Lizzy Rockwell from Bridgeport, Connecticut grew up in an art family. Both of her parents worked from home, illustrating and writing children’s books during the 1960’s through the 1980’s. She and her siblings were surrounded by the process and culture of art making as children, and she remembers drawing and writing stories at an early age. Another happy memory is learning to quilt with her mom and sister at a quilt frame set up in the living room, chatting and listening to television shows in the background.
Lizzy went on to study art and art history in college, then drawing and illustration in art school, and then began her own career as a magazine and book jacket illustrator. The first children’s book she illustrated was “Apples and Pumpkins,” written by her mother, Anne Rockwell. After starting her own family, Lizzy began teaching art to children in the Norwalk community, offering her skills and passion in hopes of encouraging creativity as a means to self-confidence and social connection.
In her teaching work, Lizzy noticed that when the kids were engaged in drawing or painting, they were more likely to chat with each other or with her. Just as she noticed her teenagers were more likely to open up to her during a car ride, she noticed the young art makers were more open to making social connections when their eyes and hands were busy. She realized quilting had that same way of engaging adults. Lizzy developed the idea for an intergenerational community quilt project and proposed it to Rev. Jim Carter, a leader at the Norwalk Children’s Foundation. Carter loved the idea and helped her secure grant funding to launch Peace by Piece: The Norwalk Community Quilt Project in 2008.
Many hands come together to work on quilts at Peace by Piece. Participants in the program range in age from 8 to 90 and come to the Senior Court Housing Complex in Norwalk on weekday afternoons to work together. Adult volunteers with quilting skills serve as mentors for youth in the program. Local quilt shop owner Christie Ruiz of Christie’s Quilting Boutique have been instrumental in supporting Peace by Piece through fabric donations and loan of their classroom space and sewing machines.
The quilts made by the youth with the help of their adult mentors are given as gifts, designed for personal use, or used for fundraising for the program. The group has also completed seven collaborative quilts for public installation. These large, colorful and dynamic quilts, often with text and illustrations, are now in the permanent collection at of Norwalk Community College, Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk Public Library, South Norwalk Branch Library and Newfield Library in Bridgeport, CT. Rockwell designs the installation quilts and uses fabric painted by youth and adults from the team. She says, “A collaborative quilt is a metaphor for the community that created it, showing that good things happen when many come together as one.”
Community Room Quilt
The group also holds public quilting bees to invite more people in the community to experience the making of a communal artwork. Denyse Schmidt, well-known quilt designer from neighboring Bridgeport, CT has been an avid supporter of Peace by Piece since 2009. Every year since 2012 she has invited members of the group to her studio to be part of a quilting demonstration and bee during the annual Bridgeport’s city-wide Open Studios.
Having Peace by Piece come to my studio during our annual Open Studios is not only the highlight of the weekend for me, it’s some of the most inspiring hours of the year! The group is a delightful mix of ages, and they radiate a beautiful spark of creative energy and joy, drawing even the shiest beginner to the quilt frame. It’s such a gift to witness and to be a part of their loving circle. I’m always blown away with all that Lizzy accomplishes, her commitment and selflessness are an aspiration! –Denyse Schmidt
Peace by Piece recently celebrated their 11th anniversary. In 2011 they were a recipient of a Community Block Foundation Grant from the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, and in 2015 they were awarded a grant from the National Quilting Association. They are sponsored by the Norwalk Housing Authority and in the last six years have relied most heavily on volunteerism, and donations from individuals. Lizzy created a webinar in 2017 for the Modern Quilt Guild titled “How to Build a Community Quilt.” Modern Quilt Guild members can access it here.
What’s next for Lizzy? “I am currently working on a picture book based on Peace by Piece, which will be published by Random House in 2020,” she says. “So now I am spending time with my friends around the clock, in and out of the quilt house! As I try to capture their likenesses, personalities, and relationships on paper, I am struck anew by just how special these people are to me and to each other. This started as a social experiment of sorts, and has turned into an ever expanding family. Quilting is a unique art form, fueled by generosity, spontaneity and collaboration.”
Contributed by Amy Milne, Quilt Alliance Executive Director