The simple, childlike shapes are pieced together with brightly colored fabric; the stories they tell include both joy and pain.The story quilts, made by refugees who have found a home in Idaho, are on exhibit now at the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History; two of the refugee artisans will be presenting at a reception Wednesday.
Maria Shefa, one of the artisans whose story quilt is on display, grew up in the hills of northern Afghanistan where she lived with her family. After graduating from high school, she attended university in Kabul, where she remembers the green trees and air that was sweet with the fragrance of blooming flowers.
All of that changed when the Taliban came. She was 29 when they took over the city and immediately closed all schools, including the high school where she taught chemistry. She was forced to remain at home with her six young children and couldn’t leave unless she was with her husband or brothers — even then, she was to be completely covered. Her quilt bears the memory of a bus trip where one woman was not.
“The bus stopped and one lady was not covered as much,” said Shefa, explaining that the woman’s covering was different and that part of her face was showing.
“One Talib came out and then two more and they beat the lady saying, ‘Why are you not covered like we want? Why do you have a different cover?,’ ” Shefa said.
As harsh as the restrictions and ensuing punishments were, there were other reasons their family fled the country.
“I couldn’t live inside covered,” said Shefa. “I was educated, my husband was educated and I wanted my kids to be educated — not to spend their days just inside their home.”
When their youngest was less than 2 years old, the family left for Pakistan where they spent four years before arriving in Boise in 2000. Since then, all six of her children have graduated from university and two of them have gone on to get master’s degrees.
“I’m so happy because I wanted my kids to study and all my kids finished,” Shefa said.
Shefa loves her life in Boise, but she misses being with her whole family, which is now scattered around the globe. She went back to Afghanistan a few years ago to visit her brother and was surprised and saddened by the differences.
“Before the war everything was nice and good. The people were nice and good. But now it’s not like that. People have changed, everything has changed,” Shefa said.
Three years ago, Shefa started sewing classes with Artisans for Hope. The organization teaches textile skills, English as a second language, community integration and business skills, said Joan Cloonan, one of the founders. They create and sell the products that are made by those who come to the center.
A few years ago, they began creating story quilts. Volunteers worked with the women as they told their stories and sketched out a picture that would translate the story into fabric. Over several months, refugees from different countries worked together as they pieced together fabric scraps resulting in story quilts that are now on display.
“Everybody enjoyed it and it was therapeutic in a lot of ways,” Cloonan said.
The story quilts have been an ongoing project since then, with around 30 on display in the exhibit. Some were lost in a fire that burned an exhibit in Boise, but are documented as posters. The stories vary from person to person and country to country, but are joined by a common thread.
“All of them feel grateful to be where they are safe and free,” Cloonan said.
If you go:
WHAT: “This is My Home Now: Narrative Textiles from Idaho Newcomers”
WHEN: Reception at 4:30 p.m., presentation at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Exhibit runs through March 12.
WHERE: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St. in Lewiston
“This Is My Home Now” will be on exhibit April 7 to May 11 at the Third Street Gallery in Moscow, with a reception 5 to 7 p.m. April 7. The Third Street Gallery is located at 206 E. Third St. and is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.