You might not immediately associate quilts and gun violence, but when you sit across from Cathy DeForest, an Ashland artist who created the “Vision Quilt,” it seems obvious: “It’s about comfort, nurturing, home. People are offering gifts to each other,” she says in a sunny upstairs room at Sew Creative on East Main Street in Ashland.

The Vision Quilt is a lesson in contrast and an offer of warmth to soothe the psyche of all Americans wounded by gun violence whether directly or indirectly. It is a collection of individual panels urging an end to gun deaths and created by individuals from around the nation.

DeForest wants to change the tone of the conversation from fear and judgment to a positive expression of a willingness to solve the tragedy of more than 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. annually (33,636 in 2013), according to the latest numbers available from the Centers for Disease Control. 

The “Vision Quilt” idea came to DeForest in September. “I woke up one morning thinking about the Aids Quilt," she recalls. "Something needed to be done in this country. The Aids Quilt moved us from fear to connection.”

Hoping that same thing can happen around gun violence, DeForest began the grassroots Vision Quilt. She urges anyone, artist or not, to create a panel of any size and shape to contribute to the quilt. It’s not so much about the art but the statement, she says. “It’s a portable message. We made them small so they can be worn, carried or strung together in different ways.”

As a former teacher, DeForest says she became more and more troubled by the incidents of gun violence and deaths in the United States. Surrounded by art panels commemorating those who have died in mass shootings, including one made of baby blankets for the 20 children killed in December 2014 at Sandy Hook, she says, “I’m a mom. I can’t imagine losing a child or loved one to gun violence.”

DeForest says she will visit schools, churches or any organization that would like to learn more about contributing to the Vision Quilt.

“This is to create dialogue," she says. "Dialogue creates change.”

Since her project began four months ago, she has compiled 70 panels created by people from around the country. Its first public display will be at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration Monday, Jan. 18, at the Historic Ashland Armory.

DeForest believes the project will gain momentum. “It will become a major national movement shown in monuments and houses of worship around the country,” she predicts, adding that she pictures the quilt displayed at the Washington Monument one day.

DeForest has partnered with the nonprofit Peace House in Ashland so donations are tax deductible.

To learn more about the project, see www.visionquilt.org. A free workshop will be held at 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, at Sew Creative, 115 E. Main St., Ashland.

Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins is a journalism instructor at SOU and author of “Common Miracles: Gifts from a Grateful Universe.” Email her at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter @julieakins.