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A museum known for its extensive collection of European and Anglo-American art objects is about to refocus the spotlight onto its growing collection of African American quilts in honor of Black History Month.
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum will reveal a new exhibition, A Century of African-American Quilts, later this month.
The show coincides with several other Black History Month initiatives taking place around the historic area.
Composed of 12 quilts, six of which have never been exhibited before, the show will highlight the ways in which African American quilters were inspired by their Anglo-American neighbors, as well as the significant ways in which their quilts differed from their white counterparts.
African American-made quilts in the Reconstruction Era and beyond are notable for their expression of personal artistic vision as well as their bold use of color and pattern that is evocative of the quilters’ African heritage, according to a recent news release from the museum.
“The stunning bedcovers showcase the lively tradition of African-American quilting in the century-and-a-quarter following the abolition of slavery in America,” said Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles and costumes at Colonial Williamsburg. “Many of the quilters worked with a freedom from convention that sets their work apart.”
There is significant variety among the quilts displayed in the exhibit, reflecting the diverse experiences of quilters during this time period.
Highlights of the show include a “graphically eye-catching” log cabin quilt from the last quarter of the 19th century, according to the news release. Anna Jane Parker, a formerly enslaved woman from St. Louis, Missouri, worked as a seamstress and therefore had access to finer materials like the bright silks and ribbon used in this quilt.
A hodgepodge of unmatched cotton swaths to form the foundation, the quilt’s mundane base is covered by the finer decorative pieces including patterned dress silks, upholster fabrics and ribbons to create a striking dark-and-light diamond design.
A star quilt made by Indiana Bendolph Pettway almost a hundred years after Parker’s quilt is another of the exhibit’s highlights. Raised in an isolated, rural community called Gee’s Bend, Alabama, Pettway and the other quilters in her community became internationally renowned for their bold use of color and shapes to create simple, striking quilts that diverged from typical design patterns.
Though these two quilts bookend the century of quilting that the exhibit focuses on, each of the quilts created in the intervening years offers up its own unique set of images and symbols, rendered in eye-catching colors and varied textures. Each quilt has its own story to tell- many are expressions of poverty and loss, while others honor themes of love, family and faith.
Together, the 12 quilts featured in the exhibition reflect the diversity and spirit of a rich African American quilting tradition, according to the press release.
“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is known for its outstanding collection of British and American quilts, but our growing assemblage of African-American quilts has received relatively little exposure,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s vice president for collections, conservation, and museums and its Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator. “It seems particularly appropriate to share a substantial number of these striking objects in a single showing as we celebrate the historical and cultural contributions of black Americans.”
The new exhibit opens Jan. 30 and will remain on view through Jan. 2, 2018.