Quilting for peace

An expert in Israeli cinema turns her hand to embroidery.

Amy Kronish quilts (photo credit: VICTORIA KEZRA)
Amy Kronish quilts
(photo credit: VICTORIA KEZRA)
For the past 10 years, Amy Kronish has made what she calls “coexistence quilts,” combining her own quilting techniques with the hand-sewn embroidery of Beduin and Palestinian women to make meaningful pieces of functional art.
She never imagined that quilting would come to obsess her and turn into a political statement.
“They call me ‘the designer’ in Hebrew,” she says of the women of Desert Embroidery, where she gets many of her handmade pieces. “I take their things and I design beautiful things around it. They make things with their embroidery; they make pillowcases, beautiful bags, stunning things that they sell in their shops. But my pieces are much different, in that I take inspiration from their work and then I go forward.”
Kronish melds craftsmanship and symbolism in her cozy Jerusalem apartment, stocked with books, pictures and of course, quilts. Now she makes quilts of varying sizes, table runners and other crafts. People commission her for the quilts, which incorporate themes of unity and peace. Her commissions come from people of all religions and walks of life, and are often purchased as celebratory gifts for weddings and births.
At first, she says, she was nervous about the reception her pieces would receive.
“To tell you honestly, I was concerned that Palestinians would find it a little patronizing of a Jewish woman who takes this handmade material made by a Palestinian women and then puts it into her work.
I think they would say, ‘How dare she exploit our national artwork or handicraft,’” she says. “But two of my biggest customers are Palestinian.”
Originally from New York, Kronish and her husband spent a year of graduate school in Jerusalem and knew it was the place they ultimately wanted to settle for good.
“It took us more than 10 years to get back here, but we are committed to being part of the society and – maybe naïvely – we believed it was a society where we could make a difference,” she says.
“I’m the assistant to the quilter,” jokes her husband, Ron, as he leaves for the day. “I help choose colors and layouts.
I’m the adviser.”
Kronish may not have started out with a career that would suggest an aptitude for handicrafts, but it was a path that required an eye for artistry.
She first began working at the Jerusalem Cinematheque as a cura - tor of Jewish and Israeli film, writing books, lecturing and becoming considered an expert in Israeli cinema.
“As a professional woman, I would have thought quilting is like one of those cottage industries that women do that is not serious – and I got into it in a big way,” she laughs.
Surrounded by ornate quilts displayed on her couches, homemade table runners and pillowcases, she recalls the origins of her start in quilting. “I have a friend who lost her husband, and she went abroad and went to a quilting exhibition, and they sold little kits for starter quilters. So she bought a kit and she said, ‘Let’s do it together,’ and I said, ‘Oh my God,’ but I was interested in going there and spending as much time with her as I could, because she was alone,” she recalls.
After a few months, she was hooked – and it wasn’t long before she decided to mix her hobby with ideology.
“At some point I decided that my quilting should reflect my politics. I’ve always loved this Palestinian embroidery that you see on the dresses the Beduin women wear, or on the pillows that they sell in the market. I decided to hunt down some women who would kind of be my partners, and I would use their embroidery as an element in my quilting.”
After deciding on a building-block quilt pattern for many of her coexistence quilts, a pattern that she says represents the building blocks for peace, she added the embroideries as the centerpieces to her creations. Not only are they a sign of unity between groups that share the land, the quilts also have a bond of womanhood.
As such, many of the embroideries used come from an organization called Desert Embroidery, which seeks to improve the lives of women living in Lakiya in the Negev. The profits from the crafts they sell go towards educational lectures and leadership programs for the women in the area. Kronish has spent time with the women who provide the inspiration for her works.
The women of Lakiya have even asked her to teach them quilting, which Kronish says would be a great next step to furthering the relationship between fellow artists.
“These women aren’t so much interested in that coexistence element, but they are interested in our getting along together in the same country. I’ve sat and talked to them. Their Hebrew is not great, but I’ve been learning Arabic. We sit and we talk to each other, and they tell me where to go in the Old City to buy fabric.
“It’s wonderful. We have a nice thing.”