Quilt displays all the anger and aggression a wife felt toward cheating husband


April 28, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

ROCKVILLE — Rockville--When Katharine Brainard stitched the central, explanatory block into her quilt, it was clear to her that it was finally finished. Her handiwork. And her marriage.

Tender little red letters embroidered on a patch of black fabric pretty much sum it up:

My husband bought himself a Mercedes.

My husband bought himself a boat.

He spent weekends on the boat "alone."

"It's so relaxing," he said.

One Friday night, I packed milk and cookies and took the kids out to the marina for a bedtime snack with Daddy.

We found Daddy naked with a 23-year-old secretary from Daddy's office.

"THIS IS MY BOAT," he yelled. "And what I do on MY BOAT is MINE!!!"

Enough said.

Daddy moved out. Mommy went into therapy. And just before the divorce was made final last December, Mommy spent two frenzied weeks making a quilt, a spectacularly vivid "divorce quilt" that documents her feelings, her fantasies and all the gory details of their year of separation.

"I knew the divorce was coming up and I wanted to be able to handle it," says Ms. Brainard, 34, a spunky, pixieish mother of three and professional quilter who admits she's always had a "slightly twisted" sense of humor. "This was my way of doing it."

In one block of the bold, roughly 6-by-8-foot quilt -- which was recently sold to a Potomac couple (happily married) for $5,000 -- frogs, bats and insects are spewing out of a horrid face with the telling words, "he lies."

In another of the blocks, a voodoo doll of the ex -- portrayed as balding -- lays with hatpins stuck in strategic body parts, including a black heart. "That was a very painful block of him," explains Ms. Brainard, of Rockville, pointing out the skulls and bones and broken red beads that surround the figure. "I had fun doing it. I was laughing."

For another especially gratifying block -- one of two devoted to Kitty, the aforementioned other woman -- the quiltmaker slathered paint on a tire of her station wagon and drove over a fuzzy kitty-cat cut-out, covering it with tire tracks.

"I felt all this aggression and anger when I found them, especially since she was 10 years younger than me," explains Ms. Brainard. "That didn't seem too fair."

She'd had fantasies of seeing her ex-husband and Kitty -- who are still together, Ms. Brainard says -- walking along the sidewalk hand in hand. She'd drive by in her hulking vehicle and . . . whoops-a-daisy, lose control of the car and run down the amorous pedestrians.

"I really liked that idea," she confides.

The tire tracks were the next best thing. "It just felt so good. People really relate to that block."

As they do -- or at least as some women do -- to a block entitled "A Happy Thought," a segment she refers to as "a kind of party block." Amid sequins and other confettilike decorations, a spirited message reads:

"Once upon a time there was a man who lied. So his most prized possession turned black and fell off. Then he died. And his wife lived happily ever after."

In another of the 15 scenes from a divorce, her husband of 10 years is depicted as a snake in the grass.

Even the "snake" himself, who wishes to remain anonymous, has managed to see through the tall, condemning grass to the humor in the work, and has said he believes the project to be "healing" and "cathartic" for his former wife.

A few spectators, however, have been less than amused by the diarylike patchwork, displayed last month in the window of G Street Fabrics in Rockville, put off by the bitterness of the emotions and the publicness of such private matters.

One Catonsville man, responding to a National Public Radio segment describing the quilt, said he thought such "transference of anger . . . is a hallmark of sadism, and suggests the need for a psychiatrist's couch rather than an art gallery window."

But mostly, says Ms. Brainard, whose more conventional quilts have been exhibited in museums from Washington to Japan, people respond to it with delight. "I get phone calls from women and letters about courage and strength, saying how much they admire me."

One woman stood before the quilt and cried. "She told me, 'This is like one woman standing up and telling many women's truth.' "

The quilt's new owners, Harold and Carole Goldstein of Potomac, two therapists and contemporary art collectors who have been married for more than 28 years, immediately fell in love with the quilt when they saw it at the fabric store.

"I said, 'I love it. Buy it,' " says Mrs. Goldstein, a clinical social worker, whose psychologist husband purchased the wall hanging for her as a birthday gift.

They were attracted to the quilt, which hangs in their living room, for its bold visual appeal, for its humor, but also for its value as a constructive expression of powerful feelings.

"We deal with this kind of stuff all the time," says Dr. Goldstein. "It's more than a divorce quilt. It's almost a betrayal quilt -- betrayal of the American Dream, betrayal of dreams, wishes, hopes and expectations."

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