As a young child, Sara Schechner learned painting and needlework from her grandmother. By day, the two traipsed around the Jersey shore with sketchbook and paints, setting up their easels side-by-side in marinas, on beaches, and by historic buildings. At night, she joined her in embroidery, needlepoint, and other needle arts. Sewing with a machine came later, and then it was to fashion teen clothes and fix camping gear.
The gift of a new sewing machine for her fortieth birthday inspired Schechner to pursue her art in stitched creations. By this time, she was a well-known historian of science with a specialty in astronomy and physics. In 2000 Schechner became the curator of Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, where she daily works with magnificent museum objects of brass and glass, wood and fabric. Her professional work bridges the worlds of science, history, and art. So does her fiber art. Her first two quilts—made for her daughters—were traditional in design but used color and pattern to explore earth and planetary sciences in a way that was meaningful to the girls’ interests. Recent quilts are inspired by history and memory, astronomy and the night sky, history of science, metamorphosis, and change, and the many-faceted meanings of tangible things.
A new series focuses on equal rights and women’s liberation in historical context. These too have roots in Schechner’s upbringing. Her grandmother was a teenager when women got the right to vote. The mother of four boys, she was unconventional in wearing pants at a time when women were expected to live in skirts. Her father was a civil rights attorney and member of the ACLU. Growing up in a family of free thinkers and social activists, she has a long history of protest marches, activities in the pursuit of social justice, and Tikkun olam, restorative acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. Her latest quilts speak to these concerns.
Schechner’s quilts have been exhibited nationally at museums, quilt shows, and scientific venues, including the US Naval Observatory library where the US Vice President delivered his televised addresses.
You can watch her interview on Dracut Access TV here.