Quilts from the past…

This past week the Austin American Statesman published an article on 400 years of African-American history told through quilts.  These quilts are now on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas.  The display will run through August 30, 2015, but since most of you may not have the opportunity to see these quilts, I wanted to share this article with you.  What a fascinating look back into history and to have it charted through quilts is remarkable.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did…


“Artists weave storied past into fabric”, By Jeanne Claire van Ryzin (jvanryzin@statesman.com)

The stories are told in cloth. Creating a timeline of 400 years of African-American history, 69 story quilts by contemporary fiber artists now fill the main floor gallery at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

A national traveling exhibit on view through Aug. 30, “And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations” features the work of more than 50 members of the Women of Color Quilters Network.

Quilt artist and historian Carolyn L. Mazloomi initiated the project, inspired by the upcoming quadricentennial anniversary of the landing in 1619 of the first enslaved Africans in America.

“The ability of America to respond to the social challenges of today and the future depends on being able to educate citizens, young and old, about the complexity of our nation’s history,” Mazloomi writes of the show. “Quilting is an ideal medium by which to accomplish this lofty charge: It carries widespread appeal, goes hand in hand with comfort and healing and represents a renowned African-American art and cultural tradition.”

Arranged chronologically, the quilts mark historic events and also pay tribute to history-making African-Americans.

Breathtaking in their range of fiber art technique and material, the quilts offer exquisite examples of free-motion quilting, embroidery, needlepoint, appliqué, fiber collage and hand beading.

Fabrics go far beyond typical cotton pieces to include organza, leather, velveteen and traditionally-made African fabric. Deftly incorporated into the designs are a surprising range of materials including beads, buttons, shells, metallic thread, metal chain and vintage and found objects.

Transfers of newspaper clippings and photographs are printed on fabric. Some artists paint and draw on fabric.

Cynthia H. Catlin’s “The Beginning of Social Justice” features the text of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation magnificently stitched.

Marjorie Diggs Freeman works shackles of metal chains into her visual story of the 1839 slave revolt on the Spanish ship La Amistad.

Marion Coleman culled historic images from the Smithsonian to create photo transfers in her homage to Bessie Coleman, the first African-American to earn an international pilot’s license in 1921.

April Shipp’s quilt in honor of Harriet Beecher Stowe — author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — features an elegant, tufted silk skirt that extrudes three-dimensionally.

Rich in their range of material, inventive in their visual storytelling, the quilts in “And Still We Rise” chart important history with vivid, original artistry.



Peggie Hartwell’s work“ Lucy Terry Prince: The Griot’s Voice,” which is made from cotton fabric, cotton batting, cotton thread, nylon thread. In 1746, Lucy Terry, an enslaved person, becomes the earliest known African-American poet when she writes about the last Native American attack on her village of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Her poem would not be published until 1855. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY THE BULLOCK MUSEUM



Julius J.Bremer’s“In Memory of Jesse” is cotton fabric and acrylic paint. In 1936 in Berlin, Germany, African-American track-and-field athlete, Jesse Owens, wins four gold medals in the summer Olympic Games, thwarting Adolf Hitler’s plan to use the games to demonstrate Aryan supremacy.




Laura R. Gadson’s“  Mammy’s Golden Legacy” is cotton fabric, acrylic paint, buttons, beads, cotton batting. In 1940, Hattie McDaniel is the first African-American actor to be nominated for an Oscar, which she wins for Best Supporting Actress in “Gone with the Wind.” No other African-American actor will win until Sidney Poitier in 1958; the next African-American woman will be Whoopi Goldberg in 1991.



Connie Horne’s“1968: President Lyndon Johnson Signs the Civil Rights Act” is made of cotton, fusible web, fabric paint and rhinestones. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 on April 11, prohibiting racial discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.



Barbara Ann McCraw’s “The Loving Quilt: Repeal of the Virginia Racial Integrity Law” is cotton fabric, 60-weight decorative threads, 80 percent cotton /20 percent polyester Hobbs batting and rhinestones. In 1967, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, emerge victorious in the case Loving v.Virginia when the Supreme Court unanimously declares Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional.  The decision renders race-based marriage bans in the United States illegal.



Marjorie Diggs Freeman’s“Amistad: A Supreme Court Decision”is commercial cotton fabric,African cotton fabric, cotton batting, cotton cord, grosgrain ribbon, photo transfer, shackles of metal chains and half-beads. In 1839, slaves being transported aboard the Spanish ship La Amistad revolt and sail to Long Island, New York.  Represented by John Quincy Adams, the sixth United States president, they will eventually win their freedom in the Supreme Court case United States v. The Amistad.



Marion Coleman’s“Her Heart Was in the Clouds” is made of photo transfer, found objects, fiber collage, fusing, poetry, cotton fabric, polyester,wool and thread. In 1921,Bessie Coleman becomes not only the first African-American woman to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale but also the first African-American woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot’s license.



Carolyn Crump’s “20 and Odd” is cotton fabric, felt batting, cotton thread, acrylic, dye, colored pencil, three-dimensional paint,wood, tulle and cotton cord. In 1619, a Dutch ship brings 20 African indentured servants to the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.



Dawn Williams Boyd’s “La Croix de Guerre” is assorted fabric, silk ribbon and found objects.  In 1918, the U.S.Army organizes two African-American divisions, the 92nd and 93rd.  General John J. Pershing gives to the 16th Division of the French Army the troops of the 93rd, including the Harlem Hellfighters.  The Harlem Hellfighters spend 191 days in combat.  The French government awards the entire regiment either the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Merit for their courage and valor.  No African-American soldier will receive a World War I Congressional Medal of Honor.

As we quilters know, a lot of time, effort and skill went into the creation of these quilts – Hope you enjoyed this brief glance at African-American history.


4 thoughts on “Quilts from the past…

  1. Beth Ann

    What an amazing show this is. I would spend a lot of time just gazing on them even though I am not a quilter—I do appreciate the art. Lovely. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thread crazy Post author

    We are fortunate to have many great quilt museums here in Texas. There’s a museum in Galveston that had pictures of the devastation from the 1900 hurricane and they also had quilts from that time period. Then there’s the Texas Quilt Museum in LaGrange – while I’ve not personally been there, I hear great things from those who have.


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