It’s now or never to see a variety of stunning and visually-arresting quilts made by African-American women at N.C. Central University’s Art Museum. The quilts, about 60 in total and made by over 30 women, are on display in a show titled “20 Years of Harmony: Stitches of a QUILTessential Sisterhood.” The installation is presented by the African-American Quilt Circle, which was founded by Bertie Howard, Candace Thomas and Helen R. Sanders in 1988.
Museum director Kenneth G. Rodgers said Quilt Circle was “local and easily accessible,” adding that he reached out to NCCU’s News and Public Affairs Director Kimberly P. Cartwright, a Quilt Circle member herself, to see if the organization would be willing to share their works with the museum. It has been over a decade since the museum’s last quilt-centric exhibit.
Many of the quilts portray a representation of specific moments and themes in black history and the black experience: black jazz musicians, historical figures like former president Barack Obama and author Maya Angelou, and interestingly “Rev’s Ties” are all included in the collection. Others, however, are simply beautiful patterns and textures without specific symbolic content. “Their quilts have many stories to tell of artistic innovation and pride in heritage,” Rodgers wrote in the exhibit catalog, adding that “within the quilting tradition, there is a powerful impulse for freedom and creativity.”
Cartwright, who joined the Circle in 2006, has four of her own quilts in the installation. One of her favorite quilts, a self-portrait called “Khamet, Land of Blacks,” shows an African-American woman wearing an orange turban with green stripes and a distinct pattern in between that almost resembles a flower. According to Cartwright, the self-portrait was her “first foray into quilt portraiture.” Another quilt, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” is part of a three-piece series inspired by artist Faith Ringgold. It is a statement about America’s ugly history of slavery in the form of a large comforter with the head of President Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, sewn within.
“The Mask,” an enticing art-piece constructed by Carol Beck, is a mind-blowing, three-dimensional quilt that urges the eye to hone into the center, which holds a human head constructed of something akin to papier-mâché. Words around the edges of the square encompassing the head read: “We Wear the Mask.” One might draw the conclusion that we all wear masks of one type or another to cover our flaws.
“1977 and WVSP Radio” by Jereann K. Johnson, one of the Circle’s founders, is a nostalgic flashback to northern North Carolinian (and southern Virginian) jazz radio station 90.9 FM. Pages of an article about the station’s legacy, “Behind The Sounds: WSVP People,” surround the quilt’s edges. Johnson said that she has “slept under and pieced quilts as far back as she can remember,” describing her quilting as “a dynamic metaphor for living, for community development, and for creative expression.”
“20 Years of Harmony: Stitches of a QUILTessential Sisterhood” closes on Friday, September 15. The museum’s next exhibit, portraits by Cuban artist Eric Rubio, will open in October.