Laura Petrovich-Cheney

salvaged wood from Hurricane Sandy
24 x 24 in.

Katrina. Sandy. Harvey. Irma. The nameless, countless fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes. The devastation experienced after such disasters is evident in the debris that litters the affected communities. In the aftermath, the once organized neighborhoods and lives of the residents are recognizable only as piles of rubble haphazardly distributed during the chaos of the storm. Clapboard siding, floorboards, cabinets, and window frames are often all that remained of homes torn apart by the storm’s ferocity.

I have learned that these storms are great equalizers. We all suffer loss regardless of our color, language or economic status. Our hearts break equally and painfully. My own story unfolded when my parents lost their home after Hurricane Sandy; and subsequently, my father eventually lost his life repairing that home. Sharing this story with others, I believe, makes us vulnerable, fully human, connected and whole.

With the debris from Sandy and other disasters, I decided to make quilt-inspired sculptures because American quilts have had a long history of comfort – grandmother’s handmade quilt, Civil War soldier quilts, the AIDS quilts, Quilts of Honor, the list goes on. I believe that material has memory. The intimate textures of this wood, with its chipped layers of paint, nail holes and grain, tell a story and suggest another prior life in the faded colors and worn surfaces. The domestic objects that surrounded us and offered security have become carriers of our stories, our identity. A little girl’s pink dresser decorated with kitten stickers and glitter, a kitchen cabinet that once held precious, heirloom china, a door frame that marked a growing child’s height have a profound sense of embedded meaning. This material, gathered after the disasters, has propelled my series of salvaged wood quilts. There is no insistence on static perfection. The imperfections of the material reveal an aesthetic promise in the discarded remnants of daily life. I believe that there is refuge in organizing and arranging the chaos back into recognizable patterns.

© Laura Petrovich-Cheney