Finding sanctuary by sewing: Greenfield resident’s work displayed at Turners Falls bank

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March.

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March.

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March.

Greenfield fabric artist Alicia Rhodes has her work on display at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch on Avenue A throughout March. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Greenfield resident Alicia Rhodes, who suffers from spina bifida, a spinal condition contracted at birth that left her lower body paralyzed, has faced severe mobility limitations throughout her 34 years of life. Sewing, a practice passed down in her family from generation to generation, has been an escape for her.

Greenfield resident Alicia Rhodes, who suffers from spina bifida, a spinal condition contracted at birth that left her lower body paralyzed, has faced severe mobility limitations throughout her 34 years of life. Sewing, a practice passed down in her family from generation to generation, has been an escape for her. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By JULIAN MENDOZA

For the Recorder

Published: 03-22-2024 12:38 PM

Modified: 03-22-2024 1:42 PM


TURNERS FALLS — Zoning out to the hum of her sewing machine and training her eyes along a laser guideline, Greenfield resident Alicia Rhodes musters a steady hand as she threads decades of practice and persistence into her fabric. She strikes her modified rig’s “off” switch, exhales and smiles — a perfectly straight stitch.

Rhodes, who suffers from spina bifida, a spinal condition contracted at birth that left her lower body paralyzed, has faced severe mobility limitations throughout her 34 years of life. Sewing, a practice passed down in her family from generation to generation, has been both an escape and a learning curve for her.

Her mother, Donna Rhodes, explained that she has been sharpening her skills since she got her first sewing machine at age 10. She now has her work on display and for sale for the first time at Greenfield Savings Bank’s Turners Falls branch, a milestone that affirms her hard work and prowess.

“Sewing serves as Alicia’s sanctuary, a place where the weight of her struggles fades into the background, replaced by the pure happiness and fulfillment found in the act of creation,” a blurb at the bank reads. “With each project undertaken, Alicia not only honed her craft but also discovered a newfound sense of confidence and empowerment.”

Linda Ackerman, Greenfield Savings Bank’s assistant vice president and engagement officer, said the bank learned about Rhodes through The United Arc, which oversees Rhodes’ individualized sewing lessons. The bank invited Rhodes to host a pop-up gallery throughout March, an opportunity she gladly accepted. Ackerman said she was blown away by what Rhodes brought to show.

“I know how much blood, sweat and tears goes into anything you make … but oh my God,” Ackerman said of Rhodes’ creations. “When ... I saw the colors and the vividness, it took my breath away. It is a masterpiece.”

Rhodes’ gallery consists of vibrantly patterned custom tote bags, baskets and more. The centerpiece is a quilt that features a surrealist image of a peacock in the middle. Each piece is different, intending to provide something for everyone, Donna Rhodes explained.

“She makes samples,” Donna Rhodes said of her daughter. “If it goes well and she likes it, she’ll make more of the same thing.”

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Alicia Rhodes is open to working with deadlines and doing work on commission in the near future, an idea that hardly seemed realistic for much of her life. The gallery’s blurb stresses that her work “is a testament to the power of resilience,” with each project taking meticulous care and a considerable amount of time to finish due to her physical limitations, Donna added.

Donna Rhodes emphasized that her daughter is, however, defying all odds with her sewing improvement, having recently achieved her goal of becoming proficient in sewing perfectly straight lines.

The quality of Alicia Rhodes’ work is apparent, according to both Donna Rhodes and Ackerman, who each reported rave reviews from those who stopped into the bank. Some visitors have purchased items, while others have taken the time to sing praises via the phone number listed on her business card.

“I do like being part of people’s lives because I feel like I make them happy a lot and it makes me happy being around people,” Alicia Rhodes said.

She added that she takes pride in inspiring others. In addition to embracing her influence on others with disabilities, Alicia Rhodes is partnering with her sewing instructor Monique Richardson on an initiative to make quilts to donate to nursing homes and children in foster care.

“Alicia used to be a foster child years ago, so she really wanted to do it and give back,” Donna Rhodes said.

Alicia Rhodes said she hopes to broaden her scope further at some point in the future, but for now, she’s simply focused on enjoying what she’s doing. She encourages others to follow suit in embracing their passions, advising them to “do what they like, be proud of what they like and not be afraid to ask for help from anybody.”

The gallery will likely remain on display at Greenfield Savings Bank until sometime during the first week of April, Ackerman said. Those with business inquiries can contact Donna Rhodes at donnarhodes.rhodes@gmail.com or 413-834-4516.