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from: Crowded House Newsletter, Fall 1997

The Child Abuse Survivor Monument Project Art Workshops

by Sue Turner

For a month I was involved with a group of childhood sexual abuse survivors who participated in The Child Abuse Survivor Monument Project. I wanted to make a square but I was afraid mine would not turn out. I am not an artist and I could not imagine getting my ideas sculpted onto the square, but I felt deeply this was something I needed to do. When the Vietnam Memorial Wall went up, I wanted a "wall" for me to be able to go to, even though at that time I did not understand why. When I read about The Survivor Monument Project it matched that thirty year old feeling.


So with fear and trembling, I attended the first workshop. The first night Michael, the workshop leader, and Angela, the assistant artist, took plaster impressions of everyone's hand. I felt both excited and scared. Excited because I was doing my Vietnam Wall and I felt scared as the plaster began to harden around my hand. It was difficult to sit there and not pull my hand out but the encouragement from the other survivors reminding me that I was "not stuck" enabled me to complete it. It was so great! Every time another hand was cast, the group cheered and clapped.  Certainly an ego boost.

Once the plaster impression was taken, a positive wax image of the hand was placed on a ten by ten inch wax palette and that is what the survivor works on  Every time someone's palette was ready there was a chorus of,"Look at your hand.  Look at your hand!" We put our hands on each other's hand images just to share the feeling. That first workshop started us off on some sculpting techniques, sharing our feelings and our ideas, and learning how to write poetry that will be included in a travelling art exhibition.

The room was filled with every feeling.  It was palpable. There was pain; excruciating pain as the realization of one's life took form on the palette. There was a heavy feeling of loss as first one survivor then another put precious loved ones on their quilt squares, never to be forgotten. Often we felt overwhelmed, but through it all the inner strength of each one of us was there. We encouraged each other and used our own feelings to motivate us. The poetry writing helped us to express these feelings in yet another way. This first workshop was three loooooong days.

Our finishing workshop was a month later. In the meantime, Michael coached us on how to meet and work on our squares once a week. That turned out to be a great idea. Many couldn't work on their square by themselves and our feelings were so intense that many of us wanted to quit working on them altogether. It was so helpful to see each other and share our feelings to find out we were not alone. We asked each other for advice and again shared our fears. During these weekly sessions, people took snapshots. Cameras were difficult for many but those who were uncomfortable with having their pictures taken decided they could man the cameras. The pictures are wonderful to have.

Our final workshop was more comfortable in some ways and more difficult in others. There were big feelings because our squares were finished and Michael was taking them back to Toronto. Yikes! We had spent the past month pouring our hearts, our fears, our pain and our hopes into our squares and now they were leaving us. We had a releasing session for this where we were told how much doing this project meant to us. Michael suggested we give our square a kiss and say good-bye which we did. I again have goose bumps as I remember my own sadness in relinquishing my square. Naturally, at this point it called for more photos and I believe we saved the best photograph 'til last. We arranged our squares as we imagined them to be on the monument. A chorus of oohs and aahs as we prided ourselves on the past month's journey. It reminded us of better days to come as we reaffirmed that we would all be front and centre at the unveiling.


Sue taking a nap on top her quilt square and her tool box during one of the "three looooooog days".


A group bond and support pairings were made to assist the Sarnia group with sculpting on their own for one month between two three day workshops.


In all the workshops there were difficult feelings about letting go of the quilt squares as the workshop came to a close.

Various ceremonies and activities were done to assist with the letting go.


I would encourage every survivor to do a quilt square. Many of the people in the group got their workshop fee sponsored by friends, family, business associates and church groups. Sculpting a square and writing the poetry really stirs up feelings but for me every feeling I had was worth telling the whole truth of my life. I feel a deeper sense of freedom in myself and a deep feeling of pride that I am standing up to honour my self and every survivor of child abuse.

Sue Turner on right, 1997

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