Spotlight: Jeanne Hewell-Chambers and The 70,273 Project

The 70273 Project IQF Special Exhibit 2017 fJPG

Spotlight: Jeanne Hewell-Chambers and The 70,273 Project

The 70,273 Project quilts create a moving display. Jeanne Hewell-Chambers created a project with many contributors. The quilts remind us of a dark time in history when people were perceived as “other” and suffered horrible consequences at the hands of cruelty.

The 70273 Project IQF Special Exhibit 2017 fJPG

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers, FounderTell us how you came up with the idea for the 70,273 project.

It’s actually more like the idea came up with me! There I was – just sitting on the sofa, stitching some of Nancy’s (my mentally disabled sister-in-law) drawings while watching a World War II documentary. My attention drifted (as it wants to do), but it drifted back to the documentary just as they devoted maybe 3 sentences to something called Aktion T4.

I heard the scant few words they spent on Aktion T4, and at that moment, a Big, Fat, Crazy Idea whooshed in, perched on my shoulder, and whispered, “Listen, Shug, and listen closely ’cause this is how you’re gonna’ be spending the next several years of your life and all your children’s inheritance.” Then it showed me everything, including the finished quilts hanging together, and I launched the 70273 Project ten days later . . . before I had time to think myself out of it.
The 70273 Project IQF Special Exhibit 2017 g

Are you a quilter or embroiderer? How did you start? 

I started with embroidery umpteen years ago. Tried my hand at quilting back in the 80’s, but didn’t like it – quilting, the fabric I selected, what I created.

Only when I revisited it in 2012 did I realize that I didn’t like quilting because I’m not smart enough to make all those corners match and meet like traditional quilters do. When Nancy started drawing in June 2012, I knew immediately that I wanted to stitch her drawings and turn them into quilts.
This time I turned my hands loose, and boy was that the right thing to! Haptic intelligence has never failed me, and it didn’t disappoint this go-round. I was able to combine embroidery and art quilting. This time I filled my studio not with angst but with chortles.

What’s the name of the documentary you were watching when the idea for 70273 came and lit on your shoulder?

It’s a well-done, comprehensive, multi-part documentary called Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution. The few sentences about this atrocity appears about 2/3 of the way through the first episode of the first season. (They don’t mention the number 70,273. That came from my subsequent research.)

The 70273 Project Quilts being made in the UK Photo by Wendy Dawes

Quilts made in the UK; photo by Wendy Dawes

How can people participate? What do you need?

I need everything, and I’m not just whistling Dixie (what we say around here for “lying”.) I still need blocks, I need people to piece and quilt and finish, and I need people to make entire quilts – block quilts, Middlings, Minis, or Long Skinnies – and send them to me. (See links for each below.)

Financial donations help a great deal because shipping 50+ quilts around the world gets real expensive real fast. I also need people to help spread the word, to make suggestions about where I need to spread the word (like doing this good and welcomed interview, submitting articles, doing some storytelling, etc.). I always welcome stories about Why This Matters, and always appreciate smiles and hugs – be they physical or digital.

The 70273 Project Quilt 5 Made by students and staff at Blanchard Valley Center in Findlay Ohio
What will you do with the quilts when you reach your goal?

Another good question! The quilts will continue their journey. . . traveling the world till we run out of calendar, telling the historical story of the atrocity known as Aktion T4; reframing the way many people still fear and discount those with differing abilities then and now; and encouraging people to spill kindness and compassion in the world at every opportunity moving us towards a time when we talk not of disabilities but simply of people. (I also have a Phase 2 of The 70273 Project!)

What has been your biggest ah-ha on this adventure?

I’ve ridden this beautiful rock we call Earth around the Sun so many times that I don’t know if it’s ah-ha moments or the Sweet Spirit of Surprise leaving me sticky note reminders to kick the shutters off my heart and trust in the goodness of people and to stay awake and be on the lookout for miracles and magic.

What has been the most surprising things you’ve learned with this project?

I am kinda’ embarrassed to tell you that I was gobsmacked and heart-warmed to have blind people making blocks . . . which just goes to prove my philosophy that we are the ones who cast the disabilities with our limited thinking. An aside . . . we are also creating Touch Quilts for those with visual impairments.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

You don’t have to do it all by yourself. Ask. (And Be Good . . . which comes with a story that’s best told in person.)

You were a creative sole before this project. What are your favorite mediums?

Cloth. Always, always, always cloth. From quilters to women who took-in sewing to put food on the table, I come from a long line of cloth workers. It’s in my DNA.

How do you think this project will reflect on your future creative projects?

Now there’s a really good question I’ve never, ever considered. Hmmmm. I don’t know if this answers it or not, but it’s what’s begging me to tell you: As The 70273 Project explodes internationally, I spend more and more of my time on leadership and management, leaving precious little time for cloth work.

I hereby renew my vow to set office hours and spend my night time togetherness with The Engineer (my husband) working on my own cloth creations and the ongoing collaboration with Nancy in which she draws and I stitch her drawings. Plus, I have lots of ideas for two art quilt series I’ve had to set aside: Communion (non-representational quilts expressing what it’s like to converse with Nancy and The Rinse Cycle: Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life.

I also think I’ll get back to writing – books about The 70273 Project and I’ll finish the book I’ve spent my life researching about what happened on and after May 5, 1933 when 5 armed bandits held my Granddaddy (the town’s banker), Grandmother, my daddy, the uncle I am named after, my Great Grandmother, and the midwife hostage overnight until they could get into the vault the next morning.

It’s an interesting story that turns me towards such topics as why are some people resilient and get on with their life (as my grandparents did) while others spent the rest of their life as victims and how things that happened way back then before I was even a twinkle in my daddy’s eye helped shape me into who I am today. There’s also the aspect of the local bandit. I still need to identify him (or confirm my suspicions about his identity).

And getting back on the stage with my one-woman performances about The 70273 Project and Pink Galoshes Women – Gals Who Aren’t Famous but Should Be. (If anybody’s interested in hearing some stories, let me know!)

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I believe that the more you way “Thank you”, the more reasons you have to say “Thank you.” I thank y’all for being such good people and such good sisters, for coming to The 70273 Project Special Exhibit at the International Quilt Festival and sticking around to talk, for leaving the exhibit with the idea to make a quilt with your sister and her neighbors, for these good questions and for making the world a better place. {Editors Note: I attended the International Quilt Show with one sister, and our youngest sister has Down’s Syndrome. I’ll make a quilt with her, and other amazing disabled adults, to help share the story.}

Here are all of the ways you can learn more and participate:

Connect with The 70273 Project:

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers QuoteMake blocks and quilts:

Read more about The 70,273 Project on Create Whimsy.

{Editor’s Note: I was personally moved by this project that Jeanne made for The 70,723 Project. I talked to Jeanne at the show and she told me how she found this antique baby dress at a thrift store, and it spoke to her. She appliquéd it to a white background, and then embellished with the red X’s, remembering the murdered children.}


The 70273 Project

Close-ups of her amazing work:

The 70273 Project Quilt 14 Closeup 1








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