Quilts reveal more than stitches and fabric


Two art exhibits this spring, one at the Cannonball House and one at the Museum of Arts and Sciences, center around the art of storytelling through quilts.

The quilts at each exhibit are handmade, and many of them are antiques that are at least 100 years old.

The quilts at the Cannonball House’s antique quilt exhibit were brought in by volunteers who have had these quilts in their families for generations.

Earl Colvin, director of the Cannonball House, said that in the past women used scrap materials from other projects to make quilts. Quilts were made from leftover dress materials and seed sacks.

“They used every scrap of material,” said Colvin.

Many of the quilts are beautiful and ornate, and Colvin said that the quilts served artistic as well as practical purposes.

One quilt in particular, located in a servant’s quarters, is called a crazy quilt. Crazy quilts were made with any and every leftover scrap material, no matter its shape. Unlike most quilts, they lack geometric patterns.

Crazy quilts often have embroidered symbols and pictures on them, which was a way for women, especially slaves and servants, to express themselves.

One of the symbols the quiltmaker embroidered onto the crazy quilt that is now on display is a heart shot through with an arrow, and another is an anchor. Colvin said these symbols on the servant’s crazy quilt indicate that she might have fallen in love, perhaps with a sailor.

“That’s kind of the way ladies would tell their stories,” said Colvin. Quilting was a practical art—an art that told a story while it kept you warm.

The antique quilt exhibit at the Cannonball House was on display during March, but the Museum of Arts and Sciences “Quilts, Textiles & Fibers” exhibit, which also features antique quilts, will be on display until May 18. The quilting part of the exhibit will be on display until May 11.

Many of the quilts at the museum’s exhibit were donated by Dr. Roy T. Ward.

Ward was a doctor in a rural Georgia town, and often his patients could not pay him with money.

Quilting “was the currency his patients sometimes gave for his services,” said Melanie Byas, director of marketing and communications for the museum.

The exhibit has many geometric quilts similar to the quilts at the Cannonball House, and it also features a couple crazy quilts.

Not all of the quilts at the exhibit are antiques.

Wini McQueen is a local fiber artist who created a “Family Tree Quilt” in 1987 for the museum. Using old family photographs which McQueen printed onto fabric, she created a quilt that tells the story of her family’s history.

“We have a nice collection of photos in my family, and I had done a few archive projects, and I realized it was so important to see photos,” said McQueen about the Family Tree Quilt.

McQueen also uses African symbols on her quilts as a way to tell the story of her heritage as an African-American woman.

“It was a really nice experience visiting ‘Family Tree’ for me because everybody in my family is dead. None of those people exist anymore, and so that was what I liked about that,” said McQueen. “But the path that quiltmaking took me to was biography, as well as subjects of my choice such as literacy.”

McQueen said that quiltmaking is tedious and time-consuming, so it is a difficult art to enjoy.

“But for me, it’s a very good pathway and opening into my cultural history as a person of African descent. And so much so, that my whole quilting effort came out of my interest in African textiles and how I thought they might have originated,” said McQueen.

McQueen loves telling stories, and quilting, as well as other textiles such as scarves and wraps, is the way she decided to tell stories.

McQueen’s quilts, as well as the museum’s other quilts, will be on display until May 11. Admission is $7 for students with a current ID.