Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Afghan Girl

Her name is Sharbat Gula, but for the tech savvy print media consumed First World, she was simply known as "The Afghan Girl". Her image as seen here was taken in 1985 by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry in a refugee camp in Pakistan when she was about 13 years old. For the next 17 years all the world had was her image to represent the plight of children in war zones the world over.

Thousands of miles away and living a life of privilege and peace, I saw that original National Geographic cover and remember being consumed with The Afghan Girl. My inner dialogue was full of  preteen questions (for I was 12 at the time). "Did she have parents? Sibings? What does it mean to be in a refugee camp? Where is Pakistan? Wow, she is my age, I wonder if she has any friends there." My thoughts about her and her life came and went for many years ahead as we learned of the struggles in the Middle East.

Finally, in April of 2002, the Afghan Girl was found.  17 years later, she still lived in the war-torn countryside of Afghanistan with her husband and three daughters. She spoke little, but said much in the interview. Below is the full text from Steve McCurry's piece about his search for her.

I remember as a newlywed in 2002 and 29 years old, that I dreamed of having my own children, but couldn't ever imagine having three! Her oldest was 13 already! Then I was stopped and saddened by the idea that Sharbat Gula herself cannot read and that all she wants is education for her daughters. Some harsh realities of life come in waves. The idea of children NOT being educated at least to the level of basic literacy was new to me...or at least it truly sunk in with this moment, just as the idea of children living in a war zone was a revelation to me back in 1985 when I saw Sharbat for the first time. I felt deeply for this woman I did not know.

Finally in the Spring of 2015 at a the Northern Star Quilters' Guild Show in Somers, New York, Sharbat Gula returned and completely stunned me. I hadn't thought about her and her life in years, but here she was. All the feelings of connection and "relationship" (if you will) came flooding back. Quilt artist Marla Silbernagel of Warwick, NY created this piece during a workshop with Leni Weiner. The goal being to study color relationships as she recreated the original photograph.

I still don't really know what all this means, but I can say that Sharbat Gula's images from 1985, 2002 and 2015 have made me revisit many questions I still carry about the nature of war, the effects of war on the lives of children in war zones and beyond, our response to others even those who live on the other side of the planet, and how we can live daily keeping all of this in mind. 

How many others has Sharbat's life impacted?  We will never know, but I most certainly am thankful for my connection with her.



A Life Revealed

Her eyes have captivated the world since she appeared on our cover in 1985. Now we can tell her story.

