On May 7th, a “billboard” was installed on the facade of a building at 438 West Main Street in Rochester, NY. But this billboard is like no other; it’s a textile mural meticulously made with love by 200 volunteer crocheters over the course of two months. Using 150 pounds of yarn, they collectively crafted 1,516,320 loops to honor the voice of women’s and civil rights champion Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). It’s the second of 50 such stunning crocheted installations planned across the United States to celebrate some of the most courageous women from American history who refused to be silenced.
The massive mural, which is comprised of 351 two-foot-by-two-foot crocheted panels, hangs in Rochester, NY directly across the street from where Susan B. Anthony cast her “infamous” ballot in the 1872 presidential election, which was illegal for women to do at the time. Two weeks later, she was arrested, and the following year, she was found guilty.
“It is only as a united group that we can promote positive women’s voices and create real change. Just as many loops connect to create a strong crocheted fabric, we are stronger together.” – Olek
This crocheted ode to Anthony is one of the first installations from Love Across the USA a community public art project started in 2016 by Agata “Olek” Oleksiak, an acclaimed yarn artist born in Poland and based in New York City. “I remember on November 8th, a photograph was circling the internet of Susan B. Anthony’s grave covered in ‘I Voted’ stickers. Despite the loss that day, the image stuck in my brain and my heart,” Olek recounted. “Amid all the negativity that followed, it inspired me to create a project that would celebrate the accomplishments of women, many of whom had been forgotten throughout U.S. history.”
To accomplish what she set out to do to honor Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, NY, where the legendary social reformer and women’s rights activist spent “the 40 most politically active years of her life”, Olek recruited the help of two local area women who were instrumental in putting the wheels of her epic collaborative love-fest in motion on West Main Street.
Together with Georgia Carney, director of Sew Green Rochester, a non-profit that combines sewing, self-sufficiency, and sustainability, and Barbara Hoffman, a resident who has been tirelessly advocating for public art in Rochester for the last 37 years, Olek hosted local workshops, eventually inspiring over 200 volunteers to rise to the crochet challenge. From March 2017 through early May, day and night, women and men devoted their time and skill to crafting the massive homage to Anthony. Some of the mural volunteers had never even crocheted but were determined to learn so they could contribute to the project.
During a phone interview, Barbara, who owns the building at 438 West Main Street where Sew Green is located and where the crocheted Anthony now hangs, told WYSK that the response to the giant mural has been “unbelievable.” She said, “The color and the image is just stunning and the people… oh my god… the neighborhood’s response is over the top. They want it up for forever, they want me to put plastic over it. Some people want to wrap themselves in it.”
As the schedule stands, the Susan B. Anthony mural will only remain up in Rochester through Memorial Day, so see her while you can. But for now she remains in most excellent company with the first crocheted mural in Olek’s Love Across the USA series, which honors courageous abolitionist and Civil War spy Harriet Tubman (c.1822 – 1913). That mural was unveiled two weeks ago in Auburn, NY, the area that was Tubman’s home for more than 50 years.