"The Fabric of Our Lives" - memory embedded in material
"Bars" work-clothes quilt (ca. 1950) by Lutisha Pettway (Gees Bend quilter)
Double Dutch on the Golden Gate Bridge (1988) by Faith Ringgold
Quilting is an art medium that is inherently rich with memory - down to the actual material itself. The images above are examples of both material as meaning, and image as meaning. The Gees Bend quilt (above, top) is a simple assemblage of old work clothes, and the history and association of the material gives the quilt significant meaning. The quilt by Faith Ringgold (above, bottom) is just as much about the material as it is about the imagery that is painted upon it.
I come from a family of quilters, and I learned to quilt from my mom. There is something so special and comforting about curling up under a handmade quilt, especially when you know and love the person who made it. I have a patchwork quilt at home that is made from many little pieces of old fabric - some that look like they were once old clothes or bedsheets. I know someone in my family (a great-grandmother?) made it, and it is completely hand sewn...I know it is something that I should probably preserve or put away, but I love to be wrapped up in it. In response to a self-portrait project assignment in my photo class last semester, I took the following photo of my feet popping out from underneath this quilt:
Another quilt-related story I would like to mention is my experience this past year working with documentary quilter (and one of my professors at MICA) Dr. Joan Gaither. I have had the privilege to work with Joan on her quilts, most recently her "Black Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay" quilt. Joan's main focus in her quilts is to "tell the stories that need to be told - stories that are being lost". Every square inch of her huge (think 8x12 feet) quilts are covered in meaningful embellishments, photos, and text to honor and remember the people whose stories may not be known. Joan takes her work into the community to engage and involve the public with the work, as well as to gather information about the people and places she plans to memorialize through her work. Here is a photo of Joan with the "Black Watermen of the Chesapeake" quilt at the unveiling and dedication ceremony this past Wednesday at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.
The "Black Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay" quilt, along with the 6 other quilts in her "My American Series" will begin their national tour starting next week. For more information on the quilts and the traveling exhibition, go to http://www.joangaither.com/