Stitching Climate Science & Solutions (an exhibit)

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February 26, 2023 by Dr. G

In 2018, I started my journey into quilting science stories, thanks to my experience at OCEANDOTCOMM in Louisiana. I’ve been crocheting temperature data even longer. But I haven’t had many opportunities to share these creative pieces with audiences beyond short YouTube videos I created describing most of the quilts. I had a display of my Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast quilts on display for the attendees at the 2021 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. And in 2022, a local arboretum provided me the incredible venue and support of exhibiting my weather- and climate-themed work.

Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens has beautiful gallery space in the John J. Willaman Education Center and an active group of volunteers that curate collections for display throughout the year. I was thrilled when Jenkins’ Education Manager reached out to me to see if I would be interested in displaying some of my quilts and doing some public programming around the theme of climate science. I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough! Jenkins was wonderful to work with and coordinate my first-ever gallery show.

Room with quilts hanging on the wall

Photo of quilt display – crochet pieces are hanging off to the left of the image.

October 2022 was the official opening of the exhibit with a reception. Despite the especially bad weather that day, it was a wonderful event where I was able to explain my pieces to visitors – everything from the story each individual piece is sharing along with fabric choices and what influenced and motivated me to stitch that particular climate story and/or solution.

Jenkins Arboretum is only a 30-minute drive from my home. I made quite a few visits up to Devon (PA) to see the quilts (at first, it was so hard to leave all the quilts – I hadn’t been separated from these pieces that mean so much to me for so long!).

The exhibit was laid out as the following, with signage describing the quilts and QR codes for visitors to scan for additional information:

— An introduction with the Quilting Science Stories quilt, providing background on some of the impacts climate change is making on our environment/planet. Two additional quilts that provided some examples are The Changing Balance of Arctic Sea Ice and When Snow is a No-Show for the Iditarod.

— The exhibit then moves into a general discussion of solutions to our changing climate with my Drawing Down Towards Climate Solutions collection.

— The exhibit continued with a case study of a specific region implementing solutions demonstrating adaptation and resilience in southern Louisiana with my Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast collection.

— Crocheted pieces showing the temperature history in Philadelphia, and a monthly comparison of daily temperature data from the day/month/year Jenkins Arboretum opened to the public to the maximum daily temperature we were experiencing this year. I even did a workshop to show visitors how to generate their own temperature records with stitches (see my project website Data visualizations with stitches).

— There are two quilts that end the exhibit that really bring home the idea of solutions. One quilt is the Project Drawdown Sudoku Solution quilt, inspired by undergraduate students researching the solutions we need to today’s climate challenges. The other one is the It Begins with the Ocean Biome quilt, serving as a reminder that we should not be focusing on just one species or one part of an entire system – all parts and pieces are important to address to sustain the work that we do.

Was this exhibit able to make a difference? Are my science quilts and crochet pieces communicating science and solutions, as I hope they are? During the 3-month display, Jenkins informed me that they received 498 clicks on the link to the exhibit web page, and there were ~14,000 visitors to the Arboretum (with most visitors pass through the gallery at some point during their visit). In the Arboretum guest book, these are some of the messages that were left:

Very thoughtful exhibition of creativity woven with today’s earth’s climate and human condition

Beautiful visual metaphors for such important issues. I loved reading about each quilt.

Your depth of understanding re: ecological change and your creative way of explaining it, through your stitchery is really impressive!

Great show! I came all the way from Dallas, TX to enjoy the show!

This feedback, in addition to the new and continuing conversations I’m having with people that saw the exhibit, is motivating me to continue with using quilts as a science communication tool. The quilts have now been removed from the walls and are packed up, but I’m looking forward to the next opportunity for sharing my work and encouraging others to find their creative ways to tell science stories.

Thank you, Jenkins Arboretum, for the amazing opportunity to share these climate stories and solutions through my first-ever public exhibit!

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