago's table runners for The Dinner Party, convinced me that needlework could be used to make art. I was taking my first art class at Purdue that semester, a drawing class, as a start toward becoming a quilt artist. I had a big self-portrait assignment due right after Dan's first surgery. I sat in his room while he slept fitfully, using the mirror on his closet door to do the portrait.
From the beginning, the sketches for the quilt included the major image of the arm. Once Dan was on the mend and back in school, I kept working on the drawings. Medical texts from the Wabash library provided information about suture stitches...
and microscopic images of nerve cells.
Finally, in the summer, I began. First I designed the nerve cell panels. By gradually changing the colors of embroidery floss as the nucleus radiated out, I got the color variations I wanted. Split stitch and stem stitch were used on this area.
The centers of the dendrites were French knots.
I drew around Anna's arm for the main image and decided it needed to have a three-dimensional quality. It has a layer of fleece and a back and was then appliquéd down to the red field. I string pieced velvets and brocades as well as cottons for their rich reds to create the field.
The phrases on the top and bottom of the quilt are from the surgical report of Dan's second surgery at the Hand Center. They are worked in stem stitch using a variegated Caron Collection Watercolors floss.
I hate marking a quilt, so I used the design of the sashing fabric as my guide in those areas.
The seams of the angled, piano keys borders provided a natural quilting line for the border and the area above and below.
Rather than binding this quilt the traditional way, it was bound to the back like Nancy Crow's quilts.
The label on the back reads in part," From the pain and ugliness of this terrible injury to my child, I was driven by grief, helplessness, and despair to recast this nightmare into something beautiful--to literally sew him back together." Here's a grown up Dan holding the quilt that bears his name.