Feature Articles

February Issue 2000

Contemporary Quilts at Mint Museum of Craft + Design

The rich diversity of approaches to quiltmaking by African American artists today is featured in the exhibition, Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts, at the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, in uptown Charlotte, NC. The exhibit will be on view from Feb. 5 through Apr. 30.

Fifty quilts, using a wide variety of materials and techniques, will be on display, from visually striking abstract patterns to figurative works with personal, family and cultural narratives. The exhibition, organized by the American Craft Museum, features the work of 30 members of the Women of Color Quilter's Network (an organization of 1,200 male and female quilters nationwide).

Frances Hare

"It is a magnificent show that transcends arbitrary distinctions between art and craft, while incorporating the spiritual dimension that imbues folk and visionary art with profound resonance," wrote art critic Chris MacLeod. "If there's one work that epitomizes the energy and exuberance barely contained here, its Francis Hare's Sixteen Feet of Dance - A Celebration; a Self-Portrait. Nominally a quilt, the dancing feet - rendered in a rainbow of browns, a strand of beads around each ankle - convey such movement and rhythm that they defy even the notion of quilt as rectangle."

The African American quilting tradition dates back to the colonial period. Enslaved Africans brought with them textile skills, such as applique, piecing and embroidery.

"This rich legacy of cultural expression developed in this country, culminating in a virtual renaissance of African American quilting in the past two decades," stated cocurator David McFadden, who originated the exhibit with Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the Women of Color Quilter's Network.

Pride in affirming continuity with African ancestors is a recurring theme in Spirits of the Cloth, as is the strength derived from bonds of family and community. Some of the artists actually incorporate African textiles, such as kente cloth and mud cloth, into their compositions. African symbols and imagery are employed in designs, such as the depiction of Yamaja, the Yoruba goddess of the sea, in Michael Cummings', Haitian Mermaid. African textiles embellished with cowrie shells and mirrors become the robe of a holy man in Adriene Cruz's, Imani/Faith. In Talisman, Sharon Kerry Harlan encrusts textiles with found objects, from keys to pins to figurines.

Dindga McCannan

Using the quilt as a narrative medium, quilters combine needlework and cloth to capture life's joys and sorrows. The artists in the exhibition offer their individual interpretations of the ideals of home and family life in personal and visually striking images. Dindga McCannan's, The Wedding Party: The History of Our Nation is Really the Story of Families, is a quilted page from a prized family photo album.

Quilts have served as a vehicle for political and social commentary since America's colonial period. The precedent of anti-slavery and freedom quilts from the the 19th century are found in 20th century quilts that record and comment upon topics ranging from civil rights to urban politics, race, gender and status. L'Merchie Frazier's, From a Birmingham Jail: MLK, incorporates photo transfer images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an excerpt from an Apr. 1963 letter he wrote.

Celebrating the joys of color, pattern and texture, the quilts of Spirits of the Cloth employ a seemingly endless variety of traditional and innovative materials and rely on techniques passed down through generations as well as current innovation to fabricate their artistic expressions.

Quotes from the quilters with works on view in Spirits of the Cloth

Gwendolyn A. Magee, Jackson, MS
"I learned how to quilt out of a desire to create something tangible that my daughters could take with them to college as an expression of my love, and as a reminder of their home. Initially, that was my sole objective, and I never anticipated that quilting would so quickly become my primary outlet for creative expression.

Over the years I have discovered that this art form can serve as the medium for a uniquely personal form of communication. My ambition is to use it to create art that is so compelling through its use of color, design and/or subject matter that the viewer is truly engaged, is drawn into the work and, hopefully, back to it repeatedly."

Adriene Cruz, Portland, OR
"I'm moved by a passion for color, a love of symbols and a deep interest in matters of the spirit. Blending these elements allows me to keep the rhythm of my roots alive through quilting. My art fulfills a powerful desire to visually express what cannot be spoken. The quilts are meditation quilts because of the spiritual journey experienced during each creation."

Virginia R. Harris, Albuquerque, NM
"For years I searched for the creative outlet about which I felt passion. Photography had offered glimpses in the 1970s; writing did the same in the 1980s. In 1991 a friend asked her friends to make a quilt square for her fiftieth birthday. I checked six books out of the library and made a block. The next day I bought fabric to make a quilt. I felt as if I had 'come home'. The experience changed how I relate in the world".

"Through quilting I pushed away the substitutions I have lived and can begin to embrace my own personal aesthetic. Piecing together varied colors, shapes and fabrics brings to light the variety and diversity of who I am. The creative spirits in quilting allow me to create a new, truthful tradition from my personal aesthetic."

Kyra E. Hick, Arlington, VA
"Two experiences led me to create my own quilts. The first was several years ago at the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit featured a quilt by Michael Cummings of his grandmother on her front porch. I could almost hear his grandmother call out a greeting to her neighbors from her porch. This was the first time that fabrics "spoke" to me. The second experience was in 1991, at an exhibit on African American story quilts at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. While walking among the quilts, I knew in those moments that I also wanted to tell stories with fabrics."

Myrah Brown Green, Brooklyn, NY
"My indigenous ancestors stay with me the whole time I work. It is as if they are continuously reminding me of the responsibility I have to those who came before and those yet to come. I view myself as an instrument who continues the cycle of traditional art through wall covers, quilts and wearable art.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings or call the museum at 704/337-2000 or check them out on the web at (http://www.mintmuseum.org).

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