Friday, March 17, 2017

A week on retreat -- and not much to show for it

I got home yesterday from a week at our twice-yearly retreat, just 25 miles down the road but so far away in mental distance.  It doesn't seem that I accomplished very much at all -- mainly I read through a huge pile of newspapers, cut out this many little clippings for my daily art and other found-poetry projects

and put a foot-high stack of papers into the recycling bin. But yes, it takes three full days to accomplish that much, and I didn't even get the little clippings sorted and filed.  And I brought home another stack of papers that still haven't gotten read.

I did come across interesting things in the pile that I should have noticed months ago.  Here's one that made me crabby.

It's from an art review in the New York Times of a show by Nari Ward, a sculptor who immigrated to New York from Jamaica and who has worked extensively with themes of African culture coming to the new world.  The photo shows an installation of bricks covered with painted copper.

photo from New York Times

The reviewer comments, "African-American history is embedded everywhere. The colored patterns in the floor installation are derived from 19th-century African-American quilts....  The quilt patterns derive from African textiles."

Well, I beg to differ.  Perhaps the artist was inspired by a Bear Paw or Shoo-fly quilt made by an African-American -- those traditional quilt designs were no doubt popular among quiltmakers of all ethnicities -- but those patterns did not derive from African textiles.

It's just another example of people who don't know much about quilts being glib -- and wrong.  (And on that same note, the other day I saw an announcement about some woman giving a speech about quilts used as code on the Underground Railroad....)


  1. Just "alternative " facts! LOL!!

  2. The trouble with all these sorts of things, is that, as soon as you realise how wrong the journalists are about stuff you comprehend, it makes you mistrust everything they say.. Try kites for real misinformation..

  3. Alternative Facts and Fake News. No one fact checks anything anymore.

  4. So what do you think of Faith Ringgold blithely telling the interviewer that she studied a lot about quilts because she wanted to understand their origin, and "in the United States the quilt was brought here by slaves from Africa"? (A 2012 Craft in America episode I about fell off my chair. That's some selective "studying" imo.

  5. I have not done deep research, but there is some thought that quilt patterns were derived from both Native American imagery and that of African American slaves. If you've ever looked at an exhibit of African textiles, you will see quilt pattern after quilt pattern. Kente cloth is a good example. It would be interesting to hear from a scholar on the subject.

    1. I don't think there is any dispute that many of the geometric designs used in quilts are somewhat universal and found in many cultures, ancient and more modern. You only have to look at what was being made in England, etc. and also designs applied to furniture to see the crossover of design ideas from one to the other. There were even design books that craftsmen referenced. They weren't getting their ideas from native cultures necessarily. The thing that is in dispute for me, at least in Ringgold's statement, is that there was a quilt-making culture in Africa that the slaves introduced to the white settlers. That is what I hear her saying in that comment. There may have been some piecing together of cloth to make designs but I don't think there was a tradition of making bedding with the layers then stitched together in patterns of their own. That slaves made quilts for the master as well as self is not in dispute either, and I can believe they would have incorporated symbols and geometric shapes familiar to them. But to imply that those buying the slaves had no knowledge of quilts and quilting before the slaves introduced it to them - well, I don't know where she got that idea in her research.