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  • The Art of Fixing Broken Worlds
  • Heather G. Stoltz (bio)

quilts, socially engaged art, Jewish life, healing

Growing up, my parents led by example, making it clear that helping others is a necessary part of belonging to a community and the larger world. I tried to live those values as I entered adulthood, volunteering and then finding careers that allowed me to contribute in some way. But after trying several different careers, none seemed like the right fit for me and I was pulled to follow an artistic path. It is only natural that the artwork I create also responds to, and in some way, calls others to notice the injustices in our world. Jewish themes also naturally weave themselves into my work, as do the wonder and challenges of being a parent.

Broken World (Figure 1) was created in 2018, but the lone figure sitting in a tilted, fragmented world is fitting for this moment in 2020. As we all sit alone in our homes, the world outside looks grim. When we see massive societal problems like COVID-19, climate change, and systemic racism, it is easy to retreat into a corner and feel like nothing can be done to fix this broken world.

Similarly, in Protective Instincts (Figure 2), two parents protect their young children from the darkness swirling around them. Written in the dark section of the piece are some of the countless things from which parents wish to shield their children for as long as possible, including racism, antisemitism, cancer, gun violence, bullying, rape, and hunger. When I created this piece, my daughter was three years old and my son was one, and I didn’t want them to know that any of these problems existed. Yet, I felt a tension. While we’re lucky to be able to keep them in a protective bubble, I knew there would come a time that we would need to teach them about all of it; not all at once, but slowly, over the years, we will need to teach them about all of the problems this world contains. [End Page 72]

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Figure 1.

Broken World, 2018, Cotton Fabrics and Batting, Polyester Stuffing, Wire, 12” x 12” x 1.5”

At some point, children can no longer be protected and instead, they must be taught how to face the world and use kindness, empathy, and persistence to make the changes they want to see. As the rabbinic text Pirkei Avot reminds us, “you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (2:21). We cannot choose to sit by while so many others are suffering, and we must teach our children to do what they can to bring change to the world. Teach Them (Figure 3) shows the same family from Protective Instincts but this time they face the darkness together, ready to bring light to the dark world.

One of the challenges of trying to heal our world and make positive change is the fact that there are so many problems to address, it’s [End Page 73] impossible to know where to start. For me, I tend to focus first on the things that hit close to home.

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Figure 2.

Protective Instincts, 2017, Cotton and Polyester Fabrics and Batting, Polyester Stuffing, Wire, 30” x 30”

On December 14, 2012, my nephew was in first grade when someone burst into his school and shot 154 bullets in four minutes, killing twenty of his classmates and six school employees. In response, I made a series of art pieces about the shooting and the many school shootings that have occurred since. Most recently, in 2018, I created Innocence Lost (Figure 4), which contains one black piece of fabric for each of the 392 school shootings that happened in the six years following the one at Sandy Hook Elementary. The unfinished edges and loose threads ask how many more will there be before real changes are made to prevent further shootings. [End Page 74]

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Figure 3.

Teach Them, 2017, Cotton and...


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pp. 72-81
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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