I started this quilt in 2002 as my reaction to 9/11. At the time, I was making the transition from more traditional quilts (sticking to existing patterns and gridded layouts) to more organic art quilts. I saw things pretty literally (I still struggle a lot with being too literal).
As background, we were living in Wiesbaden, Germany at the time (2000 to 2004). On our previous tour in Germany (1996 to 1999) my husband had deployed on peacekeeping missions to Bosnia and Kosovo and spent a great deal of the time in between on training exercises in the field. We were used to a high operations tempo. I was gaining a lot of respect for, and insight into, the previously-unknown-to-me time that my grandfather served in WWII — so naturally, I was drawn to WWII imagery. I had found a Service Flag in an antique shop in Arizona and it resonated with me.
I don’t really know how to explain how 9/11 affected me, other than knowing that the US I knew prior, and had grown up in, was vastly different than the US I returned to on visits post 9/11. I don’t think I mourned the victims, or felt as directly violated as did the rest of the country. Maybe my axis didn’t change so much since I was already removed, having lived in Europe for more than four years at the time, and then another seven years after the attack. Security on post in Germany had already been higher than on posts in the US after the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa. Imagine my surprise when we moved to Arizona for 10 months in 1999 and the gate to Ft Huachuca was wide open with the threat level considered “normal.” Normal to me was show your ID card every time you entered and sign your non-military guests in and out.
After the 9/11 attacks, overseas posts braced for possible attacks. Though the posts themselves could add more security measures at the gates (like checking every car for explosives — oh the drudgery of getting the babies out of their car seats, opening all the doors and trunk, and standing aside in the freezing cold during those winter checks), housing areas like where we lived were still relatively open. While fencing was being constructed, and a longer term solution was found (hired security guards), we were protected by cement blast barriers, concertina wire, and patrolling soldiers. For many months there was a HMMV parked outside our apartment building (we supplied a lot of coffee to the rotating shifts in that vehicle). I think this was my 9/11 world. Don’t get me wrong — I maintain that the real heroes of 9/11 are the first responders and civilians in NY, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93. It’s just that my world was, and still is, the fallout of the US reaction: the military response.
So, something was rattling around in my head. I liked the graphic simplicity of the Service Flag and could easily see it translated into a large quilt. I made sketches and mulled ideas of how to add interest into those large areas of color (plain white with a plain red border wasn’t special enough). Then at the end of the year, my man deployed to Kuwait which would serve as home base for the push into Iraq. I think that’s when I knew I’d need a Service Flag, just like those families in WWII. There are purposely 50 white stars behind the large blue one. An eagle and flags figure prominently in the broderie perse swag, and the red border is made of log cabins which represent home. I worked pretty consistently piecing, appliqueing, and then hand quilting the quilt during the six months TS&WGH was in Kuwait and then the 4-ish months shortly thereafter when he was in Iraq. Then he was home for nearly five years (with annual trips, but not so long and not to war zones) and the emotional push was no longer there. I tired of the hand quilting. We moved to another post in Germany. I turned my attention to landscapes for a solo show. I put the Service Flag quilt away for an embarrassing number of years.
Now, nearly a decade later, after a twelve month deployment to Iraq and in the middle of another, the urge returns. I’m feeling like I have a voice in my Army Wife aprons and Medallion quilt. The Service Flag has context again. But my work has evolved. There’s a roughness and a rawness that hadn’t yet come to the surface in the simply patriotic star quilt. So, I will finish hand quilting the border, which is all that is left, and then use it as a backdrop for a transformation. I will do something to this quilt that will allow it to speak on a more even level with the others in what is now a series. I know, many are groaning that I would possibly deface such a pretty quilt. But pretty wasn’t getting it anywhere other than stuffed in a cabinet for more than five years. As I move forward, and my art evolves, I can’t get stuck on preciousness. War is not precious.