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We Adorn Our Community 2009

Project Description:

- Artist: Carolyn Elaine
Design Consultant: Nina Smoot-Cain
Sponsorship: City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs 1% for the Arts Program

- 75 sq. ft. Stained Glass Mosaic- Interior Installation


When entering the 7th District Police Station, soon to be built at 1400 W. 63rd Street, the “point of intersection” between the community and the police will be a multi tiered granite counter, approximately sixty five feet in length. The intent of this design is to stand between (with and beside) the police and the community as a “bridge” of hope and humanity. The art work, fabricated in flat opalescent glass mosaic will be installed directly on the vertical surface of this counter.


The flow of the quilt design, across the granite counter surface represents the truly multi tasking women of the Englewood community. They are not linear in their behavior and movement but expand from a centered and anchored self. This center is reflected in the Adinkra Symbol, Gye Nyame, which refers to the spiritual foundation of the community. The hands make real the human presence in this symbolic quilt. On the left end of the design, a child’s hand reaches back for the guidance of an adult. On the right, two hands extended in an effort to touch each other’s lives. The black and white checker pattern of the police is subtly used and woven strategically throughout the artwork as a reminder of their vow to “serve and protect”. The break in the flow of the design addresses the breaking of peace and harmony every time the community looses a citizen or an officer through an act of violence.


Three major design elements are included in the proposed art work. Inspiration was derived from 1) West African Adinkra symbols, 2) the notion of “quilting” as an art form that honors those who have preceded us and 3) the use of poetry as a vehicle to represent the voice of the community.


The Adinkra symbols have been embraced by Teamwork Englewood to be used in various ways throughout the community. These symbols have layers of meaning reflecting the virtues, wisdom and strength of our ancestry. Originally hand stamped in West African textiles to create beautiful patterned cloth, they remain aesthetically viable, enriching our cultural understanding and contribution. They hold the keys to the healing of the Englewood community.


The notion of “quilts and quilting”, remind us of their functional purposes – to warm and protect – as well as their aesthetic and cultural value. Quilts are both the signature of the individual and a banner of a community. They tell stories that are rich and inspiring. Often created with previously worn fabric from out of use clothing of family and friends, they may possess symbolic commemorative or metaphysical significance to their makers.


Quilts are often the result of a collaborative process of women working together – in dynamic flow – preserving and transmitting traditional values. Through meticulous connecting of pieces, the final product yields insight into the lives of the quilters. The process and the final product may represent the “piecing together” and “weaving together” of daily experiences such as raising children, grandchildren, caring for elder relatives, working and taking care of the home.


The third source of inspiration is the community of Englewood. Although Englewood’s history has been created by a distinct set of circumstances, it still manifests an unusual level of cultural coherence which has persisted through the years. The women of Englewood have been largely responsible for bridging generations and maintaining continuity in the community which has been assured partly by perseverance and dedication. They have inherited fron their ancestors, who sat in quilting circles, the audacity and genius to "make something from nothing".  This same spirit of survival and thriving remains evident in the commitment of many residents of Englewood today.


Finally, text borrowed from the literary works of nationally recognized historical figures such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorraine Hansberry, is used as the thread to solidify this design. Being cut from the same Englewood cloth, their contributions are woven into the fabric of the community. Both women are included in Englewood High School’s Hall of Fame. Excerpts from Black Love by Gwendolyn Brooks and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry have been hand painted onto stained glass and included in the mosaic. Additionally, an excerpt from a poem written by a living poet, born and raised in Englewood is also included, A Police Officer’s Prayer, by Cassandra Bradshaw.


Metaphorically the use of the “quilt” squares, allows the viewer to connect to our sense of history and humanity as a colorful subtext providing a vibrant visual frame work for community. The use of text within this design allows the viewer another way to derive meaning and symbolism from this artwork.  


Call to the Elders—
our customary grace and further sun
loved in the Long-ago, loathed in the Lately;
a luxury of languish and of rust.
Appraise, assess our Workers in the World, lest they
descend to malformation and to undertow.
Black love, define and escort our young, be means and
redemption, discipline.

Excerpt from Black Love
by Gwendolyn Brooks



" When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is."

                                                                                   - Excerpt from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A dream can come true
when you do your own part
be a positive human
though you’ve had a rough start
some young ones do listen
and welcome advice
they hunger for knowledge
and don’t think twice
of how they will look
to homeboys and homegirls
some kids do want chances
to live in this world.

Excerpt from A Police Officer’s Prayer
by Cassandra Bradshaw




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