By Cathy Newman
Photograph by Steve McCurry
She remembers the moment. The photographer took her picture. She remembers her anger. The man was a stranger. She had never been photographed before. Until they met again 17 years later, she had not been photographed since.
The photographer remembers the moment too. The light was soft. The refugee camp in Pakistan was a sea of tents. Inside the school tent he noticed her first. Sensing her shyness, he approached her last. She told him he could take her picture. “I didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day,” he recalls of that morning in 1984 spent documenting the ordeal of Afghanistan’s refugees.
The portrait by Steve McCurry turned out to be one of those images that sears the heart, and in June 1985 it ran on the cover of this magazine. Her eyes are sea green. They are haunted and haunting, and in them you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war. She became known around National Geographic as the “Afghan girl,” and for 17 years no one knew her name.
In January a team from National Geographic Television & Film’s EXPLORER brought McCurry to Pakistan to search for the girl with green eyes. They showed her picture around Nasir Bagh, the still standing refugee camp near Peshawar where the photograph had been made. A teacher from the school claimed to know her name. A young woman named Alam Bibi was located in a village nearby, but McCurry decided it wasn’t her.
No, said a man who got wind of the search. He knew the girl in the picture. They had lived at the camp together as children. She had returned to Afghanistan years ago, he said, and now lived in the mountains near Tora Bora. He would go get her.
It took three days for her to arrive. Her village is a six-hour drive and three-hour hike across a border that swallows lives. When McCurry saw her walk into the room, he thought to himself: This is her.
Names have power, so let us speak of hers. Her name is Sharbat Gula, and she is Pashtun, that most warlike of Afghan tribes. It is said of the Pashtun that they are only at peace when they are at war, and her eyes—then and now—burn with ferocity. She is 28, perhaps 29, or even 30. No one, not even she, knows for sure. Stories shift like sand in a place where no records exist.
Time and hardship have erased her youth. Her skin looks like leather. The geometry of her jaw has softened. The eyes still glare; that has not softened. “She’s had a hard life,” said McCurry. “So many here share her story.” Consider the numbers. Twenty-three years of war, 1.5 million killed, 3.5 million refugees: This is the story of Afghanistan in the past quarter century.
Now, consider this photograph of a young girl with sea green eyes. Her eyes challenge ours. Most of all, they disturb. We cannot turn away.
“There is not one family that has not eaten the bitterness of war,” a young Afghan merchant said in the 1985 National Geographic story that appeared with Sharbat’s photograph on the cover. She was a child when her country was caught in the jaws of the Soviet invasion. A carpet of destruction smothered countless villages like hers. She was perhaps six when Soviet bombing killed her parents. By day the sky bled terror. At night the dead were buried. And always, the sound of planes, stabbing her with dread.
“We left Afghanistan because of the fighting,” said her brother, Kashar Khan, filling in the narrative of her life. He is a straight line of a man with a raptor face and piercing eyes. “The Russians were everywhere. They were killing people. We had no choice.”
Shepherded by their grandmother, he and his four sisters walked to Pakistan. For a week they moved through mountains covered in snow, begging for blankets to keep warm.
“You never knew when the planes would come,” he recalled. “We hid in caves.”
The journey that began with the loss of their parents and a trek across mountains by foot ended in a refugee camp tent living with strangers.
“Rural people like Sharbat find it difficult to live in the cramped surroundings of a refugee camp,” explained Rahimullah Yusufzai, a respected Pakistani journalist who acted as interpreter for McCurry and the television crew. “There is no privacy. You live at the mercy of other people.” More than that, you live at the mercy of the politics of other countries. “The Russian invasion destroyed our lives,” her brother said.
It is the ongoing tragedy of Afghanistan. Invasion. Resistance. Invasion. Will it ever end? “Each change of government brings hope,” said Yusufzai. “Each time, the Afghan people have found themselves betrayed by their leaders and by outsiders professing to be their friends and saviors.”
In the mid-1990s, during a lull in the fighting, Sharbat Gula went home to her village in the foothills of mountains veiled by snow. To live in this earthen-colored village at the end of a thread of path means to scratch out an existence, nothing more. There are terraces planted with corn, wheat, and rice, some walnut trees, a stream that spills down the mountain (except in times of drought), but no school, clinic, roads, or running water.
Here is the bare outline of her day. She rises before sunrise and prays. She fetches water from the stream. She cooks, cleans, does laundry. She cares for her children; they are the center of her life. Robina is 13. Zahida is three. Alia, the baby, is one. A fourth daughter died in infancy. Sharbat has never known a happy day, her brother says, except perhaps the day of her marriage.
Her husband, Rahmat Gul, is slight in build, with a smile like the gleam of a lantern at dusk. She remembers being married at 13. No, he says, she was 16. The match was arranged.
He lives in Peshawar (there are few jobs in Afghanistan) and works in a bakery. He bears the burden of medical bills; the dollar a day he earns vanishes like smoke. Her asthma, which cannot tolerate the heat and pollution of Peshawar in summer, limits her time in the city and with her husband to the winter. The rest of the year she lives in the mountains.
At the age of 13, Yusufzai, the journalist, explained, she would have gone into purdah, the secluded existence followed by many Islamic women once they reach puberty.
“Women vanish from the public eye,” he said. In the street she wears a plum-colored burka, which walls her off from the world and from the eyes of any man other than her husband. “It is a beautiful thing to wear, not a curse,” she says.
Faced by questions, she retreats into the black shawl wrapped around her face, as if by doing so she might will herself to evaporate. The eyes flash anger. It is not her custom to subject herself to the questions of strangers.
Had she ever felt safe?
”No. But life under the Taliban was better. At least there was peace and order.”
Had she ever seen the photograph of herself as a girl?
She can write her name, but cannot read. She harbors the hope of education for her children. “I want my daughters to have skills,” she said. “I wanted to finish school but could not. I was sorry when I had to leave.”
Education, it is said, is the light in the eye. There is no such light for her. It is possibly too late for her 13-year-old daughter as well, Sharbat Gula said. The two younger daughters still have a chance.
The reunion between the woman with green eyes and the photographer was quiet. On the subject of married women, cultural tradition is strict. She must not look—and certainly must not smile—at a man who is not her husband. She did not smile at McCurry. Her expression, he said, was flat. She cannot understand how her picture has touched so many. She does not know the power of those eyes.
Such knife-thin odds. That she would be alive. That she could be found. That she could endure such loss. Surely, in the face of such bitterness the spirit could atrophy. How, she was asked, had she survived?
The answer came wrapped in unshakable certitude.

