The History of Crochet Jam
When I was growing up in North Carolina, I helped my paternal grandmother, Celia Jones Taylor (1896–1982) make quilts. My memory of quilt-making with her is one of my fondest childhood experiences, because I was embraced, important, and respected. I was a little black boy hiding my queer self from my family during the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South in the 1960s and before the turbulent years of the Civil Right Movement that spread throughout the country.
Crochet Jam is about bring people together to participate in crocheting large free-form rag rugs in public that's rooted in a cherished childhood memory. My grandmother let me add any color or pattern I wanted to her quilts. It didn't matter if the strip of fabric that I selected did not fit the color scheme or any particular standard quilt-making pattern—that wasn't important. Togetherness, sharing stories and feelings while calming interacting was important. There was no judgement, and she resisted trying to tell me which colors or patterns to add. Our quilting bees were calm, relaxing, and peaceful, just the type of atmosphere a confused little black queer boy needed when the world outside of her house was often negative, hostile, and unforgiving.
I decided to start a community-art project that enabled groups of people to collectively work on a piece of art with a focus on relaxation and human connection, done in public with strangers. Crochet Jam is an activity that engendered compassion and warmth. I want participants to be in a creative mindset without anyone dictating the creative process nor concerned about the finished product. Crochet Jams are how I make liberation a form of art.
Ramekon O’Arwisters, a native of Kernersville, North Carolina, is a curator of exhibitions at SFO Museum (SFOM). O'Arwisters started at SFOM in 1996 and joined the curatorial staff in 2007. O’Arwisters earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Div. from Duke University. He has published artwork, poetry, and short stories in Zyzzyva, James White Review, and in the anthology Paper Thin/Soul-Deep: A Collection of Personal Letters and Journal Entries of African-American Men. Prior to joining SFOM, O’Arwisters was the curator and gallery director for the Richmond Art Center (RAC), in Richmond, California, where he organized numerous exhibitions including Alternating Currents: An Exploration in Technology and Spirituality (1994) an exhibition that addressed the continuum between the two, as opposed to the polarity, demonstrating how artists continue to take advantage of current technology to increase their ability to express themselves. In 1995, California sculptor Robert Ortbal’s exhibition, As Above, So Below, was an artistic investigation on concepts of spirituality using natural materials. Preceding his tenure at the RAC, O’Arwisters was gallery director at the San Francisco African American Historical Society. He has served on the curatorial committee at Root Division and SOMArts, and was a panelist for the San Francisco Arts Commission, Murphy and Cadigan Fellowship Awards, and Visions from the New California, an initiative of the Alliance of Artists Communities. In addition to his work as a curator, he is also an award-winning artist, and has earn grants from the San Francisco Foundation, the San Francisco Art Commission Cultural Equity Program, and Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialogue, New York, New York. He is a 2014 Eureka Fellow, awarded by the Fleishhacker Foundation, San Francisco.