Patchwork peace


Enter Janet Bear McTavish’s Peace Quilt Labyrinth at Middfest International

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: The entry panel of the Peace Quilt Labyrinth, the product of Janet Bear McTavish and a team of 62 working day and night for 22 months

A young soldier, weary from unending brutality on the battlefield, made his way slowly up a hillside, his comrades-in-arms beside him. As he neared the top, he found an enemy soldier curled up under a large tree branch, his face smeared with mud and his hair matted with dirt and debris. The soldier raised his weapon and pointed it at the enemy, but as he did so, the kid looked up at him, his eyes wide with fear—and in that moment, he realized that they were the same, he and the enemy. They were just two kids, tired and scared and miles from anything that seemed remotely familiar. He lowered his gun and held out his hand.The astonished kid, shaking, took it gingerly and the two men embraced as if they’d been longtime friends.

Months later, the war was over and the young soldier was wandering through a marketplace looking for something nice to send his girl back home. He came upon two men, a priest and a professor, hotly debating the meaning of peace. He listened for a moment, then approached the men and said, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion. Perhaps this soldier could shed some light on the subject?”

The two men eagerly encouraged him to continue. The soldier smiled and said, “Well it’s simple you see. I learned that real peace comes when you look into the eyes of the enemy and see yourself looking back.” He tipped his hat and continued on his way, leaving the two men to ponder his words.

Peace has a number of different meanings, depending on whom you ask. It can mean anything from “the absence of conflict” to “solitude.”

Artist Janet Bear McTavish discovered that while the meaning of peace often had many layers of meaning, there was a general “golden rule” agreed upon by almost everyone. That “golden rule” essentially meant, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Inspired by the dream she had about two soldiers, McTavish decided to use her love of quilting to embody the “golden rule” in a way that was both meaningful and beautiful.

McTavish first created a two-dimensional quilt that depicted a labyrinth with pictorial representations of various world religions along the way. After several showings, however, she realized that a single quilt wouldn’t be enough to produce the desired effect, so she decided to make a quilt for each religion and hang them vertically to create a labyrinth. It took both McTavish and a team of 62 people working day and night for a total of 22 months to complete the labyrinth. The stunning work of art was first displayed in Duluth, Minnesota, in May of 2012. It traveled around the Midwest before being donated to the Dayton International Peace Museum in November of 2014.

This year, the Peace Quilt Labyrinth is being displayed as part of an event series called “Pathways to Peace” hosted by Middfest International. Though Middfest International started out focusing on highlighting different countries, three years ago they changed their theme to promote peace and reached out to refugees for their 30th-year celebration.

“The challenges of peace and of reaching out to refugees do not appear to be diminishing in any way,” says organizer John Schaefer, Ph.D. It’s an unfortunate reality in today’s world, but one that many, including Dr. Schaefer, are hopeful will change.

“Pathways to Peace” aims to educate people about other religions and beliefs, so they understand that there are more similarities among us all than there are differences.

And what better way to celebrate those similarities than with a quilt? Though many associate quilts and quilting with colonial times, quilting has been around for thousands of years. The oldest known quilt was found in Egypt on an ivory statue depicting a pharaoh and dated back to 3400 BC, according to Emporia State University’s Center for Great Plains Studies in Kansas. Quilts have been found across cultures.

That the concept of quilting has been shared by so many civilizations makes it a unique way to promote the concept of peace. The act of piecing fabric together is similar to the concept of piecing together parts of many cultures to promote unity. And when you consider that quilts were primarily used for warmth and comfort, what better way to symbolize the warmth and comfort that true peace brings than with a quilt?

“The labyrinth is a tremendously moving experience that leads people to look within and find the seeds of peace within their own selves,” Dr. Schaefer describes.

Like the battle-weary soldier who found himself in the eyes of the enemy, peace has to begin with the self. So this year, treat yourself to a free experiential journey through a labyrinth of stunning artwork. You might just be surprised at what you find at the center.

The ‘Pathways to Peace’ event runs through Friday, March 10 at the Windamere Event Center, 2 S. Main St. in Middletown. The venue is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission to the Peace Quilt Labyrinth and the Migrant Stories events is free. For more information, please contact Middfest International at 513.422.7710 or find ‘Middfest International’ on Facebook.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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