Exhibit shines light on dark side of mental health

Lois A. Sprague of Oceanside, Calif., depicts the face of depression in “Moody Blues,” one of 20 art quilts in a special exhibit titled “I’m Not Crazy.” The exhibit is part of the Denver National Quilt Festival VIII scheduled May 2–5 at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

“What Next?” shows a bewildered girl reacting to a long list of disorders that explain her unacceptable behaviors. The quilt was made by Kathleen McCabe of Coronado, Calif. To view all 20 quilts online, go to saqa.com, under Current Exhibitions.

“Bipolar 1: Loco” shows how a personality vacillates between confidence and paranoia. Sally McQuaid of Walla Walla, Wash., is the quilter.

Melinda Bula of El Dorado Hills, Calif., says “Good and Plenty” (her favorite candy) reminds her of a daily pill she must take so that she can see life vibrantly again.



■ WHAT: Denver National Quilt Festival VIII with contest quilts, special exhibits and a merchants mall

■ WHEN: May 2–5

■ HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

■ WHERE: Denver Merchandise Mart, 451 East 58th Ave., Denver

■ ADMISSION: $12; under 16 free; Sunday only, $10

■ INFO: quiltfest.com

But the brain is just another organ. It’s just a machine, and a machine can go wrong.”

— Candace Pert

The grieving parents of 6-year-old Emelie Parker recently met with her killer’s father, Peter Lanza, to try to make some sense of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Emelie and 19 other first-graders were killed by Adam Lanza, 20, who then turned his Bushmaster rifle on himself.

Robbie Parker said he and his wife wanted to talk with Adam’s dad because he was the only person who could answer their questions. The Parkers wouldn’t reveal details of the conversation, but they said they came away with a better understanding of the killer.

No motive has been given by authorities, but speculation has focused on Adam Lanza’s mental state.

Since the tragedy, the nation has focused on our gun-control laws, with a modicum of attention paid to understanding and treating ailments of the mind.

That makes the subject of mental illness especially fitting for a special exhibit of quilts scheduled May 2–5 at 
the Denver National Quilt Festival VIII.

Its curator, Kathy Nida with Studio Art Quilt Associates, chose the theme to expose the stigma that keeps people from admitting its effect on our loved ones or ourselves.

“Disorders as common as anxiety or depression, or less common, like schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, can have a devastating effect on families and friends, and on ourselves,” wrote Nida, of El Cajon, Calif., in the theme statement.

Negativity toward those with mental disorders — temporary or permanent — causes many to keep such a diagnosis hidden for fear of being labeled “crazy.”

Nida’s exhibit, titled “I’m Not Crazy,” includes experiences with mental illness through the eyes of caregivers, family, friends and the patients themselves.

She culled 20 pieces of art from 12 states and Canada and Switzerland from the original 128 entries.

The exhibit is among many displays to be shown at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

I’m sharing a few of them, along with the artists’ statements, with you today.

1. In “Moody Blues,” a quilt measuring 31 inches by 24 inches, Lois A. Sprague of Oceanside, Calif., depicts the face of depression.

“Mental illness has many different faces — being moody, having the blues, or real depression, it affects us all in one form or another,” Sprague says.

2. “What’s Next?” is the question quilt artist Kathleen McCabe of Coronado, Calif., asks in her 24-inch-square entry of a young woman’s forlorn face. Always a long list of “disorders” to explain “unacceptable” behaviors, McCabe writes in her statement.

3. Says Sally McQuaid of Walla Walla, Wash., of her “Bipolar 1: Loco” quilt measuring 32.5 inches by 48 inches: “Without warning, my personality vacillates between the fun-loving, confident and uninhibited ‘western’ side and the paranoid, depressed and frozen ‘eastern’ side. I may be bipolar, but am I crazy? Hell no. I’m ‘Loco.’ “

4. “Good and Plenty” by Melinda Bula of El Dorado Hills, Calif., shows the pink candies surrounding a psychoactive drug.
Her quilt measures 38 inches by 39 inches.
Bula writes: “Coming to the realization that I would need to take a pill for the rest of my life was a tough reality to accept, but knowing that it would give me back the ability to see things vibrantly and colorfully made the decision easy. My favorite candy, “Good and Plenty,” reminds me of that pill.”
Exhibit juror Sue Reno of Lancaster County, Pa., used three criteria to select the 20 pieces:
■ good craftsmanship
■ design sensibility
■ conceptual cleverness

“I was especially looking for work that had an emotive quality to draw the viewer into the scenario envisioned by the artist,” Reno says.

She also thinks this “I’m Not Crazy” exhibit will stimulate dialogue about mental illness and “our personal and civic responses to it.”

We can only hope that will be the case.

Email Sherida.


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