Learning, piece by piece

Quilters contribute a little bit of Southeast life to a cultural exchange with Bolivia

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2000

The Alaska State Museum has been inundated with quilts.

``We've had a flood of quilts here,'' said Lisa Golisek, visitor services coordinator at the museum.

The quilts, to be sent to orphanages in Bolivia, are the focus of ``Hearts and Hands Across The Americas,'' a program created by artist Ann Miletich. A free reception will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the museum.

Under Miletich's guidance, children in Juneau and other Southeast Alaska communities drew designs on quilt squares that were then pieced together by volunteers. The quilts will be on display at the museum through Feb. 25.

Golisek and Miletich expected 60 or 70 quilts. Instead they received more than 100.

Miletich said the designs, most of them scenes of Southeast life, will help Bolivian children understand Alaskans. She said Bolivians have a skewed impression of America, a view based almost entirely on what they see on television.

``They see us as some kind of looming country where everyone's really wealthy. Kids (there) forget that kids here are just kids like them,'' she said.

Quilts from Juneau, Skagway, Hoonah, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Sitka will be displayed at the museum. Miletich led workshops in all these communities, guiding children in making quilt squares.

Before the kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students start drawing on fabric in her workshops, Miletich gets them thinking.

``When the kids do their drawings, we talk about who we are as people, our own cultural heritage, and their families. When they draw, I want to see who they are as people,'' she said.

The drawings feature self-portraits and activities such as boating, fishing and skiing, and scenes of snowstorms, mountains, fish and trees.

Hearts and Hands Across the Americas is not limited to Alaska. Since the beginning of the current school year, Miletich's has led workshops in 31 schools in six states, including Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, California and Washington. About 2,500 children participated.

``One of the central questions is `What is wealth?','' Miletich said. ``The kids in Southeast had some of the most wonderful answers anywhere. Family was answered lots of times. Fish, clean environment, forests, plants and animals. It was so amazing.''

She said that although Nebraskans also had ``very earth-based'' answers, most children measured wealth in terms of cars, television, Pokemon cards and money.

When Miletich heads to Bolivia in March, she expects to bring about 400 quilts. More than 100 will be from Southeast Alaska.

``A lot of the Alaska quilts are going to one facility,'' Miletich said.

That facility, in Cocha Bamba, Bolivia, is an orphanage for boys, but these boys will never be adopted. Miletich said the Bolivian government only allows children under the age of six to be legally adopted, and most of these boys are in their early teens.

The orphanage is run by a Dutch nun and has a vocational school that teaches trades.

Miletich, a professional artist, has lived in Juneau and Skagway off and on for the past 15 years. She was introduced to Bolivia when she volunteered with a humanitarian medical-dental program. In 1995 she worked with a group of dentists and established contact with orphanages in Bolivia.

Rainsong, an art gallery at 291 S. Franklin St., will have a show of Miletich's original paintings from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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