Notable Past Exhibitions of WCQN Members

Threads of Faith:  Recent Works from the Women of Color Quilters Network

A new publication by The Gallery at the American Bible Society accompanies the exhibition Threads of Faith: Recent Works from the Women of Color Quilters Network.

Co-curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi and Dr. Patricia Pongracz, this exhibition showcases more than 50 virtuoso examples of quilt making. Created by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network, the works in this exhibition catalog demonstrate how today's African-American artisans are reinvigorating a traditional craft form and developing religious imagery that reflects the contemporaneity of their lives and communities.

The unique quilts represent a blending of African and European religious traditions and illustrate a variety of interpretations, styles, uses and techniques. Many display the maker's delight in experimenting with non-traditional quilting materials, such as shell beads, metal, glass and bone.

The entries in this exhibition catalog are divided into five thematic categories: biblical narratives (Sacred Moments: From Scripture to Cloth), women and family (Bearing Witness), prayers and spiritual meditations (Hope: The Anchor of Our Souls), worship through the arts (Blessed are the Piece Makers), and African-American experiences (We Have Come This Far by Faith).

The varied individual perceptions of, and responses to, the role faith plays in the larger world are recorded in the artist's own words. Their voices reveal the diversity of this particular group of artists — a diversity mirroring the larger African-American quilting community.

”remarkable…it's unlikely any of these quilts will ever grace a bed. They are all works of art, better looked at then slept under.”

Bob Abernathy, PBS Religion & Ethics,
Feb. 2004

"so vivid and colorful they almost seem to jump off the walls”

Barbara Mayer, New York Times,
Feb. 2004

"a spiritual journey in cloth”

WNET Television, New York City,
Feb. 2004

"these quilts stand out for their layers of meaning, hope and faith… they have represented the rich tapestry of black religious life in the United States"

Chris Herlinger, Religion News Service,
Feb. 2004

Spirits of the Cloth:  Contemporary African American Quilts

This exhibition salutes the work of the Women of Color Quilters Network, which came into being in 1986, and today numbers over 1500 members across the length and breadth of the United States. Created to provide a forum for understanding and appreciating African American quilting, the Network has grown into a community of quiltmakers of all backgrounds, ages, and genders.In the 1970's, scholars described African American quilts along aesthetic lines, citing as defining characteristics the use of bright colors, improvisation, multiple patterns, large stitches, and large design elements. Subsequent research by other scholars, notably Cuesta Benberry, revealed that the spectrum of quilts made by artists in the African American community was wider and more complex, encompassing as astonishing variety of techniques, materials, and individual styles.

A Cultural Legacy

Many of the artists highlighted in Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts have been inspired by our country's African American cultural and artistic legacy and by the rich cultural heritage of Africa. Some of the artists actually incorporate African textiles, such as Kente cloth and mud cloth, into their compositions. Others celebrate history and ancestors by using African symbols and imagery in their designs, such as the depiction of Yamaja, the Yoruban goddess of the sea, in Michael Cumming's Haitian Mermaid. In Imani Faith, Adriene Cruz revels the power of ritual in abstract patterns of form and color.

Life Stories

American quilters have long recognized the value of handmade quilts as reminders of home, family, and friends. Using the quilt as a narrative medium, they combine needlework and cloth to capture life's joys and sorrows. The artists in this exhibition offer individual interpretations of the ideals of home and family life in personal and visually striking images. Dindga McCannon's The Wedding Party: The History of our Nation is Really the History of Our Families is a quilted page from a prized family photo album. Frances Hare's Sixteen Feet of Dance: A Celebration, A Self-Portrait expresses the artist energy and passion for dance in a series of staccato silhouettes that vibrate against a luminous background.

The Power of Quilts

Political and social activism has found a powerful vehicle of expression through quilts since America's colonial period. Anti-slavery quilts and freedom quilts from the nineteenth century have their descendants in twentieth century quilts that record and comment upon topics ranging from civil rights and political injustice, to urban politics, race, gender, and status. With strong bold images, they remind us of our own responsibilities and roles in shaping the world we live in and underline our shared values of freedom, equality, and justice. Cathleen Richardson Bailey's The Little Boy Had A Nightmare Aboard the Slaveship Jesus, a poignant reminder of the inhumanity of slavery, is a fulfillment of the artist's goal "to make my work make people think, to make a change." L'Merchie Frazier's From a Birmingham Jail: MLK incorporates photo transfer images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with an excerpt from an April 1963 letter by Dr. King. The artist uses these powerful words and images to animate "vestiges of memory" within the viewer.

An Eye on Art

Quilts are the format of choice for many artists. Celebrating the joys of color, pattern, and texture, they employ a seemingly endless variety of traditional and innovative materials and rely on techniques passed down through generations as well as those created on the spot to fabricate their artistic expressions. Gwendolyn A. Magee's Crystalline Fantasy is based loosely on the forms of plants and flowers, but it takes the viewer beyond simple imagery into a fantasy world of sparkling embroidery and appliqué. Like a painter wielding a fully loaded brush, Sandra Smith achieves a whirlwind of color and form in Transition, an abstract study using color and shape to explore the ambiguities of two-and three-dimensional design. Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary Quilts by African American Artists reveals the growing popularity and significance of quilts as an art form. These quilts, in their diversity and quality, attest to the ability of creative artists to transform lifeless materials into lively and life-sustaining statements of the human spirit.

“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.”

Chris MacLeod, art critic,
New York City

“In this exhibition, leading quilters explore their rich heritage. They use traditional African cloth, African symbols and imagery and bright colors to create associations with the homeland of their ancestors.”

Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“This rich legacy of cultural expression developed in this country, culminating in a virtual renaissance of African American quilting in the past two decades.”

David McFadden, chief curator,
American Museum of Art and Design,
New York City

“The beauty of this exhibition lies not only in the brilliant colors and vibrant patterns of the quilts, but in the fact that these textiles capture such a rich history,”

Kenneth Trapp,
Curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C

“The work is quite extraordinary. It’s quite different than what most people expect from quilts.” Also, many of these pieces will transcend cultural differences, so anyone can appreciate the wonderful artistic quality of these pieces.”

Nancy Hixon,
Assistant Director, Blaffer Gallery of Art, University of Houston