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Dr. Joan Gaither’s quilts document lives and history

      Mention quilts, and people often share memories of grandmothers or great aunts working with needle and thread, joining pieces of fabric with precise stitching.
      Dr. Joan Gaither, who documents history with cloth and thread, describes herself as “a quilter who breaks all the rules.” Her quilts are covered with images, words and objects: buttons, ribbons, pieces of jewelry, shells — anything that can be sewn to fabric and symbolizes an aspect of the story she tells.
       She stitched her first quilt after the death of an aunt whose story and family history she wanted to memorialize. As she added text and photos to represent the lives and careers of seven generations of her family, the quilt grew to an impressive 10-by-12 feet. It includes the colorful and imaginative embellishments that now characterize her work and features brilliant Maryland state flag colors representing her family’s ties to Baltimore.
       That experience 18 years ago launched the Maryland Institute College of Art professor into fiber arts and three-dimensional collage. Gaither has since made over 200 quilts, telling her stories and those of black Americans. Many have themes of identity, racism and social justice. Others honor the lives of individuals who have influenced national politics, education and the arts.
       Through this month, you can see her quilts in Baltimore in the exhibit Freedom: Emancipation Quilted & Stitched at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which celebrates the contributions and legacies of people of color in Maryland.
       Each image, object, fabric and color, she explains, has symbolism. Most quilts are edged in African mud cloth. A strip of blue stands for the ocean passage. Red, white and blue fabric represents America. Pieces with railroad tracks are the Underground Railway and the flight to freedom. 
      “The strips are often held together by safety pins, some still open,” she explains, “to symbolize the pain of slavery, oppression and injustice.”
       The topics of the quilts on exhibit range from Gaither’s personal history to broad topics of national interest. Laid out in a pattern like the Maryland flag, her Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt has blocks that represent all of the counties in the state, plus Baltimore City. Each block focuses on events and people associated with emancipation. More than 400 people across the state helped in creating this quilt, which will continue its travels throughout Maryland when the exhibit closes at month’s end.
        Collaboration is a hallmark of Gaither’s work. She brings together local communities, school children and church groups to create and construct quilts. One of her largest quilts (10 by 14 feet) depicts the entire Chesapeake Bay and celebrates the lives of its black watermen. That inspiration was, she says, “my discovery that there was very little record of the contributions of African Americans to Bay-oriented industries.” Individuals from towns all around the Bay contributed information, family photographs and objects to make the history come alive.
       No experience required is the message at Gaither’s quilt-making workshops. People come with words, photographs and mementos. She brings ink jet printers, scissors, markers, boxes of embellishments and inspires her quilters to capture memories and stories on fabric. Sewing is done with large needles and simple stitches.
        A group of young children who swarmed into her exhibit the day she and I visited were drawn to details on the quilts, calling out to one another as they noticed yet another fascinating or unusual embellishment: strings of beads, a political button, a plastic crab. She answered some questions, then encouraged the kids to talk with their families and elders: “Ask them questions about their lives,” she said, “about what they remember from when they were young.” 
        “Memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses” are our stories, author and journalist Aleks Krotoski says. Gaither’s quilts are just that, capturing history, documenting and honoring lives, describing their lessons about the past and their calls for justice and equality.
       Follow Gaither on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanMEGaither.

Have fun even with a sizzling sun

1. Breezy Bay Fun: You can catch a crisp breeze on the water. Climb aboard The Tennison for a Historic Sunset Cruise out of Solomons July 19, Aug. 9 and Sept. 6 or the skipjack Dee of St. Mary’s July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 13 (www.calvertmarinemuseum.com). Lift a glass at the Wine in the Wind cruise out of Annapolis Aug. 24 (www.schoonerwoodwind.com).

2. Make Your Own Slip and Slide: You need a grassy surface (hills are the best), a hose and a tarp (www.tinyurl.com/kj55thb/). Attach pool noodles to the sides to contain the water and people and use soap to make the slide slipperier. Make a sprinkler by attaching a hose to a two-litter bottle with holes.

