Water Lady – by Jennifer Day

by Dick Wilbur on March 22, 2016

We are delighted to start our presentation of the Water is Life quilts with a guest blog by longtime Quilt for Change artist Jennifer Day of Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Water Poverty by Jennifer Day

Photography by Rick Scabelli Jr










The Water Lady lives in Northern New Mexico, USA.  Every day she stops at the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and fills a bright yellow 3,500-gallon tanker truck with water.  Darlene Arviso, age 50, has a long braid of black hair streaked with gray.



She speaks softly, in short sentences, her eyes fixed on the road as she drives.  “You can’t drink that water,” she says, “It’s only for animals.”  She then begins her long journey, carrying the water through the parched countryside between mesas and through arroyos on rough dirt roads.   This tiny woman’s mission is to deliver water to 250 families who live in the Four Corners region of New Mexico. Most days, she can reach only 10 or 12 of them. That means that the 400 gallons of water each household receives must last a month.  Her families live on roughly seven gallons per day, while the average American uses 80 to 100. They have no water because Uranium mining in the region has poisoned their wells with radioactive waste.

When people see the giant yellow truck coming down the road, Navajo member Georgiana Johnson says, it’s as if they’ve seen Santa coming down the chimney!

“You know what we do? ‘The water truck’s coming! Get the buckets ready!’ We get all happy. Today’s the day I’m going to take a bath,” Lindsey Johnson says.










The once-a-month water truck deliveries are far  from the perfect solution.  The roads often become impassable during the winter, and barrels run dry. Many resort to melting snow or collecting water from livestock basins.

The injustice is that if you are Navajo, you are 67 times more likely not to have a tap or toilet in your house than if you are born black, white, Asian or Hispanic-American. Nearly 40 per cent of the estimated 173,000 Navajos living on the reservation lack access to running water.

Lindsey Johnson, 78, a Smith Lake elder, grew up hauling water from a local livestock pond. Today, she lives in a two-bedroom trailer with eight family members — still with no running water.



The water Darlene delivers to her is kept in buckets and is reused until there is more.  Lindsey’s grandchildren attend a school that has “shower days” for the students.   Darlene, the Water Lady, continues her daily trips to see her families and deliver water, “liquid gold,” to all.



My quilt is based on a photograph of Darlene filling Lindsey’s buckets with water.

I chose this story to tell using my Thread Painting technique.  Darlene and Lindsey are covered completely in thread.












The balance of the quilt is a mixture of free motion quilting depicting Navajo symbols that represent water.   The symbols are of three thunderclouds with rain falling.  Concentric circles represent water and eternal life.  The cross has water lines and there is a circle with more rain.





These symbols are also found on rock carvings at my ranch in New Mexico.  The rock carvings are 6000 years old.  It is easy to see the wavy lines representing water.








The mesas are above what once was a river.  They lived there, watching, so they could hunt game come to drink.  They left the mesa in a drought around 1500 AD and moved to the Pueblos near the Rio Grande river 60 miles away.  Water was precious even then!

I live approximately 150 miles from where Darlene drives her truck daily.  It truly feels like the other side of the world!


Biography – Jennifer Day

I have been an artist all of my life.  I am an ASID Interior Designer, photographer, goldsmith and now an Art Quilter.  I enjoy merging my interests in photography and quilting.  My technique – Thread Stories – is a process based on printing my photographs on fabric and creating a realistic representation of the subject in thread.  I am a street photographer.  My travels to remote villages in third world countries, gathering images of individuals involved in the routine of their daily lives, and documenting people on the streets of a busy cosmopolitan city have allowed me to create a fabulous collection of images that are the basis of my fiber art. As people view my art, there is an emotional response that validates the stories that are being told.

I am a teacher, curator, entrepreneur and New Mexico cattle rancher. I teach my Thread Stories technique internationally and in my studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  My art also travels the world in juried shows.  I invite you to visit my website – www.jdaydesign.com

Lynn March 23, 2016 at 8:39 am

Beautiful story! The photos did not come through. Is there another venue for viewing them? Thank you for sharing.

Dick Wilbur March 23, 2016 at 9:21 am

Thanks Lynn. Fixing the photos now!

Cathey LaBonte March 23, 2016 at 11:09 am

Beautiful work Jennifer! Thank you for sharing this story though your work.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Copyright © 2012 – 2019  QuiltForChange.org
Website Design by Growing Minds, Inc.