2004-02-19 / Arts & Entertainment

Quilt-Making Exhibit Now On Display In Manhattan

For AP Special Edition
By Barbara Mayer
Quilt-Making Exhibit Now On Display In Manhattan By Barbara Mayer For AP Special Edition

When asked if she knew how to quilt, Rosa Parks, heroine of the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., replied: "Any good woman my age from Alabama knows how to quilt,’’ recounts Dr. Carolyn Maz-loomi.

"Alabama is home to large numbers of self-taught African American quilters, including the quilters of Gee’s Bend, so Rosa Parks’ comment is not surprising,’’ said Mazloomi, an expert on black American quilts.

Gee’s Bend quilters used discarded fabrics to make bedcoverings that now are considered abstract art works and have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York and elsewhere. Perhaps as a result, many people have gotten the idea that such quilts represent the totality of black American quilt making.

But it’s not so, according to Mazloomi, founder of the Women of Color Quilters Network (WCQN). "Something like 95 percent of WCQN members are making quilts that tell a story, and these quilts have jumped off the bed and onto the wall,’’ she said.

The 53 new quilts made by 33 members of the WCQN are so vivid and colorful they almost seem to jump off the walls at the Art Gallery of the American Bible Society Gallery in Manhattan, where they are on display through April 17 in an exhibit titled, "Threads of Faith.’’

Instead of familiar patchwork patterns such as "Log Cabin,’’ these quilts represent a departure from simple patterns toward story telling, and they reveal the makers’ knowledge of African, European and modern art, popular culture and history. Out of nothing more complicated than cloth, thread and perhaps some beads, feathers or shells, the quilts may depict personal memories, Bible stories or historic events.

Although works by network members have been displayed before, the exhibit is believed to be the first organized around the theme of Christian faith, which has been of great importance in history of the black American experience, said Mazloomi.

Looking for other black Americans who shared her passion, Mazloomi placed a small notice in a quilting magazine in 1985 and eight women responded. This was the nucleus of a network that now includes 1,700 members throughout the country. The WCQN has nine local chapters, including those in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago and the Charleston, S.C., area. The network provides a community that is not limited geographically, thanks to the Internet. Members of WCQN may travel distances to attend one another’s exhibitions and meetings. They also run quilting workshops for audiences of all ages, income levels and ethnic backgrounds.

One of Mazloomi’s objectives is to publicize the historic and monetary value of new and old black American quilts. While there is considerable scholarship on black American quiltmaking, quilts by specific individuals are not well known.

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