Speaking of hope (as we have been all month), this week we chatted with Hollis Chatelain, internationally-renowned art quilter and co-founder of Imagine Hope, a dynamic nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering awareness through art.
Tell us a little about the Imagine Hope exhibition and organization.
The foundation Imagine Hope Worldwide was created in January—and it is a 501(c)3 as of last week!—but the idea of the Imagine Hope exhibition came about back in 2003. For years Reynald (my husband and business partner) and I had wanted to donate a percentage of the sales of my artwork to projects in Africa, but when I started having the monochromatic dreams that ended up being statement pieces, I started thinking about creating an exhibition to promote social awareness.
It was difficult to come up with enough quilts for this exhibition so from 2004 until 2008 we didn’t sell any of my major quilts in order to keep them for the show. During this time, we were working to figure out how to put the Imagine Hope exhibition together. We wanted to have a show with more than just the textiles so I found three photographers who were willing to participate and chose black and white photographs to enhance the colorful dreamlike quilts.
In 2007, I was invited to show six quilts and do a convocation speech at Berea College about activism and art. Then in 2008, Duke University invited me to show 10 quilts in the Duke Chapel. Both of these shows were very well received and the people at Duke Chapel worked very hard to set up a Day of Activism on the opening day of
the exhibition. (Here are some images of the quilts hanging in the Chapel and here is a link to the podcast of Dean Wells interviewing me in front of an audience in the Chapel.)
As time went on, Reynald and I realized that this way of educating people through art was touching more people than just giving a percentage of our sales to a project, and we started putting more and more energy into the exhibition. We made the decision that any money that would come from Imagine Hope would be donated back into the project with the hope that one day we would be able to fund art education projects about worldwide issues.
About two years ago, people started giving advice about how to make Imagine Hope a reality and actually show it at venues. Little by little that small team turned into a team of about 40 volunteers who are working to make this happen. Some of our team members are Marianne Fons, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Meg Cox, Amy Milne, Lisa Ellis, and Kathleen Glynn. We have a core of eight to ten people who do most of the work and the others help with advice, putting the word out, and a variety of tasks when we need them.
What has the reaction been to the exhibit?
So many people reacted quite strongly to my artwork with either emotional tears, or questions of how they could get involved (or both), that I started to realize that art is a great way to teach people about the issues. Quilts are soft and they seem to draw people in to look closer. The images that were appearing in my dreams were about issues that were difficult to bring up in everyday conversations. But the quilts seemed to be a great way to prompt these discussions. Many viewers didn’t even realize that there was a message in the quilts until they were looking closely at them. They were already involved with the imagery when they realized.
And would you mind sharing a little about yourself and your work?
About me personally, I’ve lived in Hillsborough, North Carolina, for 14 years. We moved here after spending 12 years in Africa and two years in Switzerland. I am an avid gardner and love tocook. My husband Reynald is my business partner. We’ve been together 30 years and met when I went to Africa with the Peace Corps in 1980. He rode his bicycle down from Switzerland and had been living in the village where I was assigned.
We have three children: Nadia, who was born in Togo (delivered by midwives by kerosene lamp). She is living with us right now after traveling and living in France, Switzerland, Kenya, and
California. My son Gael runs a hotel with his girlfriend in Bamako, Mali. They were traveling through Africa by motorcycle and decided to stop in Bamako (where Gael had lived for 3 years as a child) and ended up renovating a house and turning it into a hotel. It opened in January of this year.
My daughter Karen is a senior at UNC in Charlotte studying Communications but is more interested in designing her own line of clothing. She has a line of t-shirts that she is selling now.
For more on my background and work, visit my website.