Friday, October 27, 2017

Southern Accent 3 -- quilt rising

Another look at the "Southern Accent" show that just closed at the Speed Museum in Louisville.

Forgive me for sounding jaded, but one of the cliches of our stereotyped vision of the South is the quilt (you know, everybody's grandma made them...) and one of the cliches of the quilt is that old Underground Railroad myth.  How romantic to think that people would hang quilts on the line to point the direction to freedom or to mark the place for a free supper or a bed in the corncrib.  How romantic, but how silly, upon further examination: how many poor people just happened to have a quilt in the appropriate secret-code pattern on hand, and how would they hang it on the line when it was raining, and wouldn't vigilant sheriffs and slavers notice that the same people had a quilt hanging out every day?

Sanford Biggers, Quilt #15, Harmonics 2 (details below)

Sure enough, the signage on one big work in the show tells us -- falsely -- "Some quilts were used as signposts for safe houses along the secret network of routes from southern slave states to northern free states and Canada."

I am so sick and tired of hearing this fake news.  Only a few weeks ago I griped about it in my blog, in response to a review of work by -- well, well -- the very same Sanford Biggers!  So I wonder -- does the fake news come from the ignorance of the reviewer, as I had thought while writing that post, or does the artist plant it in his statements, as you would infer from reading the sign?

Oh well, let's talk about the art, not the propaganda.  He's painted with metallic and day-glo colors onto a beautifully made Irish Chain quilt, which incidentally is in pretty fine condition.  The quilt wasn't stiffened or stretched, just hung against the wall.

It was a striking image, especially the central curvy five-pointed star rising above the mountain horizon like a beacon in the sky, except that I didn't understand what all the protruding orange tubes were supposed to be.  To me they looked like gun barrels rather than rays of light.  I was also confused about those areas of gold paint that were dripping out of the star (as in the detail shot).  The rest of the image was controlled, even meticulous, and then here's this accidental blob....

More art from the Southern Accent show next week.


  1. I’m glad you wrote about this, Kathy... we never got to discuss it st length. “Hidden in Plain View”, “ by historian Jacqueline Tobin and scholar Raymond Dobard is the book connecting Quilt patterns to messages along the Underground Railroad. It had quite a popular following. When the news came out that it was not necessarily fact, a great many people didn’t get the information. Too bad Mr. Biggers was among them. I saw the striking quilt at the Speed exhibit. For the years of flack I have gotten for painting on completely worn out and beyond repair quilts, I was stunned to see this perfect Double Irish Chain, I believe, go “under the brush” so to speak. Setting that aside AND the fake news, I thought it was a powerful piece... referring to the North Star as a beacon towards freedom and the five horns representing 5 harmonics from Kepler’s theory of the universe... 5 pointed star, a traditional quilt pattern, also had African significance. I liked the storm clouds on the bottom and I liked the drips. I like the layering of meanings. So I loved a piece I had big trouble with. What does that say?

  2. Have you thought about contacting Mr Biggers and having a conversation with him about this? He has an easy to find website and contact box. He may have no idea and appreciate the heads up.

  3. I can't get past being horrified that an antique in perfect condition got ruined for that. :( the promotion of false information just adds insult to injury.