“It was,” said Sharbat Gula, “the will of God.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rainbow Quilts of the Vermont Quilt Festival 2015

"Circle of Life" earned Lisa McCarthy of East Kingston, NH an Exceptional Merit Purple Ribbon (that means the quilt earned 98, 99 or 100 points on the scale of 1 to 100). Lisa writes in her description, "I love the use of bright bold colors. When I saw this pattern by Jacqueline de Jonge, I added it to my 'must-do' list. I had fun playing with the color layout and it went together like a dream. Many thanks to  long-arm maching quilter Carrie Zizza, whose vision and artistic flare are amazing."

On the right is "Prism" by Linda Pearl of Nashua, NH. (I'm sorry that I did not get a better photo.) Here is Linda's description, "It is an interpretation of Flying Geese, with a modern layout and quilting scheme. This came from my desire to play with a bright palette. It is the second in a series I am currently working on. Quilted on a home machine."

Karen Viega's "Really? What was I thinking?" earned her a First Place Blue Ribbon.
From East Bridgewater, MA, Karen writes, "My quilt guild challenge for spring was Fall in Love with Color. We each chose a photo whose colors we wanted to work with, and then interpreted those colors into the design. I came up with this foundation pieced rainbow log cabin variation. 3700 pieced later, I thought to myself, "Really? What was I thinking?" Quilted on a home machine.

"Whoosh!" Deborah Rouse's Third Place Ribbon winning quilt caught my eye for not only the bargello factor, but also for the awesome antique buttons. She writes, "A fun bargello quilt using my stash of fabrics and new and vintage buttons! Inspired by a quilt designed by Nancy Altsman of Black Cat Creations. A class by Karen Dever at the Village Quilter in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. Quilted on a home machine."

Below is Margot Cohen of Cedarhurst, NY's "Field of Flowers." This Third Place Yellow Ribbon quilt is described by the maker in this way, "I fell in love with hexagons thirty years ago when I took my first quilting class. Since then I have made many hex quilts. My late husband told me I could have any quilt I wanted as long as "I made it." I saw a picture of this quilt and just had to have it, so I made it. It is hand quilted."

Below from the Instructor's Showcase comes Karen Eckmeier's "Random Rose Garden." She describes it like this, "Based on the words "finding center"-- this quilt was inspired by a hand drumming workshop. Each block was supposed to be an individual drum beat, but it turned into a garden instead!"

Instructor Kimberly Einmo's "Fire and Ice." She writes, "Fire and Ice is a variation of my original design called Lone Starburst. I wanted to create a vibrant, modern interpretation of the more traditional Lone Starburst pattern; giving it a fresh update with streamlined, simple techniques. There are no set-in seams used in the construction of this quilt! This quilt has won several national awards including Best Modern Quilt at AQS Quilt Week 2014 in Chattanooga, TN. Judi Madsen of Green Fairy Quilts did the exquisite machine quilting."

Finally, contestant Lee Sproull of Leeds, MA entered this "Cubic Kaleidoscope" and earned a Third Place Yellow Ribbon.  Lee writes, "Bright colors swirl around lively red centers. Quilted on a home machine."