3. Become One with the Water: Learn to paddle board, which works every part of your body. Schedule a lesson with Stand Up Paddle Annapolis or rent a board on your own (www.supannapolis.com).
    Or take a seat for Kayak the Patuxent at Jug Bay on July 20 (www.aacounty.org/recparks). Explore the Chesapeake on Aug. 8 at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s (www.cbmm.org). Join in the Marsh Ecology Paddle Aug. 3 at Jug Bay (www.jugbay.org). Glide on Parkers Creek Aug. 9 (www.acltweb.org). Light up the night on a Full Moon Paddle Aug. 10 (annapolisboating.org).

4. Mid-summer Movies: Enjoy free movies on the beach at North Beach July 19 and Aug. 16 (www.northbeachmd.org). Go into the cool at Bow Tie Cinemas for the Kids Summer Film Series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Aug. 20 (www.bowtiecinemas.com/programs/kids-club/). For any movie showing at Bow Tie Cinemas, you can save with Super Tuesday deals: $6 tickets all day and $5 large tubs of popcorn (www.bowtie
cinemas.com/programs/super-tuesday/).

5. Skate away from the Sun: Escape the heat on skates. Cool down at the City of Bowie Ice Arena during a public skating sessions or sign up the kids for a summer camp (www.cityofbowie.org/icearena). Roller skate at Skate Zone in Crofton with deals on public skates every day (www.sk8zone.com).

Sign on for the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge

     It’s the irony of our modern technological society. For most of history, we have craved more facts, more data. We had no problem putting these data to good use as fast as we gathered them.
     In the last couple of decades, that situation has reversed. We now have much more data than we can possibly use. This holds true for the Bay, where data ranges from water samples collected by citizens to reports from orbiting satellites. Just one example: We have water quality data for the entire Chesapeake. You can go online and find maps showing the daily water temperature and clarity.
    The challenge is figuring out how to use all this data for positive change.
    Can more brains help?
    Bring motivated people with the right set of skills and experience together for a weekend of intense collaboration to develop innovative ideas. That’s the plan behind the DataBay Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge.
    “We want to get environmental scientists collaborating with information technology people to foster new ideas,” explains Mike Powell, chief innovation officer for Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Most people are one or the other. This is an opportunity to get the best from both.”
    Similar plans have worked in other places on other problems. An event last year led to the creation of Baltimore Decoded, which provides citizens with user-friendly web access to all Baltimore city laws.
    The Reclaim the Bay Innovation Challenge runs from Friday, August 1 through Sunday, August 3 at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. So far, some 50 IT pros and environmental scientists have signed on. There’s room for 50 more, including you.
    Bring a team or join one at the event. Together, you’ll generate ideas for using available data to restore the Bay and involve more people in that important work.
    On Sunday evening, teams will present their findings. Top-rated ideas win cash prizes and will be presented to O’Malley and a panel of entrepreneurs, investors and environmental scientists.
    Is this challenge for you? Learn more at: http://databay.splashthat.com.
    Curious about what types of Bay data are available? Answers at http://databay-data.splashthat.com.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

With bonus parking tips for the ­legislative session

      Parking in Annapolis is always a challenge. We are a city constrained by water, historic districts and two college campuses, all limiting the creation of more parking space. The modern solution is to make what parking is available easier to use, and these days that revolves around the internet, our computers and our mobile devices.
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The state has a new, more environmentally friendly way to fight snow and ice

     Now that winter has come to Maryland, the State Highway Administration is hard at work keeping our roads free of snow and ice. Snowplows are a familiar sight after a heavy snowfall. But just as much work goes on before the cold stuff even starts to fall. As soon as snow, sleet or freezing rain is forecast, fleets of trucks lay a preemptive layer of de-icers.
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     You have 10 days to complete your gift-giving mission. Having difficulty coming up with brilliant ideas to wow and impress?
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Take advantage of the quiet — and of migration — to go birding

     Winter is a wonderful time to study nature in Chesapeake Country. Yes, you read that correctly, the dreaded season of cold and snow. Before I am lambasted for being a warm-weather heretic, let me explain my reasoning.
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     With the coming weeks offering events and attractions promising to wow you, amaze you and fill your hearts with holiday wonder and glad tidings, how do you choose which of the season’s pageants makes it on to your calendar?
     Here’s a bit of guidance that may help you to inspire a new tradition or rediscover a forgotten favorite.
 
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Coming our way from Kootenai National Forest, Montana
     Christmas is coming to our nation’s capitol.
     In a 47-year tradition, the Christmas tree that shines throughout December on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol is cut in one of the nation’s states.
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