Quilts Reflect Warmth in Many Ways

Posted on 02 April 2014

Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society's quilts.

Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society’s quilts. Photo by Steve Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The bare walls of the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House were being covered in splashes of bright colors and cozy comfort on Friday afternoon as a small group gathered to select and hang the 15 quilts chosen for the society’s annual exhibit, “Warmth,” which opens this Saturday.

The opening reception will be from 2 to 5 p.m. and the show will be on display through July.

As was the case in 2009, when the society also sponsored an exhibit on quilts, this year’s show is being curated by Dr. Patricia Turner, a Sag Harbor native, who is the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA, an expert on African-American folklore, and the author, with Kyra E. Hicks, of “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters.”

“Everyday life has always interested me,” said Dr. Turner. “Folklore is the perfect field for someone who wants to document things from ordinary life that can be extraordinary.”

“The diversity of African-American people can be shown in the type of quilts they make,” she continued, noting that the show hopes to showcase works by everyone from “the poor little woman from the south” to highly regarded textile artists.

Dr. Turner said her interest in the art was kindled when she interned at the Smithsonian Institution when she was a graduate student. “There was a group of quilters who were making a quilt there and I realized how much they were willing to talk about their families as they did their work,” she said. “It revealed bigger stories.”

On Friday, Dr. Turner was facing something of a dilemma as she sorted through an assortment of extraordinary quilts, some from her own collection, others that she had borrowed from their makers, as she tried to make the final selections for the show.

“One of the challenges of the Eastville house is it is small, and the quilts are big,” she said. She, Georgette Grier-Keye, the society’s executive director, and Michael Butler, a member of its board of directors, had spent much of the morning trying to figure out where to put which quilt in the small house-turned gallery.

The quilts chosen all reflect the theme of the exhibit, but in different ways. Some are “more functional,” said Dr. Turner. “Those were created solely for warmth. They were made for drafty houses.”

Others are representational and express the feelings of warmth and affection family members have for one another.

“About five of these quilts were made by members of the same family,” said Dr. Turner. “They were made in response to a quilting exhibit challenge to make quilts that were inspired by your personal legacy.”

An example among them is one made by members of the Presley family of Oakland, California, to honor their grandmother and great grandmother, “Grandma’s Apron.” Various squares on the quilt depict attributes of their grandmother that family members remembered fondly, from her sewing clothing for the girls in the family, to her love of gardening, her skill as a cook, to her monthly gambling junkets via bus to Reno. Each of the squares includes a small cutout apron.

Another quilt, “Jimmie,” with squares showing various tropical fish and images of a charter boat captain and his customers, honors another family member who once ran a sportfishing boat out of Berkley, California.

Yet another batch of quilts were made by Riché Richardson, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University and are decorative in nature. A native of Alabama, Dr. Richardson uses folk art techniques to depict the heroes she feels warmly about, according to Dr. Turner. For this exhibit, she has submitted quilts of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Frederick Douglass, and Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet. Yet another, “Ties that Bind,” is a reproduction of a photo collage of portraits once commonplace in African-American homes, of President John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, in front of an American flag.

“Waiting for the Freedom Train,” by Marion Coleman, shows an African-American family in a log cabin. It was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Ms. Grier-Keye said she thought it might be the star of the show because of the expertise Ms. Coleman showed in using layers of material to give the piece a sense of depth.

The exhibit is being sponsored by the Huntington Arts Council, which gave the historical society a $4,000 grant for the show. As part of the exhibit, the society plans to work with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center during its summer camp. Children will create their own square for a group quilt that will then be put on display, Ms. Grier-Keyes said.

Dr. Turner, who grew up in Sag Harbor Hills and attended Pierson High School before, embarking on her career as a college professor and administrator, still owns a home in Bridgehampton and will return for a lecture and book signing in July.

She added that quilting is gaining new popularity as a “reclaimed enterprise” in the lives of many Americans. Asked if she quilts herself, she replied with a smile, “very poorly.”

“Warmth,” an exhibit of quilts, will open this Saturday, with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House on Route 114 at Liberty Street. Hours are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. Regular Saturday hours will be offered during the summer months. Admission is $3. For more information, call 725-4711.

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