On the morning of September 11, 2001, East Village resident Drunell Levinson remembers the feeling of astonishment on hearing that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, less than one mile south of her home. Like many others, she could not process that reality until she saw the footage on television at her workplace on 34th Street and 5th Avenue. Together, Levinson and her coworkers watched the unfolding events in disbelief until they were advised to return to their homes.
While returning to her apartment, Levinson observed injured survivors and terrified eye witnesses fleeing uptown. Once the depth of the tragedy became apparent, Levinson felt a strong desire to do something helpful but was uncertain how to proceed. As a fabric artist and quilter, she was not qualified to help with rescue and recovery efforts, and blood donation centers were already glutted with volunteers. But a call from a friend and fellow quilter, Sarah Roberts, gave Levinson an idea. Having recently completed Ph.D. research at NYU on the history of mourning arts and the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt project, she conceived a September 11 Quilts Memorial that would bring together the work of artists from around the world. Levinson hoped that the quilts, inspired by the artists’ own mourning, would enable viewers to persevere in the wake of their shock and sorrow, and develop a renewed appreciation of life.
Levinson announced the September 11 Quilts Memorial project on a website she created especially for that purpose. Calling on volunteers to submit 3’x 6’ or 3’x 3’ quilt panels, she left the choice of materials and the interpretation to the individual artists. Levinson separated her work into two parallel activities: The first was to raise awareness of the project, solicit volunteers and organize public exhibitions; the second was to make a documentary of the participants’ experiences of the September 11th 2001 event, and to explore how these experiences motivated them to create art. By September 10, 2002, the project consisted of 94 unique quilts accompanied by artists’ statements, photographs, memorabilia, emails, and a dedicated website.
Over the next two years, the quilts were displayed as an ensemble in fourteen exhibitions across the United States, as well as in a special presentation in Japan. In addition, Levinson created a 20-minute documentary video entitled “September 11 Quilts: Mending a Diverse Community of Artists.” The September 11 Memorial Exhibition quilts, supporting materials, and documentary were officially donated to the National September 11 Memorial Museum, forming an important addition to the Museum’s growing collection of art made in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.