FAIRFIELD — Stacey Kitakis is on a mission to unite the world through quilting.
The Fairfield resident and frequent international traveler has organized an ongoing art project of gathering quilt squares from people around the globe. Kitakis supplies them with the materials — fabric quilt squares and either Sharpie markers or paint — and lets them draw whatever they want. Her only request is that the artist supply their name, age and the country where they were born.
“There’s a reason I do that, and it’s that we live in a very transient world,” Kitakis said. “I feel there’s value in acknowledging our roots and how we’re always connected to them.”
Kitakis has dubbed her project “Quilts that Unite Us.”
To date, 1,640 people have participated from 98 countries, resulting in 23 completed quilts and another on the way. Kitakis tries to group quilt squares together according to their theme, then lays them in a pattern she thinks will make for a good quilt. For instance, she might get a lot of quilt squares depicting dogs, so she puts them together in a single quilt.
Kitakis likes to honor a person with a quilt, someone who made the world a better place. She dedicated one quilt to a woman in California who started an emergency training facility for dogs. These dogs were trained in helping people escape fire, or finding people trapped beneath rubble left from an earthquake. The dogs were sent to Haiti to find people after that country’s massive earthquake in 2010.
Another quilt’s theme was trees. People from countries as far away as Ivory Coast and Indonesia submitted drawings of trees from their native land. Kitakis dedicated that quilt to John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club.
“He did so many good things for our earth, including planting trees,” Kitakis said.
Other quilts have been about musicians who sing for peace, like the Beatles, and others are about pressing social issues such as women’s empowerment. One quilt honors a woman in Uganda who started an organization teaching job skills to women so they can generate income to support their families.
Some of the quilt squares depict a sad time in a person’s life. Kitakis has devoted much time and energy helping refugees who landed in Greece. When she asks them for a quilt square, sometimes they will return sobering images of the turmoil back home, of bombs falling on children. Some refugees prefer to focus on happier times or perhaps on their future, and draw images of sailing or riding horses over a mountain.
Started in 2016
Kitakis started Quilts that Unite Us in 2016 while working with the Lesvos Refugee Project in Greece. Lesvos is an island that received a large number of refugees, particularly from 2015-2018. Kitakis sought to help both the refugees and the local Greeks whose lives were altered by the arrival of so many newcomers.
Kitakis shared the island with many other international humanitarian organizations who had come to help. She realized that if she were ever going to do an art project involving people from all over the world, now was the time.
She got fabric and pens and started passing them out to people she met, refugees, locals and foreign visitors. Within two weeks she had received 100 quilt squares.
Kitakis continued the project after returning to the United States. She travels frequently between her home in Fairfield and New York and California, where she has family. She has set up tables in the Argiro Student Center on the campus of Maharishi International University, a treasure trove of international students eager to share a piece of their culture.
Kitakis said she hopes to do that again once COVID has passed, and to do it in the public schools as well. Sometimes she’ll take her art supplies to a park in town and ask strangers to draw a picture. Most are excited at the opportunity. She’s gotten squares from people ranging in age from as young as 4 months old to as elderly as 98 years.
Kitakis said the quilting has slowed in the past year due to the pandemic, with fewer people sending quilt squares from abroad. Kitakis said 10 quilters have helped her put these pieces of art together, and she’s always looking for more quilters. She said the next step will be locating a source of funding for the project, either in the form of a grant or a company sponsorship.
The quilts are not meant to be used as a blanket but should remain as a work of art kept on display. Kitakis said that, if they ever leave the possession of her organization ArtLife Society, it will be because they have become a permanent installation in a museum or because they have been auctioned off. Kitakis added that any money from an auction will go toward organizations dedicated to women’s international empowerment.