Heather Stoltz, Making social justice part of her art.


Heather Stoltz, 33

Twitter: @HeatherStoltz

The cause of social justice had been ingrained in Heather Stoltz for so long that her first job out of college — as an engineer designing bakery machines that replaced human labor — caused a crisis of conscience.

“I realized the machines I had created were essentially putting people out of work,” Stoltz said. Her next job — designing wheelchairs — was more in line with her view of meaningful work. But she also had an artistic side. Her mother had been a committed quilter, and while Stoltz was in her 20s, trying to settle on a career, she asked her mother to teach her the craft. “We learned together after I graduated college,” Stoltz explained. “I really got excited about the possibility of doing something creative.”

So she went back to school. In the early 2000s, Stoltz enrolled in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s women’s studies master’s program. For her thesis, she made quilts based on women’s stories in the Bible. Though she was not observant growing up, she slowly became more so, and after JTS, she began working for various Jewish organizations — from the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance to the Reform Stephen Free Wise Synagogue (where she was a community service coordinator). It was at Wise that she began the project that combined all her disparate interests — engineering, art, Jewish study and social justice. Helping run the synagogue’s homeless shelter, she was moved by the homeless peoples’ stories. “Getting to know the guys [at the shelter], I wanted to tell their stories somehow,” she said.

She began interviewing other homeless people at shelters across the city. It led to last fall’s “Temporary Shelter,” a traveling exhibit of quilts inspired by their stories, posted on a sukkah-like structure. The show has toured the country and has helped buttress her art credentials as she tries to grow her small business of hand-made fiber art. She makes quilts out of everything from Torah covers and tallit bags, and creates hanging wall art, as well; she sell her wares on her website — www.sewingstories.com — and popular design sites like Etsy. About how all her interests eventually converged, she said it wasn’t planned: “It naturally melded together.”

Favorite Artists: Carol Hamoy, Lisa Chipetine.