Camden artist Renata Merrill on how quilting helped her recover from tumor surgery

Ten years ago, doctors discovered that Renata Merrill had a tumor located near her left eye. She was facing multiple surgeries and risked losing vision in her left eye. 

To cope with the stress and scariness of her medical situation, Merrill turned to quilting. After surgery, she found the placid activity helped her recovery in myriad ways.

“I had trouble seeing in my left eye, and my doctor said I should get an MRI,” remembers Merrill. “They found a tumor and my operation and recovery went well. But there’s some things that have been a little wonky and unlike some other injuries the healing of the brain takes time and some things were out of place. Learning how to quilt helped me in the process of recuperating and gave me a brand new love for the art of quilting.”

Merrill, a North Camden native, was inspired to take on the medium after viewing a quilting exhibit at Asbury Community Church in nearby Woodlynne. 

“I started to quilt at Asbury Community Church, and there was my dear friend Ms. Cassandra Butler, and one Sunday she showcased her work in one of the rooms at the church. Her quilts made your jaw drop when you opened the door. I was interested in becoming one of her students in her class, and during the process of coming to her class I learned how to quilt.”

Merrill, who can easily spend a whole day making a quilt, likes to make her quilts with lots of colors and brightness. 

“I just love a lot of colors,” says Merrill. “It doesn’t matter if its spring, summer, fall or winter, when you get a quilt with colors, it’s just fascinating and can take your mind to different places.”

Along with gaining skills while recovering from surgery, Merrill also gained a community from quilting as well. 

“We would meet once a week at church to quilt. We would have a smorgasbord of food and desserts. We would share each other’s stories, try to solve problems of the world, and learn different quilting techniques. It is a community of men and women that have this love, and the quilting community is full of givers. Quilting teaches patience, and how to share the love that is in your heart.”

Merrill brings her 10 years of quilting experience on display at Camden FireWorks until February 19. Her exhibit New Beginnings is one that Camden Fireworks Director Asiyah Kurtz is pleased to have on display.

“I can think of no greater way to start our 2022 schedule than with Renata Merrill’s solo exhibition, New Beginnings,” says Kurtz. “As a Camden native, Merrill is a wonderful example of the talent that resides in this city. As a fellow quilter, I have a deep appreciation of her ability to tell a story with fabric and thread. The fact that she used quilting to rehabilitate after her illness is truly a testament to the power of the arts.”

Having her artwork displayed in the city where she has lived her whole life and raised her kids is a fascinating yet rewarding experience for the quilter. 

“It’s fascinating because my son does spoken word and has different artists from Camden together for spoken word night. I’m usually on the other end helping him in the background getting things set up. For me to be on the other side of this is fun.”

Kurtz approached Merrill about having her quilts displayed at FireWorks for the first exhibit of 2022. Merrill agreed, and since the middle of January her quilts have been displayed at FireWorks. It’s been a surreal experience for Merrill to have her life’s work on display. 

“When you make the quilt, it has a look to it,” explains Merrill. “But when you see it displayed, it has a totally different look and it tells another story. When you have multiple quilts that have different styles, colors, shapes and when you come into the room it really does put a smile on your face and feels like lighting a fire.”

One of the quilts that tells a story through style, color and shape is Patchy’s Kids, and it’s currently on display at the exhibition at Camden Fireworks. 

“It’s a quilt that has squares and it incorporates pennies, buttons, beads, and [I] made a lot of faces with materials,” says Merrill. “It’s one of my favorites, and it has the faces of children on it. The quilt reminds me of some of the kids that I have encountered in Camden. It’s a very happy and explosive quilt once you see it.”

The exhibition is on display until February 19, and Merrill hopes that people who attend the exhibition at FireWorks leave with an appreciation of quilting, and an appreciation of Merrill’s hometown. 

“I hope that people who go to the exhibition realize that there are good things in Camden,” says Merrill. “There are good people, and people who are talented in the arts. It’s a city that is vibrant and full of life. When people leave FireWorks, I hope they leave with a sense of warmth, love, family and community. Even if you aren’t a quilter I hope it inspires you to create something.”

Renata Merrill’s exhibition ‘New Beginnings’ will be on display until February 19 at Camden FireWorks. For more information, go here.