When slaves were brought to this country, many of them came from West Africa, and although stripped of all earthly possession, inside their hearts they held the memories of the symbols, colors and sense of design of their motherland.
By necessity, they had to save every scrap of cloth they could, from the remnants of sewing done for their masters, to good cloth saved out from worn garments. As in every human being, in them was the desire to make something beautiful and useful for their every day life. Many slaves made quilts of very fine quality. The identity of the quilter for most of these quilts is unknown. We know they were made by slaves only by identifying the hairs that might have fallen into the cotton batting sandwiched between the top and bottom of the quilt.
Quilt making is an art form which can be accomplished by an individual or by a group of people. In all traditional societies, the crafts used within the home or the community are passed from parent to child. From the lore surrounding quilt making we learn that parents passed the skills for quilt making on to their children at a very young age, with small children starting with small patches of fabric, learning to sew the very fine stitches needed for the beautiful quilts which have been passed on to us.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in 1818 and was taught the art of sewing by her mother who was a seamstress. She became the seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln, lived in the Whitehouse for 4 years and wrote the book,
Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave, Four Years in the White House
, which documents her friendship with the first lady. One of her quilts is housed by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Her story and others documented by Cuesta Benberry in her book,
Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts
, will be told to the students in this section.
Many artists and writers represent the presence of quilts as a major force in their lives and their art and we will look at the following prints:
Patchwork Quilt 1969
Patchwork Quilt 1970
Maquette for Quilting Time (1985)
Quilting Time 1981
Quilting Time 1986
Dr. John Biggers:
Four Sisters (1986)
Patchwork Quilts and Shotguns
Links and Lineage (1986)
The Quiltmakers (1987)
The Domino Players (1943)
The Satimbe Society (1990)
Varnette P. Honeywood:
She Who Teaches, Learns
I Do Thee Wed
A Century of Empowerment
Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima:
I would also like to read to my students African American literary works inspired by quilt making, among which are the following:
(1980) by Paul Laurence Dunbar;
(1927) by Mary Effie Newsome; and from essays in Search of
Our Mother’s Gardens
(1983) by Alice Walker.
Section IV—Art Activity
1. Students will define abstract design
2. Students will make a crazy quilt square
jazz music on tape
Students will be shown a variety of different crazy quilts in slides and books. Students will also be shown the art work of Horace Pippin and Romare Bearden. They will identify how art moved from realistic presentations to more abstracted understanding of ideas. They will also identify the affect of jazz on the work as an element in the work of Bearden. We will read
I Live in Jazz
looking at the collages by Romare Bearden which illustrate the poem by Ntozake Shange.
Students will listen to jazz recordings with eyes closed, imagining colors shapes and designs in the music. They will be asked to visualize the music inside their heads.
They will then design an abstract crazy quilt square that reflects this visualization inspired by the music. Using scraps of wallpaper and construction paper leftover from previous projects, students will select 5 pieces of patterned paper and 3 pieces of solid paper to form an abstract design.
Students will place their finished project squares in a quilt shape on the floor for evaluation. We will define abstract. Students will be questioned about the similarities in their design, and if any patterns emerge from the whole.