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The person in the fabric 

How a quilt is worth a thousand words

With her bright smile and swirling flowered skirts, Dr. Beth Mount is a dervish of energy and color.

In fact, the internationally–heralded consultant and artist so resembles one of her own vividly–patterned quilts that she could have stepped right out of one of the warm orange and yellow blocks.

And like her quilts, which will be featured in an upcoming exhibit at the Jepson Center for the Arts this July, Dr. Mount has a rich wealth of stories behind the beautiful hues.

A pioneer in the field of Person Centered Planning for almost 40 years, the Atlanta native has promoted the revolutionary notion that people with disabilities can contribute to mainstream society. She did her doctoral dissertation UGA on the subject in the 1970s, where she and Citizens Advocacy director Tom Kohler were peers. Back then, the idea of inclusion was practically unheard of.

“The idea of Person Centered Planning was radical then, it’s radical now,” she says. “It’s about finding the capacities of a person, focusing on what works instead of what’s missing. And that takes listening.”

She was one of the first in the field of special education to help dial in on a person’s strengths and goals by creating vibrant wall maps full of words and simple phrases. The maps have helped many clients and their families forge a path of contribution and contentment, sometimes leading to independent living and paid work. The color–coded charting is a “high level skill,” and Dr. Mount founded a company, Graphic Futures, to help teach others the process.

However, when she moved to New York City 23 years ago, she found that trying to use word maps in a multilingual environment wasn’t nearly as effective. So she began to work with photos and illustrations when creating plans with clients, bringing bags of scissors and glue and old magazines to make collages.

“What I found is that in a place where a hundred and forty languages are spoken, everyone could relate to images,” she explains. “Suddenly, we were engaging the heads and the hearts and hands.”

Inspired by the finished works, Dr. Mount began to collect and preserve them as laminated posters and in books, available through her publishing company, Capacity Works. She began sewing quilt blocks based on the collages of individuals about 14 years ago, binding together their stories and symbols.

“I spend a lot of time looking for the pattern language that emerges, keeping an eye out for universal symbols,” she describes. “For instance, handprints come up a lot. They can signify the mark a person makes as they walk on the earth, or they can mean a protective influence, a shield that allows a person’s gifts to emerge and keep out the forces that would only define him or her by the disability.”

Dr. Mount embeds something precious of her own in each quilt, perhaps symbolizing how much of her heart she puts into her work. Her grandmother’s old measuring tape borders one block, and she cut up her father’s American flag shirt to include in her quilt–in–process, a piece to accompany a fall book event featuring Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community, the story of one of Savannah’s most adored citizens written by Kohler and Susan Earl.

Dr. Mount reminds that it’s vital to remember that each colorful square represents a person. While her intricate quilts stand alone as a stunning art form, she insists their true value is in the metaphor.

“We’re taking random scraps that aren’t deemed valuable and weaving together new possibilities. ”

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About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Bio:
Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

More by Jessica Leigh Lebos

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Connect Today 12.10.2016

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