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New gallery exhibit at Northern Colorado tells the story of an immigrant through thread and fabric

By Josh Dasher
On January 28, 2013

  • The agriculture and other symbols of the immigrant experience are braided together through colorful representation. Samantha Valenzuela | The Mirror

The Los Hilos de la Vida, or "The Threads of Life," art exhibit can be viewed in Crabbe's Oak Room and Guggenheim in the Mariana Exhibit Room until March 13.

Describing the show as a display of quilts does no justice to what has been created out of a hodgepodge of fabrics and abstract material.

The true power of this gallery emerges with an attentive look, for each quilt is attached with a real story of an American immigrant. Themes run through the narrative quilts like threads, giving the viewer a chance to perceive the stories through the artist's eyes.

Molly Johnson Martinez, a UNC graduate and the creator of the project, told the story of one quilt, El Rancho que Nunca Tuve, or "The Ranch I Never Had."

"She was kidnapped from her home when she was 12, she was forced to stay in a cave and climb mountains," Martinez said. "Later, she was despoiled by her kidnapper and bore him children. Unable to return home, she later made it to America."

The quilt showed an idyllic farm and viscerally illustrated the author's dream.

The exhibit began in January 2005 when Martinez received a grant for the purpose of creating a literacy program for immigrant workers. She quickly realized it was important to give the students a project that they could proudly display to their families. After several failed attempts, she had the idea to make quilts. The amateur artists in her program have successfully sold hundreds of quilts as the exhibit has traveled all over the country.

"I wasn't going to be a teacher, I was going to be an artist," Martinez said. "But when you are part of something like this, it changes how you think."
Joan Shannon-Miller, director of UNC's art galleries, said the decision to bring the exhibit here was a result of the artist's talents and accomplishments.

"We were looking for UNC grads who had made a big impact in the world through art," she said.

The exhibit's impact has extended well beyond its original audience and has inspired start-ups all over the country.

Women2Women, a Greeley based program, is now using a similar approach to appeal to immigrant workers.

"We are looking for volunteers, especially Spanish-speaking people, who can interpret for us so we can broaden our reach," said Marlene Monson, the director of the program.  

 More information is available for interested volunteers at or Monson can be contacted at 970-396-7298.

The Lydia Rule Room of  the Women's Art Speaker Series will continue in October when Heide Göttner-Abendroth, a world-renowned expert on matriarchal societies, will present.

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