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Weaving memories, mending hearts

The Tapestry of Life project takes its healing power to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, helping families cope with cancer through a creative outlet.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

A tiny red heart. A shiny purple bead. A small gold angel.

Together, the little ornaments form a colossal message from Catherine Weidner to Moffitt Cancer Center: "Thank you for saving my dad's life."

As part of the Tapestry of Life project, her creation is permanently woven into a wall hanging that will remain at Moffitt.

She watched quietly earlier this week as Victoria Hyatt-Peters added the thanks to a tapestry of blues and pinks steadily growing in the hospital lobby. Hyatt-Peters and her mother, Emily Hyatt, are fiber artists from North Carolina who are in Tampa through Jan. 24, creating three tapestries on a 200-year-old loom.

On Monday, they will go to Tinker Elementary School at MacDill Air Force Base to make a tapestry for base families. On Jan. 21 they'll set up shop in the Hillsborough County Center lobby. At each location, the weavers ask for personal items of "hope, healing and remembrance" to be added to their work.

Mementos can include cloth strips, perhaps the shirt or other clothing of a loved one; driftwood; jewelry; an insignia or honor; ribbon; scarves; or something symbolizing a hobby.

Weidner picked her angel "for the ones I see here everyday" at Moffitt. The heart, and a tiny black key, are "because my dad has the key to my heart."

George Weidner, 59, is recovering at Moffitt from surgery for bladder cancer. "What they can do is really amazing," says his 24-year-old daughter, who lives with her family in South Tampa.

She selected the bead of her favorite color, purple, to thank everyone for her dad's progress. She chose the angel, heart, key and bead from a table at Moffitt, set up by its Art in Medicine staff. Others brought their own items.

Carol Shore, Moffitt's visual artist in residence, says the "arts help people to get to a place where wellness is the norm. When you're creating, the body acts as if you're in a place where you're whole."

Shore gathered items from staff members for the tapestry: bay leaves and napkins from food service; green strips of printed circuitry from the computer folks; a piece of chair rail from maintenance, brightly colored strips of numbered codes for X-ray files.

Hyatt-Peters and her mother attach larger items to their tapestries once they're finished. In the past, there has been a hockey stick, a volleyball, a computer.

"A lot of the items are sentimental, fun or last-minute, like a rock they'll see and pick it up," Hyatt-Peters says.

Her mother, who saw her first loom when she was 18 and weaved as a hobby, began the tapestry business five years ago after retiring as an educator in North Carolina. She brought schoolchildren to her place to weave on looms and use spinning wheels.

"It's difficult for students to get a personal feel of history," Hyatt says. "I decided if they weave on this loom, they can't forget this." The loom was given to her by a Virginia farm boy who found it, unfolded, on his property, and promptly asked Hyatt to "teach me to weave."

She taught him. And her daughter.

Hyatt-Peters was doing her own work at age 8 and joined her mother's venture three years ago. The women do up to 30 residencies each year in five states, from Virginia south to Florida.

Tampa's tapestry project is sponsored by the Hillsborough County Arts Council, thanks to a $9,000 matching grant. Other sponsors include the state's Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Arts Council, Hillsborough County Schools and the Hillsborough county commission.

-- The Tapestry Project comes to the Hillsborough County Center lobby Jan. 21-24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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