Hartford quilter Ed Johnetta Miller creates First Night Hartford quilt to celebrate as event goes remote

Susan Dunne, Hartford Courant

Ever since she moved to Hartford three decades ago, Ed Johnetta Miller and her family have loved First Night, the annual downtown New Year’s Eve party, with hours of events at dozens of locations.

“We’d go to Bushnell Park in the afternoon and do some fun stuff and then see the fireworks and then come home and have hot chocolate and cookies and wait so we could hear the other fireworks at midnight,” Miller said.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled festivities this year. Miller, a nationally renowned art quilter, is celebrating First Night in a different way: by sewing a quilt from old First Night t-shirts.

“With things happening the way they are right now, we are disappointed, but what can you do? This is the way we have to live right now,” she said. “It was fun to make the quilt. It was a way of celebrating.”

First Night Hartford director Jeff Devereux said the quilt will be exhibited on firstnighthartford.org. It will not be exhibited anywhere else, until possibly at next year’s First Night. “I don’t want to create an impetus for people to go congregate somewhere, and we’re trying to avoid in-person spaces,” he said. “We’re trying to avoid indoor spaces.”

The image in the middle of Miller’s quilt is the logo created for this year’s First Night by Hartford artist Lindaluz Carrillo: two hands clasping, one red and one blue, to suggest interracial solidarity.

Miller surrounded it with scraps from many years’ worth of volunteer T-shirts, in her hallmark seemingly improvisational style.

“Jeff brought 32 years’ worth of T-shirts. So many shirts, piles and piles of T-shirts,” Miller said. “There wasn’t that many different colorations. I was expecting many more colors, but they were all kind of like similar, purples, yellows, tans.”

This year, Miller will be celebrating New Year’s Eve at her home. “Like everybody else, I am on hold right now,” she said.

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.