The Mourning Project Introduction

The headline was shocking: American babies are 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than babies in other rich countries.  The United States’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world.  That statistic shocked me.  It’s a form of American exceptionalism we Americans don’t like to think about.  As the Washington Post put it, Our Infant Mortality is a National Embarrassment.

I thought about the parents of those little ones, whose crushing loss–losing a child before their first birthday–is immeasurable. The loss is emotional, financial, and devastates marriages and families.  The cost of 23,000 infant deaths on our country is unimaginable.

The loss cuts deeper because infant mortality is a problem we understand pretty clearly.  It is not Democrat or Republican, Red State or Blue state.  It’s not about who is President.  The causes of infant mortality and solutions to it are well known.  It is a problem other countries have solved.  And it is something we have ignored.

As a visual artist, I believe in the power of art to change hearts, minds, behavior, and the world.  Think about the famous AIDS Quilt, a community art project commemorating the loss of more than 80,000 lives.  By ‘drawing’ a picture of a problem, we can see and feel the enormity of it.  Our country, our leaders, and lawmakers need to see exactly what infant mortality looks like in America.

My vision for is that each of the infants lost in a given year will be remembered with a unique, handmade, heartfelt little elegy.  The fiber art communities and loss families have come together to make 20,000+ pairs of baby booties.  This is the number of American infants who die every year before their first birthday. (The number has decreased since some states expanded the Medicaid program.)

Whether sewn, knitted, felted, woven, or crocheted, makers donated handmade baby shoes in the colors of mourning:  black, white, and gray.  Gathered together, these small elegies will literally paint a compelling picture too big to ignore: a 38′ by 38′ image of a heart with baby feet inside.  This image requires 14,000 pairs of white booties alone.  I love the way this installation plan is like the problem of infant mortality itself:  we all need to contribute to solve this ‘puzzle.’

The collection phase of the project has ended,  but we will include a pair of your booties in the installation.  Make your booties in memory of a lost child, if you wish, and send them with this form (click here).

Each one of the 23,000 pairs of booties is one pixel of the 38′ by 38′ overall design. Each square of the grid represents 100 pairs of booties. Volunteers stitched each bootie, which will be a critical piece in the overall puzzle of solving infant mortality in this country.

Here is where we are to date, along with a schedule of upcoming installation dates.  Our work will be both a visual reminder of a national tragedy, and what we can do about it.

Mary Vaneecke

The Mourning Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.  Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Mourning Project must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.  Cash donations are not deductible. To make an online donation, go to


Click here to learn all the ways you can get involved.

Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about

Click here for the latest news.

Click here to help spread the word online and in person.

Click here to learn more about the US infant mortality problem and solutions.

Click here for a Brief Talking Points handout about infant mortality.

Click here if you need support in grieving the loss of a child.

How many baby booties have we raised to date?  Click here.  

Get your swag!

Click here for a link to make a donation via our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas.

Click here to like the Facebook Page.

heart image courtesy of


22 thoughts on “The Mourning Project Introduction

    1. You can use any pattern you like to make booties. If you are making a panel, you need to contact me to find out how you will arrange your booties to become a part of the overall image. Chris, I will email you to give you the details.

  1. 15 pairs in the mail tomorrow Please let me know if they meet your needs If so I can make more

  2. I have just learned of this project! I’ll do my best to send some booties out by the March date. Please put me on your email list.

  3. I’m a little late in this project but I will do everything I can to make 10 booties. This is a FANTASTIC idea! I will be honored to participate.

  4. Mary, I am in for making some booties! Question: Do they have to be black, white AND gray, or could they be solid colors of each?

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