We are busy installing BOLD EXPRESSIONS – African American Quilts from the Collection of Corrine Riley. Every time I walk into the gallery more of these brilliant, dramatic creations are on the wall or on flat platforms. I see their major patterns – almost never symmetrical and sometimes a bit off kilter – and I am enchanted.
As many of us did, I grew up with quilts, beautiful quilts with tops made by my family and quilted by the maiden ladies next door, like these from the fabric of old dresses and aprons in the patterns that had arrived from Europe and evolved in America. Quilts kept us warm, and were a way to use good fabric from clothes that had been outgrown or gone out of fashion.
I confess that I ruined two magnificent wedding ring pattern quilts. My mother used them as bedspreads when company came, but when I was a young bride and had inherited them, I used them regularly. Being a modern young woman, I washed them in the washing machine and dried them in the dryer. They disintegrated, and I learned a lesson.
Having grown up with quilts and with people who made them as a matter of course, I find that I’m curious about the stories that the fabrics in these quilts represent. I wonder how the textile came to be in the possession of the maker. Did she upholster a sofa in the fabric of that blue- and white-striped strip with the repeating bouquets of blue roses and pink hydrangeas? Would she have sat on it to fan herself after hanging out laundry on a hot summer morning? And that strip of Hunting Stewart tartan wool, was it a warm winter work shirt or a hand-me-down school skirt? There’s a cheerful red and white polka dot fabric that I like to think was someone’s Sunday dress. What kind of hat did she wear with it? If it had been my mother, it would have been a white picture hat, with perhaps a red ribbon around the crown.
Musing until next time.
Top: House Top Quilt. Mississippi, 1920s. Cotton, rayon. Polka dot textile is bottom right.
Bottom: House Top Quilt. Alabama, 1940s-1950s. Cotton. Hunting Stewart strips at top and bottom of image. Blue and white striped textile with bouquets located in top section.