A panel from Jacob Lawrence's 1940-41 "Migration Series" (© Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / ARS, NY / Museum of Modern Art / SCALA / Art Resource, NY) By Ira Berlin, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, FEBRUARY 2010
African American Quilt
Documentation Study Group
Quilt documentation is important because it preserves our historical information. It also conveys a testament that reflects how we live, our values, and beliefs. Quilts are a part of African American family history. By documenting a quilt, you are documenting your own history for the future generations of your family.
A quilt documentation also provides historians and researchers data to analyze a quilt's social and cultural significance. Many African American quilts have no documentation of the history of the quilt. In most cases, all that is known has been handed down orally and not recorded anywhere.
A quilt documentation is basically recording the features of your family quilt and telling the story behind the quilt maker. By documenting your family quilt, you are helping to uncover and create historic records of African American quilts that have been unrecognized in the past.
When I was about to retire for a second time in 2014, my husband and I were visiting his family in Texas. We have been going there for over 30 years, but on this particular visit I noticed almost every bed had a beautiful handmade quilt. I found out my husband’s great-Aunt Merle made them. This moved me to think about my own immediate family. We were born and raised in Washington state, far away from our southern roots in Mississippi and Alabama. And, we had nothing made with such love and care to pass on from generation to generation. I decided I was going to learn to quilt, and told my husband I wanted a sewing machine for a retirement gift…though at that time I did not even know how to turn one on.
After teaching myself to quilt, I became interested in quilt history and the stories embedded in the quilts. I started collecting quilt documention publications from almost every state, including my own state. It was my understanding that the book, Women and Their Quilts: A Washington State Centennial Tribute, by Namcyann Twelker, did not encompass a wide span of Washington state. That said, the book was also void of diversity, and I can only attribute that to the signs of the times (late 1980s). It is my desire to uncover as many African American family quilts as possible and tell their stories here…and, to ensure they are included in state quilt documentation projects.
You can help support this project with a donation. Donations are accepted from all major credit cards through PayPal.
“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”
The Warmth of Many Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson