By Terry Helwig ©2007
The purple cloth Hope Materializing, woven in the aftermath of 9/11, celebrates the power and promise of hope. The buttons, created by clay artist Susan Ryles, are imprinted with the word hope in more than a dozen languages. Mayan weavers in Guatemala wove part of the cloth on a back-strap loom, using a technique thousands of years old; the panel later hung in the United Nations as part of the 2006 Indigenous Exhibit.
The Thread Project: One World, One Cloth
The metaphor tapestry of life encompasses the broad spectrum of life as we know it on planet earth; but, if life’s tapestry were actually a textile, it might well resemble the woven threads of The Thread Project: One World, One Cloth. This international exhibit, the brainchild of founder Terry Helwig, strives to build bridges of understanding and tolerance among viewers of all ages and economic and cultural backgrounds. It is not art for the sake of commerce, but vernacular art that celebrates diversity, tolerance and compassionate community; art that seeks to deepen a viewer’s experience of the interplay between the individual and the world.
For five years, textile and indigenous artists, along with other weavers, threaded forty-nine looms erected world-wide; the sites included a hillside in Israel, a Greek village, a studio in Australia and a school in Ghana. Tens of thousands of threads were woven into panels cloth, buttoned in such a way as to create seven unique and differently colored textiles—one for each continent. Just as the seven colors of the color spectrum create one light, and the seven continents create one world, the seven textiles create one world cloth.
The individual threads, representing more than seventy countries, were pulled from the fabric of people’s every-day lives. They include a strip of fabric from one of Mother Teresa’s leper colonies outside Calcutta, a tattered remnant from the Killing Fields in Cambodia, threads from several 9/11 families, and fur shed from an otter on an oyster farm in Alaska. Every continent is represented, even Antarctica. The threads are as diverse as the people who sent them—as diverse as life itself.
The exhibit juxtaposes a single thread’s insignificance with its quiet archetypal power. Many cultures link thread with life and creation. The goddesses Spider Woman, Frigga, Ix Chel, Amaterasu and Neith were variously credited with weaving portions of the heavens and earth. The Greek fates spun, measured and cut the thread of life; and some paintings of the Virgin Mary depict her spinning thread. Today, the imagery and language of thread surface in science and medicine. The String Theory of physics suggests that everything in the universe is comprised of tiny vibrating strings; DNA is called the thread of life; and each of us slips into this world, tethered to our mother.
These threads help weave our collective identity, and make a powerful statement of unity, whenever the cloths are viewed. The cloths have been exhibited at the United Nations; St. Paul’s Chapel, across from Ground Zero, for the 5-year anniversary of 9/ll; and, most recently, in Charleston, SC where 19 of the 49 weavers traveled to meet each other for the first time. The weavers watched the debut of a one-act play called The Thread Narratives: Real Threads and True Stories, written by founder Terry Helwig and actress Carol Anderson. The play brings to life many of the threads running through the textiles, and, when performed in the presence of the cloths, allows viewers to recognize that behind every thread is a name, a person who personifies the complex dimensions of life on our planet. As one recent viewer wrote: This exhibit is a celebration of our common humanity, a vision of ourselves as we ought to be and may yet become.
A permanent home is being sought for the exhibit; one that has international exposure and is committed to teaching tolerance and promoting compassionate community.