Dedication:  In the middle of this year's Vermont Quilt Festival, as I was trying hard to absorb all the colors, all the people, all the techniques and all the gorgeous art in this amazing show, I learned that my sister and her girlfriend of many years will be married next June. I was then overwhelmed with joy to know that they too will have all the love, security, and legal benefits which come with marriage. Therefore, I dedicate this post to my sister Liz and to Jeanne in the name of LOVE, of support, and of all that is truly rainbow bright and beautiful! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Best of the Vermont Quilt Festival 2015

In its 39th year, the Vermont Quilt Festival is New England's largest and oldest annual quilt event.
Here are the Best Of Show quilts from this year's VQF experience.

Hexagon Quilt "La Passion" by Grit Kovacs from Ebstorf, Germany won Best of Show from Outside the USA and also Best Piecing. Grit writes, "My hexagon quilt is an original design, sewn by hand, and took two and one half years to complete. The inspiration developed on a holiday in France. I used 7,240 pieced. Long-arm quilted by Birgit Schuller."

Best in Show and the Governor's Award for Best Vermont Quilt comes "Celestial Sedona" by Norma Ippolito of Chester, VT. Norma writes, "This quilt features a variety of construction techniques. Building from the center out, it became a three- year journey resulting in the most challenging quilt I have made, and also the most rewarding. Pattern Sedona Star by Sarah Vedeler Designs. Quilted on a home sewing machine."

Sharing blue ribbon winner Micheline Caron's "Sous Une Bonne Etoile" because it is the same quilt design as the Best of Show above. From Canada, Micheline also quitled this beauty on her home sewing machine.

Heidi Merrill's "Curves Bliss" earned Best Long-Arm Machine Quilting. Heidi is local to us here in upstate NY. From Clifton Park, she writes, "I made my own design and used EQ to design my own pattern. I used Suzanne McNeil's 10 Minute Block method, but modified it by cutting out the backing to reduce bulk. I used alternating chain blocks to create the overall design."

Best Applique Award goes to"Le Jardin Joyeau" by Christine Wickert of Penfield, NY. She writes, "Two chunks of silk- one brick red and the other a stripe- begged to be used for Beautiful Botanicals design by Deborah Kemball. The stripe became the backing. Hand quilted."

The Best Miniature goes to "6522", George Siciliano's masterpiece.  He writes, "This quilt has 6522 pieces of dupioni silk....It's not fused, embroidered or painted. Just good old fashioned piecing. Quilted on a home sewing machine." George and his wife Ginny are master quilters and teachers and live in Lebanon, PA.

"Creme Caramel" by Joanne Mac Nevin of Pembroke, MA earned the Best Machine Quilting Award on a Home Machine. She writes, "My sweet tooth is very pronounced and, from the beginning, this quilt has evoked visions of caramel, vanilla ice cream, custard, marshmallow fluff, butterscotch, whipped cream and a little mocha. Yum! The pattern is White Chocolate by McCall's Quilting and the border is Ice Blueberries by Pat Delaney."

Finally, "October" by Susie Wimer of Ranson, WV earned a blue ribbon and the Founder's Award for this show. She writes, "I love leaves and cannot resist picking them up in the fall. I used real, actual sized leaves for the pattern. My then six-year old grandson then helped gather them, learning the trees as we went. By the time I finished he was fourteen years old. Hand quilted."

These are the Best Of Show which I was able to capture quickly on my camera and remember to share with you. I was also a participant and vendor this time around.  My apologies if your quilt is missing. Please feel free to comment below and share a photo or to do the same at This Quilting Mama on Facebook. Thank you and stay tuned for more quilts from the Vermont Quilt Festival 2015 over the next few weeks.
Peace and Happy VQF inspired quilting ahead,

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Day After or What Happened Here?

The day after a big holiday when you look around and try to process all that just happened.....

Months of preparing those homemade gifts........with last stitches placed at the very last minute.

The cookies were made......yes all 16 kinds.
Thank you, Grammy Lucille!

There was great anticipation of child and parent alike as the wait for the Santa seemed to overtake all.

The feast was prepared and beautifully presented. 
Thank you Grandma Dorothy and Grandpa Ed.

But with all this excitement of tablets and helicopters, books and toys, cookies and candy,
would we remember beyond this ONE day..........

all that is important to carry forth?

The love of God for us given in the form of a baby.

May we remember, carry that love onward, and live in worship, awe and peace.

 Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Special: Paul and Pauline's Guest Bathroom

Pauline and Paul live in the heart of the Catskill Mountains in upstate, New York.
This is their beautiful home. I've asked them to help me share the art of their guest bathroom with you in a special guest-artist post. This piece was created during a Halloween party last year.
Finally, here it is.........sorry it took so long, Pauline. But you know how it is with kids! ;-)

Welcome to our home.  It was built in 1936 by a Norwegian fisherman and the house has many features that are clearly inspired by boats.  Not the least of which being the perilously narrow and steep staircase to the basement, more like the ladder to the ships hold than a proper set of stairs that will have toddlers and moms carrying laundry traipsing up and down continually.

We are especially proud of the guest half bath.  I have always felt that color belongs on the walls, and loved those houses in the magazines and on the historic house tours that have rich and varied colors on the walls throughout.  But my husband is less adventurous (in this area of life).  So we’ve compromised.  We agreed to muted shades in the main rooms: living room, kitchen, halls, bedrooms; and that I could do what I want with color in the bathrooms.  I figure you spend so little time in the bathroom, even if you hate it, it doesn’t impact your life too badly.  And if you enjoy color?  Given what you do in the bath, you are entitled to a little inspiration, joy, and color for the few moments each day that you spend there, brushing your teeth, shaving, wiping the toddler’s bum…

Back before we were married, when this guy was a high roller and I thought this was how all girls were treated by their beaus, we used to go to fancy restaurants for dinner.  Now that we’re married and have two kids, I realize that what was really happening is what they call “courting.”  In one of these restaurants the bathrooms were wall papered with wine labels.  We thought that was very cool and started saving the labels from every bottle of wine we drank in a black plastic cigar sized box.  I was just learning about wine and, you will remember, my then boyfriend was still trying to impress me.  So the labels added up pretty quickly, and were all kinds of wines from bourdeaux to burgundy; viognier to vermentino; reislings, cabernets, pinot noirs, chardonnays, montalcino, montepulciano, Mondavi, Opus One.  We saved enough labels to paper all four walls, and Paul threw himself into the project whole-heartedly one week while I was in the City at work.  He meticulously decoupaged the labels to the wall in a patchwork and over-layered manner, pleasing to the eye with a few SENA medallions covering the blank spots.  But he decided, wisely I think, that once the door wall was covered, it was plenty!  Don’t over-do it.  Now it’s a surprise!  You enter the small yellow bathroom with carrot colored trim and when you turn around to close the door, voila! Wine labels!  Fabulous!

The stained glass four-seasons of the sun was given to us by Paul’s mother when she moved from Boston and divested of many of her beautiful pieces of arts and furniture.  We were the lucky inheritors of many of these pieces.  This particular stained glass is vibrantly colored and epitomizes her exuberant primitive love of the full rainbow spectrum of color.  I love it because it catches the evening sun and throws bright colors on the walls while blocking the view into the bathroom from the grilling area outside!

There is a tiny detailed drawing of a ship on the wall opposite the vibrant glass covered window.  There are tiny details of funny birds and unreal creatures on this vessel in full sail.  To fully appreciate it, take the Chinese magnifying glass down and get a better look!

But, yes, the piece de resistance is the mirror, framed in a bouquet of vinyl records.  Paul bought this as a Christmas gift for himself since there is a long tradition in this house of buying gifts for oneself.  We came from very different traditions around Christmas and are, even after 20 years, still assimilating our different attitudes about it!  He found it in an artisanal shop in Woodstock; one of a kind.  It was really a no-brainer.  He had to have it.  It featured in one of his music videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvSN8RQ3JEQ)  If you are as devoted a fan of classic rock and roll and all its early influences, then you will understand the meaning of vinyl and why this was meant to be.

This Quilting Mama's Selfie!
Thanks for your interest in our things!  We used to spend weekends making our house just-so – before the kids.  I love the energy and constant chaos in our house now, but I am saving all my house-beautiful ideas from when the kids are a little more grown up and the chaos settles down a bit.

Halloween party fun for all ages!

Pauline and Lynn, friends since high school 

This Quilting Mama as clergy!
It was Halloween after all.