Having learned from my grandmother the arts of corn rowing hair braiding, crocheting, knitting, needle point and dress making, 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. And so now I am searching for faith— in this: the Art of Quilting, transmitted to me by the church!
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 most all of my clothing. When the Titans played their Super Bowl season, I thought to take my T-shirts from that Y2K season and make a quilt. Then I remember— my known maternal ancestors amist my birth Church 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! A Seeker! Love to read. Love books. Now— this World Wide Web and the ipad? In my hands? I’m just plain— in love!!
My very first book buy on the subject of quilting is one that I value greatly as being one of the most important books that I own. It’s title: ‘A Communion Of The Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers, and their Stories’ (1996) by Roland Freeman. The title alone is a sermon and transmits the religious nature of this art. Turns out that Roland would be the Curator for the Exhibit of Quilts made to honor the 2008 Inauguration of President Obama in Washington, DC.
In 1974 Freeman went as a photojournalist to Mississippi to capture black Folklore and Culture on assignment by the Smithsonian Institute. He found wood carving, basket weaving, black smithing, beading, note singing to name a few of the arts that we have left to die in African American culture. But, 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 in the African American tradition. I too, then, seek now to find the ‘spiritual’, the ‘healing’ the ‘communal’ forces in the quilt.
My quilts are teaching tools. I completed a quilt which I call ‘The Black History Lesson’. I used it 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! I did a workshop with the children of the Nashville Hadley Park Library. The finished quilt with their blocks is hanging there. Check it out.
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 almost completely isolated by 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 IS FAITH! A mustard seed.
Follow me on Twitter: @therevsquilts