A week ago today I was in Vermont, at the Shelburne Museum to see “Alzheimer’s: Forgetting Piece by Piece” for the last time, and to present three programs as curator of the 52-quilt exhibit about Alzheimer’s. The exhibit, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative, will be on display at the Shelburne until October 24 after which time the quilts will be returned to the artists who made them. My husband and I drove from Michigan so that we could bring Madison, the service dog that I trained for my mother. He was given special permission to visit the museum so that we could share, among other things, the benefits of a service dog for someone with Alzheimer’s.
It was such a thrill to see the exhibit in this wonderful space. The quilts are hanging on white walls in a round room, with heavy beams and wooden floors, against the texture of time. The building was a refuge from the summer heat: cool, well-lit, and quiet. The space encourages wandering; it’s impossible to see all the quilts without searching them out, going around corners, and up and down a step or two. It is a public space, but there are places to be alone with one’s thoughts too.
Recorded voices of people sharing their experiences with Alzheimer’s can be heard throughout the building. Shelburne Museum partnered with Vermont Public Radio and StoryCorps, Inc. to incorporate the memories of local elders from three area retirement communities: The Arbors and Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vermont and clients of Elderly Services, Inc. of Middlebury, Vermont. StoryCorps, a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday Americans. Listen here.
Visitors to the exhibit can write messages and insert them into a honeycombed cardboard Wall of Remembrance. There is also an hour-long video about Alzheimer’s in the viewing area.
The Shelburne Museum also created a Memory Garden from the design of Kate Laucomer’s Quilt (“Out of control: In Memory of Bill”). The garden, planted by residents at The Arbors and tended by museum staff gardeners, spirals around the flag pole. The blooms are a treat for the eyes and for the spirit.
My first presentation of the day was for the volunteers who white glove the exhibit. “Standing with the quilts” they know first hand how moving they are. Madison and I shared how the quilts were selected and how and why the exhibit came to be. (I did most of the talking; Madison slept right through most of it.)
Madison and I were invited to an outdoor luncheon at The Arbors. Fifteen quilts from the next traveling exhibit, “Alzheimer’s Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope,” along with some of my own personal quilts were out for people to see.
After lunch Madison and I shared our experience with my mother and her Alzheimer’s journey and Madison showed some of the things that he was trained to do. Then Madison and I visited some of the residents. Madison certainly enjoyed the head rubs and ear scratches he received. I believe his tail wagged non-stop.
Finally, in the evening Madison and I presented “Caring & Sharing: The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative” and did a gallery walk-through back at the Shelburne Museum. It was a full day.
“Alzheimer’s: Forgetting Piece by Piece” has been touring the United States since August 2006. More than 223,000 people have had an opportunity to see these incredible quilts at 49 venues in 31 states. It is sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative which is now hard at work preparing “Alzheimer’s Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope” which will tour from 2011 to 2015. For more information about the current exhibit, please call the Shelburne Museum at (802) 985-3346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the new traveling exhibit, call the Alzheimer’e Art Quilt Initiative at 810 637-5586.
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Founder & Executive Director
Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative