…ONE STITCH AT A TIME

Chai Quilt
coordinator Pat Pugrant stands in front of the finished work, to be
officially introduced at the Breman Museum on Sept. 30.

On Sept. 30, the Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum will be displaying the Chai Quilt. The name of the project – coming from the Hebrew word for “life,” which doubles as a symbol of good luck and a representation of the number 18 – symbolizes the 18 women of valor depicted on the quilt.

At the upcoming event, Pat Pugrant, the quilt’s coordinator, will share her insights on the quilt’s subjects, all of whom worked in their own ways to improve the lives of those in their communities. Those honored include Lilly Abroamowitz, Barbara Asher, Ruth Ferst Byck, Betrty Cantor, Helen Cavalier, Rae Alice Cohen, Vida Goldgar, Betty Goodfriend, Lola Lansky, Annie Lazarus, Rose Esserman Levin, Lilo Meyer, Rose Nachman, Laura Rosenberg, Beverly Shmerling, Sadell Sloan and Mary Tenenbum Neff.

“It was important to me to include Vida and others in this quilt,” Pugrant said. “Many of my friends had passed on, and I wanted to honor them. There are politicians, community workers; people not just from Atlanta, but across the state.”

Pugrant’s Pivotal Piece

This is not a new kind of work for Pugrant; several years ago, Breman Museum archivist Sandy Abrams approached her with the idea of crafting a quilt to recognize great women whose lives spanned the era from 1850 to the present. These were not to be just famous people, but “ordinary” women who lived their lives in heroic ways.

Pugrant accepted the challenge gladly. She had been a reading specialist in DeKalb County until a series of serious health challenges cut her career short.

As she set about the project, she found herself especially intrigued by the image of Roz Penso Cohen, another Atlanta woman whose life was cut short by health issues.

“It was important to include her,” Pugrant said. “Every year, I’d see articles about a luncheon in her honor, and I didn’t know anything about her. I wanted to know the reason.

“I found she’d been a volunteer with the National Council of Jewish Women with a special interest in interfaith work, and it was this that was being honored. I began to find there were many whose stories I could share.”

With an image in her mind of what she wanted, Pugrant met with friends – including the Shalom Quilters in Atlanta as well as non-Jewish quilters in north Georgia and North Carolina – to execute it. Upon its completion, she traveled with the “Women of Valor” quilt, using it as an outreach for the Museum. She took it to churches, outreach programs, Hadassah meetings and “anywhere people wanted me.” She kept books in which those she shared with share their own experiences and reminiscences.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been honored to receive an honorarium for the Museum,” Pugrant said. “All the money for this quilt has been contributed by those who’ve invited me to speak.”

She sees the quilt as a networking tool: People want to relate to people, learn about others, hear stories and tell their own stories.

Working on Her Latest Masterpiece

Pugrant began her research for the Chai Quilt last year, talking to family members and friends who gave her beautiful insight into women’s lives. The piece took 10 months from idea to finished work; most of the blocks are hand-appliquéd, hand-embroidered, beaded and embellished.

Thousands of hours of loving stitchery were involved, and the result is a dynamic 21st-century rendition of a centuries old women’s handicraft. Pugrant is excited that family members of honorees are coming from as far away as Boston, Tennessee, Alabama and other relatively distant locales; she’s even been in touch with some who live in Jerusalem.

All of this to see how their cherished family members are being honored in this quilt, which will become part of the Breman’s permanent exhibit and serve as a living legacy and inspiration for future generations of women.

Editor’s note: The public is invited to the Sun., Sept. 30 program, to be held at 2 p.m. at the Breman Museum (1440 Spring St.). General admission is free for Breman members or $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for students.

By Suzi Brozman
AJT Columnist