Before a single stitch was made in 2008, organizers had to envision the project fully. They decided what people and events to depict, then vetted their canvases for historical correctness. They selected images to pull out as icons. They chose what to show on the smaller needlepoints. They sought the advice of historians and local needlepoint expert Hollis Minor.
And they had to raise funds.
So far, about $25,000 has been raised. That includes $2,500 toward the exhibit from Four Rivers: The Heritage Area of Annapolis, London Town & South County, as well as other grants. The group recently incorporated as a nonprofit in hopes of reaching $50,000 to complete the tapestries.
"When they're done, you'll be able to see the changes over time," Agee said. For example, the tapestry about to go on display shows a slave's shackled wrists to symbolize the slave trade in the 1700s. The one in progress depicts the shackles broken in a symbolic end of slavery in the 1800s.
Everyone on the project has been a volunteer, Agee said, except for artist Gail Bolden, who designed and handpainted the canvases.
The core stitching group now working on the 19th-century canvas usually gathers twice a week — but more than six showing up at once means elbow-room warfare. The quilting bee atmosphere alternates between silence and talk, about everything from family news to vacations. These people bond as they stitch. They've taken over Brown's kitchen for lunch and snacks, as no food is allowed near the canvas.
Note to needlepointers: Most of the stitching is basketweave, with continental used for detailed areas.
Note to non-needlepointers and people interested in community stitching: Tapestry needles are dull; there's no risk of bleeding on the canvas.