As Black History returns to consciousness, I am reminded of the quilting tradition received as a child growing up in the Church of God in Cleveland, OH. Both my grandmother and my great grandmother were Quilters. As members of the missionary circle of the Church, the women gathered around a frame spread out in the fellowship hall on Saturdays, each working with needle and thread adding communal stitching to a single quilt.
With my grandfather being a tailor and my mother a seamstress, I clearly inherited my skills and creativity with cloth. As a freshman in WRC dormitory at Tennessee State University, I spent many hours on my sewing machine making all of my clothing. When the Titans played their Super Bowl season, I thought to take my T-shirts from the season and make a quilt. Now I remember— my known ancestors were Quilters!
You might know by now that I am a person of knowledge. My friends and acquaintances have always said, ‘she thinks she knows everything!’. No; but I want to! Love to read. Love books. My very first book buy on the subject is one that I value as being one of the most important that I have found. It’s title: ‘A Communion Of The Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers, and their Stories’ (1996) by Roland Freeman. Turns out that he would be the Curator for the Exhibit of Quilts made to honor the Inauguration of President Obama in Washington, DC. In 1974 Freeman went as a photojournalist on assignment by the Smithsonian Institute to Mississippi to capture black folk culture. From the deepest parts of Mississippi he emerged with a knowledge and renewed love of quilts (his grandmother had a ‘healing quilt’); that resulted in this ‘bible’, this ‘scripture’ complete with the most important pictorial of quilting as an African American tradition. I, too then, seek now to find the ‘spiritual’, the ‘healing’ the ‘communal’ forces of the quilt.
I completed a quilt which I call ‘The Black History Lesson’. I used it as a teaching tool with a group of girl scouts at Still Water Café, Falcon Feathers Fiber Studio. I am working now on two important historical quilts. One is a pictorial of ‘My Family Tree’; the other, now completed is my ‘Underground Railroad’ quilt. Engaging is the book ‘Hidden In Plain View: A Secret Story Of Quilts And The Underground Railroad‘, by Tobin and Dobard. The making of this quilt has ‘jumped out the bushes’ and grabbed me. Ready now to follow the trail… across the Ohio River… into Canada!
And then there is this very expensive book that I bought entitled ‘Gee’s Bend: The Architecture Of The Quilt’ edited by Arnett, Cubbs and Metcalf. A group of black women so deep in Alabama that Gee’s Bend sits on the Mississippi River. So controversial is the story of their quilts that after they ended up in the New York Museum of Art, all kinds of things happened. Including the Play, which I went to see in Atlanta during the 2009 National Black Arts Festival.
The ‘spiritual’, the ‘healing’ the ‘communal’ forces of the quilt— providing this moment in Black History.
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