Class of 2021
Arts Administration – Art History Major
Preserving African American Heritage Through Quilt Making: The Legacy of Harriet Powers
Weaving, a traditionally feminine craft, gives a voice to women through the storytelling nature of tapestry. The creation of quilts originated from practical purposes of providing physical warmth, but also often served as a method of passing down religious tales, preserving local legends, and maintaining cultural histories. Quilting as an artistic expression was and continues to be utilized as a resource in providing a record and reconstruction of the experiences of African American women.
One grainy picture and two monumental quilts vibrantly demonstrate the talent, technique, and ingenuity of a literate seamstress who excelled in her artistic pursuits despite of and as a result of slave origins. Harriet Powers— an American folk artist born in 1837 whose surviving quilts exhibit prime examples of Southern quilting in the nineteenth century— recorded legends, Biblical stories, and astronomy through layered patchwork panels that were only recently rediscovered in the 1970s. Folk artists, such as Powers, are classified as such because of their tangible works— often textiles— that express cultural heritage and legends within a community. The Bible Quilt and the Pictorial Quilt are the only works of the artist to survive, but it is estimated from her personal letters that at least four others were created during her lifetime that have since been lost or unrecovered.
The two creations have fortunately been passed down through generations of collectors and into the collections of museums where the compositions inform contemporary pieces concerning African American identity and social justice. Faith Ringgold and Bisa Butler specifically embody ideals relating to female empowerment, unity, and senses of self.