Written by Chelsea Rose Moore | All photos of quilt squares provided by Diane Canney

From Zoom meetings to temperature monitoring to mandatory masks, it’s no secret that 2020 has been a strange year for us all. During these trying times, Diane Canney, the owner of 50 West Winery and Vineyard, has been working to bring unity and hope to local communities through her COVID-19 U.S. Honor Quilt project.

Inspired by “mourning quilts” of past generations, Canney’s quilts serve as a historical record, a memorial to those affected by the virus, and a display of the heroes and faces of COVID. With a goal of making 100 quilts, her slogan is “together we will heal.” Her campaign is apolitical, designed simply to lift up and inspire. 

She referenced a New York Times article about COVID deaths that resonated with her. “There was a name and a sentence: ‘Joe Smith – loved to tinker with the old Ford,’” she said. “It was a tiny handful of the [COVID] deaths, but it was on the front page of the New York Times. It told you that there was a whole person behind the name.”

She wants her quilts to tell a similar story. She’s developing a database, with the story behind each quilt square pictured alongside it. “Quilts are the fabric of America,” she said. “I’d like to bring hope to different communities. We are not asking for money; it’s completely just about honoring. It’s kind of a message on fabric.” 

After a month of collecting quilt panels, she now has over 200. Quilt squares, which are 10” by 10”, have been submitted by a wide range of ages, from 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds. Canney even had a panel submitted by a fireman and his 2-year-old daughter. The quilts will be displayed in an online gallery and as “movable public art.” 

“When you are sick with COVID, you are isolated,” Canney said. “Even when you die, you can’t have a traditional funeral. There’s a lack of grieving. Who is going to remember [them]? They are not just statistics; they are people. We are going to have lots of people who are going to be forgotten.”

Caney has contacted schools, nursing homes and quilting associations to get the word out. She’s also been featured through local media, and she’s doing a National Call to Arts. “George Mason’s art department is working on a quilt as a way to thank frontline workers,” she said. “I’ve got nursing homes making them, third graders [and] sixth graders. I’m looking at having these be projects for kids at home. I’ll even give them fabric if they need it. Communities could make their own quilts.”

The COVID-19 U.S. Honor Quilt project is sponsored by the Artistic Fuel Foundation in Leesburg, Virginia, and the Loudoun Arts Council. Canney has reached out to the Smithsonian Institution for their support as well. 

To continue bringing hope to local communities, Canney spelled out the word “hope” in large letters — 8’ tall, 4’ wide and 30’ long — and covered them in quilt squares. The letters were displayed at the Loudoun Arts Film Festival in September. On Oct. 3, they were moved to Alexandria’s Art on the Avenue on Mount Vernon Ave., in front of the Del Ray Artisans Gallery. 

“I wanted to spell the word hope and take a picture, like ‘hope on a hill,’ ” she said. The images on the letters are designed to serve as a collective memory of the events we have lived through this year. 

“Strange things like putting the swab up your nose, temperature monitoring, Zoom meetings, everything [done] through a screen,” she said. “The images we all have lived through, the things we might forget about. [We’re] trying to capture those things as a flashcard for what we’ve lived through. It’s a very strange time, and things are so quick with media, [but] somewhere, people will have these images of how life was.”

Canney’s grassroots movement was sparked by her 95-year-old mother, Phyllis Liedtke, who lives in a retirement community in Florida. When Canney called her mother on her 95th birthday, disappointed that she couldn’t celebrate with her in person due to COVID visitation restrictions, her mother encouraged her to do something about it as a birthday gift to her. Liedtke lived through polio, small pox, and major wars, but had never lived through something as strange as the events surrounding COVID-19. She made the first quilt square for her daughter’s project to express her appreciation for medical professionals and frontline workers and honor those who suffered or died. ML

For more details, visit covid19ushonorquilt.org or email information@COVID19USHonorQuilt.org. Submit a photo of your quilt panel through the website for inclusion in the online gallery. Send quilt squares to Loudoun Arts, 215 Depot Ct. SE, 2nd Floor, Leesburg, Va 20175. Attention: Covid-19 Quilt Project. Find submission details online. Quilt squares will be accepted through 2020.