Recently I took the train up to Gloucester to see the Gloucester community quilts at the Cape Ann Museum. I love the Cape Ann Museum, which so beautifully evokes the special qualities of Cape Ann, my home from 1975 to 1985 and a place I will always love deeply. The amazing Cape Ann light is the first thing I notice whenever I go back, and as soon as I got off the train, I was struck by it once again.
At the museum I had the light-filled second floor gallery all to myself as I encountered the stunning exhibition of quilts representing Gloucester’s very diverse neighborhoods, made by seniors at the Rose Baker Senior Center in Gloucester. I am lost in admiration for Juni Van Dyke, the Art Director at the senior center who led this project over the past nine years. She must be the most amazing art educator. Under her direction, these women in their later years, and a few men I gather, have created something of lasting value, thirteen quilts about their neighborhoods, which have now been donated and accepted into the permanent collection of the Cape Ann Museum. I can imagine the enormous satisfaction they must feel for having been part of the years-long effort of this collaborative creative process and now seeing the fruits of their labor of love in the museum.
Art Education is a field dear to my heart after working for thirty-two years running the Art Education office at MassArt and supporting the preparation of art teachers. I always loved keeping in touch with our alumnae, who teach in almost every town in eastern Massachusetts, and I wish we could claim Juni Van Dyke as one of ours. However, I see from her bio that she is a Museum School/Tufts graduate. She seems to be a most outstanding art educator, who for over twenty years has been involving the seniors of Gloucester in significant art projects. According to my internet research, the seniors have also made banners for the offices of Senior Care Inc., made ceramic bowls every year for the food pantry’s Empty Bowls fundraiser, made art for the Downtown Storefront Windows Enhancement Project, participated in an inter-generational art project with a local school, shown their work at the State House, and illustrated a children’s book with collage, among other things. I purchased a copy of the book, If I were a dog by James M. McKenna, in the museum shop because I liked their collages so much.
Gloucester City Hall, detail of Downtown Quilt
The quilt project seems almost stupendous in scope. Nearly a hundred people participated, and most of them have no formal art training. Juni Van Dyke says this is proof that “one need not have attended art school to create beautiful works of art” and the quilts “bear testimony to the truth that the gift of creativity resides within all of us.” This attitude is one I really admire; art education is for everyone, children and adults, whose lives can be enriched, made joyful, even transformed by participating in art making. I especially admire Juni Van Dyke’s art education work with seniors, who are in the time of life when meaning-making is of the utmost importance. To be able to make a contribution to the community and indeed the world of art works such as these quilts must mean a great deal to the makers–it would to me. I very much wanted to attend Juni Van Dyke’s talk about the project back in January and was planning to go up on the train, but the weather that day was miserable, rain and snow, so I missed out. Unfortunately the museum did not record the talk. There is a very nice article about the opening reception for the Community Quilts on the excellent blog Good Morning Gloucester, which includes photos of the Art Director and some of the senior quilt artists.