Mending Boston at MIT Museum

Collaborative artwork aims to help heal community

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The 12 by 4-foot fabric collage depicting the Charles River, a memorial to the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy.
Debbie Douglass

At the beginning of July, the MIT Museum hosted an afternoon of sewing-with-fabric artist Clara Wainwright. The project, Mending Boston, aims to bring community members together and “mend” their souls while collaborating on a fabric collage. Wainwright began Mending Boston after the Boston Marathon tragedy, spending many hours working on the piece with visitors to community centers and museums throughout Greater Boston, who wished to honor victims of the bombing.

“My goal for Mending Boston is to bring people together to ‘mend’ and talk after the traumatic Marathon tragedy, and perhaps end up with a lasting memorial to all the people involved,” said Wainwright.

The 12 by 4-foot fabric collage depicts the Charles River along its length. The marathon route to Copley Square is highlighted in yellow cloth, with prominent monuments such as Trinity Church and Boston Common stitched along the route. Wainwright prefers not to call it a “quilt” because her intention is to honor the four people killed in the attacks.

Participants either brought in their own fabric or used provided materials. Some pieces were attached by glue until someone sewed them to the cloth. During the MIT Museum event, MIT Police Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer sewed in a flag from Sean Collier’s temporary memorial. Another participant, bombing witness Roger Snow, added a green symbol of the mailbox on Boylston Street that saved his life when the second bomb went off. Earlier, friends of bombing victim Lu Lingzi sewed a portrait of the late Boston University student into the quote, and added math equations and food shapes to reflect Lingzi’s love for math and cooking.

“What I love about all collaborative art projects is drawing in people who do not think of themselves as artists, but end up delighted with what they’ve done,” Wainwright described.

The first group to work on “Mending Boston” was teenagers from the Boston Asian Youth Essential Service in May. Since then, Wainwright has worked with other local groups on the piece, from individuals at Codman Square Health Center, where victims were treated, to the Dorchester neighborhood of the bombing victim Martin Richard, to the Gardner Museum, to Trinity Church. She also reached out to friends and family of the bombing victim Krystle Campbell.

“I decided that if I wanted to be considered important to the city of Boston, I really had to work with people who didn’t have art in their lives,” Clara explained to 90.0 WHUR radio. The Boston native has made up to 60 other community quilts with a diversity of groups, from women in Vietnam, Brazil, Thailand, Puerto Rico, to those affected by the initial bombing of Baghdad, to troubled teens, to Gloucester Fishermen’s wives. “The reaction of most people is delight that they were invited to participate in creating a memorial.” She connected with the MIT Museum through MIT Police Sergeant Vossmer, with the intention to honor fallen officer Sean Collier. In the earliest stages of the collage, she reached out to other victims of the tragedy.

The finished piece will be on display at the Gardner Museum, beginning Aug. 8 for the month of August. On Sept. 13, it will move to the MIT Museum through October. After that, it may travel to other Boston/Cambridge community spaces and museums, such as Boston City Hall and the Boston Public Library.