Reconstruction

Reconstruction

Kathryn Clark, Washington, DC Foreclosure Quilt

Completed early this year, Washington, DC Foreclosure Quilt is Kathryn Clark’s latest work in a series. The red rectangles represent residential lots lost to foreclosure. Photo: Kathryn Clark

Even if the official record says that the recession ended in 2009, its impact is still all around – particularly for those who lost their homes. Foreclosure is devastating for all of the obvious reasons, but its effect on the surrounding community and on the national psyche may be less evident. Does the neighborhood feel different? Does home ownership feel less attainable? What lessons must we remember moving forward, lest this all happen again?

Kathryn Clark’s Foreclosure Quilts series serves as both a chronicle of our times and an illustration of how home repossessions have hollowed out so many American cities. The scaled maps lay bare the struggle that cities across the country have faced, peeling back the layers of politics and media spin that so often dominate conversations about the downturn. Like the recession itself, Clark leaves no region untouched, with quilts examining Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC, among other cities.

“I wanted to show the foreclosures in map form but needed to find an accessible way to present the maps, and quilts were the answer,” says Clark, a former urban planner, who lives in San Francisco. “I chose to hand-sew the quilts rather than using a sewing machine, as a more intimate way to reveal the crisis.”

At their most basic and magical, quilts are about making something from scraps and cast-offs. By committing these records to cloth, Clark is a dutiful historian. By managing to make something lovely and interesting, she reminds us that it’s possible not only to salvage but also to create anew. Cities still in recovery would do well to follow Clark’s lead: Gather up what’s left, and make something that will last.