Quilts As Narrative

Before most of the population was literate visual art was used to tell stories. Think of the stained glass windows that illustrate the Bible in cathedrals, and the like. Quilts have been used to convey social messages for many years – family events, historical commemorations, and commentary on current events.

Ninety-seven quilts that tell stories of the African American experience in what became the United States are in the recently published book, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations. Carolyn Mazloomi, who curated the commissioned quilts, also organized the exhibit sponsored by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Museum Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the Women of Color Quilters Network.

The quilts in the book are arranged by chronological order of the events depicted. The first quilt commemorates the year, 1619, the first African slaves landed in Virginia. The last quilts depict two events from 2012 – the killing of Trayvon Martin and the enactment of voter ID laws in 11 states.

I’m interested in how well quilts can get across their message while being aesthetically appealing. Given that personal bias, the following quilts in the book were most appealing to me. I noticed it’s hard to integrate text and photos with patchwork. Some of the quilts reminded me of school bulletin board displays. But if it provides the viewer with new information then I’d say the quilt was successful.

Valerie Poitier "240 Million African Slaves Ago"

Valerie Poitier “240 Million African Slaves Ago”

Michael Cummings "Harriet Tubman"

Michael Cummings “Harriet Tubman”

April Thomas Shipp "An Open Book To Freedom"

April Thomas Shipp “An Open Book To Freedom” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

Lauren Austin "We Hid In the Woods and Swamp"

Lauren Austin “We Hid In the Woods and Swamp” (Rosewood, Florida)

Linda Gray "Plessy v. Ferguson"

Linda Gray “Plessy v. Ferguson”

Helen Murrell "We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun"

Helen Murrell “We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun” (Tuskegee syphilis study)


Viola Burley Leak "Katrina Wreckage and Tears"

Viola Burley Leak “Katrina Wreckage and Tears”

The curves in the photos are due to the book pages, not the quilts.





Filed under Art quilts, Books, Quilt Shows

4 responses to “Quilts As Narrative

  1. I’m familiar with some of these quilts, thank you for refreshing my memory of seeing them a couple years ago. There are some great videos about the exhibition and with the artists on YouTube – see – National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

  2. Holy cow! I hadn’t heard about this project/book! The quilts you feature here look amazing–I can see what you say about the difficulties of the task but these transcend the problems. How fascinating.

    • Carolyn Mazloomi lives in Ohio and is involved with art quilts, so I know her by reputation. Then, my library bought her book, so I had the chance to borrow it. I was intrigued by how the various artists chose to interpret their themes.

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