The Sutter Cancer Center is looking more like a blanket fort than a medical facility these days, with 475 vibrantly handcrafted quilts monopolizing wall space on six of the hospital’s floors.
Smiling turtles trot across fabric squares while pink ribbons display messages of hope and strength. The patchwork of images floods the building with a sense of warmth and whimsy seen only once every three years at Sutter – during the quilt auction, its biggest breast cancer fundraiser.
The hospital has hosted the silent auction once every three years since 1999, raising more than $550,000 total for breast cancer research and treatment. From now until Oct. 11, art appreciators and members of the public can peruse the displays during regular hospital hours, placing bids on their favorite quilts with the hopes of taking one home.
The silent auction will end on Oct. 11 to make way for a live auction, in which 50 quilts set aside for their ability to fetch high prices will be auctioned off to the most competitive bidders. The highest bid from the silent auction will serve as the starting bid for the live auction, said Jeanne Powell, auction committee chairwoman.
Powell, a two-time breast cancer survivor, said last year’s sale raised $131,000 for patients, and that the quilts sold at a wide range of prices depending on their quality. The 3,000 quilts that have been donated to the auction in its 15-year history come from throughout the U.S. and Canada, she said.
“These people aren’t just giving their quilts, they’re giving the time to make them and to donate them,” she said. “They’re giving, caring people.”
For quilter DeRay Jensen, the hobby is personal. He and his wife, Patricia Jensen, made quilts together before she died of breast cancer in October 2013.
The two were longtime members of the “coop group,” a local quilting collaborative that produces both individual and group works and donates them to community service efforts, including foster homes and juvenile halls. The group, which is fond of animal patterns, has five quilts in this year’s auction, at least one of which Patricia Jensen worked on before she died.
They estimate that the quilts require about 30 hours of work between the “piecing,” or the joining of the squares, and the actual “quilting,” or stitching of the layers of fabric together. But it’s fun work, Jensen said, and a way for him to spend time with his friends, even if he is the “lone rooster in a coop full of hens.”
“Before my wife passed, she said ‘I’ll never worry about you DeRay, because you’ll have 175 women taking care of you when I’m gone,’ ” said Jensen, referencing the number of women in the Valley Quilt Guild, of which the coop group is a subset.
Quilting as an art form was recently highlighted at the Crocker Art Museum, which just closed its late-summer exhibit, “Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts.” The Crocker is getting involved with the Sutter event for the first time this year by putting an artisan quilt up for auction and donating half of the proceeds to the cause, said Kerry Wood, director of advancement at the museum. The work was a collaboration between many quilters and even includes a square made by Mayor Kevin Johnson, according to Wood.
“We’re very proud to be part of this event with Sutter,” she said. “It’s clearly a good cause that we’re happy to support. The people involved in making the squares have been inspired to know that the quilt will support the cancer center.”
For patients in the oncology wing, the quilts provide not just aesthetic appeal, but a lift in spirit and a change of pace, said Mary Pare, cancer nurse navigator.
The worst day in the hospital is the day the quilts come down to expose the stark walls beneath, she said. But that’s also the day that the hospital rakes in its funds, which benefit more than 4,000 underserved women treated at the cancer center.