The Bruce Museum in Greenwich is marking the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a new and colorful exhibit, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, featuring 40 quilts from artists of the Women of Color Quilters Network.
Story quilts are used to tell African American history, from the first slave ships to the first African American president and beyond. Curated by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, the exhibition is now on national tour and is presented in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, where it originated, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It will be at the Bruce Museum from Jan. 16 through April 24.
Dr. Mazloomi, an artist, historian and national lecturer, founded the 1,700-member Women of Color Quilters Network. The quilts selected for the Bruce show from the original 67-quilt exhibit are all done by contemporary artists to reflect on moments in history that have contributed to transformations of social justice in America and across the globe. Each has its own visual impact, showcasing the texture-rich, color-saturated folk art form of quilting.
Techniques by the master quilt artists include free-motion quilting, embroidery, needlepoint, appliqué, fiber collage, fusing and hand beading and the materials include cotton, batik, organdy, metal, newsprint, beads, found objects, photo transfers, buttons, shells, wood, and vintage fabrics. The works are striking and colorful; the subjects range from painful to joyful to horrific.
“This exhibition gives voice to personal, authentic and unique histories of African American men and women — from relating painful stories of enslaved ancestors, to highlighting contemporary political leaders and drawing attention to social challenges our nation continues to face today,” said Mazloomi.
Story quilting goes beyond the simple quilting patterns familiar to many. It expands on traditional textile-arts techniques to record, in fabric, events of personal or historical significance.
240 Million African Slaves Ago (2012) by Valarie Pratt Poitier of Natick, Mass., is made of cotton fabric, cotton batting, metal chain, and beads, with machine embroidery, appliqué, and machine quilting. A striking and dramatic work, it depicts the year 1653, with indentured servants and enslaved African and Native American workers building a 12-foot high wall across Manhattan Island to protect the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam from English invasion. The site would later become Wall Street.
Lucy Terry Prince: The Griot’s Voice (2012) by Peggie Hartwell of Summerville, S.C., honors Lucy Terry, an enslaved person in 1746 who became the earliest known African American poet when she wrote about the last Native American attack on her village of Deerfield, Mass. Abijah Prince, a freed slave, bought her freedom and married her. Her poem, Bar’s Fight, was not published until 1855. This quilt is the featured image for the exhibition.
Saude A. Zahra of Durham, N.C., created An Extraordinary Woman for No Ordinary Day. The date is 1892: African American journalist Ida B. Wells began a crusade to investigate and document lynchings of African Americans after three of her friends were lynched in Tennessee. It’s a beautiful yet hard-to-look-at work, with the rich colors of Wells’ clothing and her steady gaze next to a tree of death, with photo transfers of actual lynchings pieced into the work.
La Croix de Guerre, created in 2010 by Dawn Williams Boyd of Atlanta, Ga., tells a story of pride and sadness: two “Doughboys” against an American flag represent the “Harlem Hellfighters,” the 369th Infantry Regiment, which fought in World War I with the French Army and spent 191 days in combat, longer than any American unit. The French government gave the entire regiment, plus 171 men and officers individually, the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Merit for courage and valor. No African American soldier received a World War I Congressional Medal of Honor.
Mammy’s Golden Legacy (2012, Laura R. Gadson, New York) also pays tribute to an award winner. The year is 1940, when Hattie McDaniel is the first African American actor to be nominated for an Academy Award, which she wins for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Gone with the Wind. It will be until 1991 before another African American woman (Whoopi Goldberg) wins an Oscar. In the intervening years, one African American actor (Sidney Poitier, 1958) wins an Academy Award.
The Bruce Museum has a number of programs associated with And Still We Rise, starting on Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Day, from 10 to 4. There will be family activities for all ages and performances by Bright Star Theatre Company: at 11 a.m., George Washington Carver and Friends (recommended for ages 3-8) and at 1 p.m., Struggle for Freedom: The Life of Dr. King (ages 8 and older).
There will be Craft in America screenings on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 20-March 2, a chance to explore how artisans use crafts to illuminate contemporary issues. Each 50-minute film, produced by Public Television, will be followed by a 15-minute discussion with a museum staff member.
A series of Monday Morning Lectures, Craft and Social Change in America, will begin on Feb. 29 at 10 a.m., with textile artist Ed Johnetta Miller. Dr. Myrah Brown Green, art historian and quilt artist, will speak on March 7, and Sara Reisman, artistic director at the Rubin Foundation, on March 14. Finally, on March 21, Ruth Dibble, Ph.D. student at Yale, will discuss how the production of textiles allowed African American and white women to renegotiate their place in the social fabric of the United States during the Civil War, situating quilts in the exhibition within the longer history of emancipation and textile production. These lectures are $7; no reservations are required.
For more information on And Still We Rise, visit brucemuseum.org or call 203-869-0376.