The Survivor Quilt Project:

THE TREE OF LIFE

ARTISTS:
  • Michelle Harris, Art Therapist, Facilitator of the Incest Survivor Quilt Project
  • Frances Grossman, Psychologist
  • K. L., Clinical Social Worker
  • Kathy Morrissey, Co-Founder of Incest Resources, Inc.
  • Elaine Westerlund, Psychologist, Co-Founder & Director of Incest Resources, Inc.

About Incest Resources
Survivor Quilt Project
Survivor Theatre Project
Training & Consultation
Drop-in Discussion Group
New Survivor Resource!
Starting From Scratch
Literature & Resource Lists
What to Think, What to Say, What to Do
The I.R. Legal Packet
Women's Sexuality After Childhood Incest
I.R.obics!
Inside Out
Picture This!
Childhood Sexual Abuse and Your Health
To website for:
Dr. Elaine Westerlund

In this quilt, the horizontal panels, moving from the bottom to the top, represent the inherited family history that goes back generations. We did not learn about the legacy of violence in our families as children, and this left us vulnerable. So we have chosen to tell the next generation our truths to protect and strengthen them. We understand that disclosures about family violence are painful, and the next generation does not always want to know.

The tree represents the comfort we all experienced as children when we climbed trees to hide, to feel safe, to feel held. Our trees were strong, welcoming, and alive. Enveloped in a tree outdoors, we were connected to a sense of nature and spirituality. We were at home in the larger universe we belonged to.

The home in the quilt has three levels. The basement is gnarly and dark and symbolizes the abuse. Above the basement is a house that looks normal from the outside, but is hiding violence and terror within. The attic catches the light from the sky. An abused child is fleeing out the attic window by means of the tree, again the lifeline, the way out, the rescuer. The branches of the tree offer freedom from the vigilance, helplessness, and isolation. We are that child who has escaped to safety.

The top two panels of the quilt represent finding support and community, a sense of belonging with connections creating greater light in our lives. As we healed from our abuse the sky became brighter and the world became more colorful and vibrant.

The shadows behind the figures symbolize the legacy of trauma. Our hope is that the darkness from our abuse will be lighter for those who follow. The risk for the next generation is to pretend that they don't have a shadow, and to live in denial of their vulnerability and that of future generations. We offer the gift of knowledge by speaking truth to the next generation.

The truth we tell can be difficult to hear. As survivors and professionals in the field of child sexual abuse, we are learning more about how and when the truth can best be told. We believe it is important to find healing ways to break the silence of survivors both to honor our histories and to honor the next generation.