African American Quilting Essay

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Harriet Powers' 1898 bible quilt.
By the time that early African American quilting became a tradition in and of itself, it was already a combination of textile traditions from the prominent influences of four civilizations of Central and West Africa: the Mande-speaking peoples, the Yoruba and Fon peoples, the Ejagham peoples, and the Kongo peoples. Textiles were traded heavily throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and the Southern United States, the traditions of each distinct region became intermixed. Originally, most of the textiles were made by men. Yet when slaves were brought to the United States their work was divided according to Western patriarchal standards and women took over the tradition. However, this strong tradition of weaving left a visible mark
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A break in a pattern symbolized a rebirth in the ancestral power of the creator or wearer. And a break in a pattern also helped keep evil spirits away. Evil is believed to travel in straight lines and a break in a pattern or line confuses the spirits and slows them down. This tradition is highly recognizable in African American improvisation of European American patterns. The traditions of improvisation and multiple patterning also protect the quilter from anyone copying their quilts. These traditions allow for a strong sense of ownership and creativity.[3]

Anna Williams (American, born 1927). Quilt, 1995. Cotton, synthetics Brooklyn Museum
In the 1980s, concurrent with the boom in art quilting in America, new attention was brought to African-American traditions and innovations, from opposing points of view, one validating the practices of rural Southern African-American quilters and another asserting that there was no one style but rather the same individualization found among white quilters.[4] John Vlach in a 1976 exhibition and Maude Wahlman, co-organizing a 1979 exhibition,
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