Quilt a protest about gun violence

As people around the country mourn the victims of gun violence and Congress acts on legislation, one Bainbridge Islander has been stitching quilted protests to advocate for gun safety.

Six years ago, Naomi Spinak was compelled to make a statement against gun violence after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida June 12, 2016, that left 49 people dead and more than 50 wounded.

As a modern fiber artist working with fabric and thread, Spinak was inspired by the AIDS quilt on display in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in October 1987. “I had this strong response to do something and to say something and to wonder about what was happening to our country,” she said.

Spinak created her first protest quilt for the Orlando shooting. “There were 49 people killed, which seemed very close to the number of stars we have on the flag and listing the nightclub itself, for me, that 50th star just was struck by how many people were killed at once and the gravity of it. Also, it was raining a little bit before the Pride Parade, so I made a rainbow kind of flag with all these colors and then the stars became tears falling off of the quilt.”

The concept for the Sweet Land of Liberty-Quilt, which is on display at BARN, occupied Spinak’s thoughts for a long time until the tragedy in Las Vegas, and she knew she had to start sewing again.

“I just had to make it and then I called a couple of friends because it was a giant project to go from 49 names to the 100 or more names that we wanted to put on this quilt.”

A group of quilters joined to hand-sew an American flag quilt on which they memorialized the names of victims from the Columbine shooting to the 2018 Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh.

At first glance, the quilt looks like an American flag, but upon closer inspection, the stars on the field of blue are in the shape of AR-15 rifles, America’s most-popular weapon used to murder people in the United States in places like Aurora, CO; Newtown, Conn.; San Bernardino, CA; Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland, Fla., and Pittsburgh, Penn.

Embroidered in red thread, victims’ names cover the white stripes with a needle and thread pinned to the bottom of the quilt leaving space for more names.

Each rifle shape is stitched with one of many gun-related phrases that are unique to American culture. Spinak said it didn’t take long to think of all 50 phrases, “It’s just so prevalent, it’s ingrained in our language, our culture, and these are all American terms. They’re not British, or English. They’re not Australian. We’re just built on guns; our language, our culture.”

The quilt makes a powerful statement that since the last name was added, there have been thousands of more lives lost due to guns.

According to Gunviolencearchive.com, which documents gun-related deaths and incidents in the United States, they have verified 267 mass shootings, 10,824 suicides, 8,784 homicide/murder/unintentional gun-related deaths between Jan. 1 and June 13, 2022.

Traditionally, quilts are comfort items made by women and handed down to those they care for, but this quilt does not do that. It’s a statement piece, that shatters the idea that we are safe. It’s a startling juxtaposition of life and death brought into focus to reveal that the mothers of those victims could not protect their children.

In her artist statement, Spinak said: “We could not possibly sew the names of all those who have been sacrificed to firearm freedom in our country over the past decades, but I chose some of the most prominent and largest murders. We stitched each name by hand over many months to honor the dead and still this list will not be finished.

“Many embroiderers worked on this project with me and offered their time and handiwork to this flag—an act that recalls the many minutes, hours and years of women’s work that continues to try to improve our lives.”

Fifty AR-15 silhouettes with gun idioms fill the field of blue on Naomi Spinak's Sweet Land Of Liberty quilt. Nancy Treder/Bainbridge Review
Wendi Winters is the last name memorialized on the quilt which honors the lives of gun violence victims. Nancy Treder/Bainbridge Review