Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dr. Gladys-Marie Fry - In Memory

Dr. Gladys-Marie Fry
I remember the first time I read Dr. Gladys-Marie Fry's book, Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South, and marveling about the amount a old fashion, pre-Internet research work that went into this book. In the preface to this groundbreaking catalog, she wrote:

"To date, no formal study has been undertaken to determine the extent of the involvement of slave women in the design or craftsmanship of mid-nineteenth-century quilts, or to determine the influence of African culture on African-American quilting styles. Thus, for too long fave slave women been denied recognition or acknowledgement - or even a history... That history, however, has been inscribed in the quilts that survive.... Denied the opportunity to read or write, slave women quilted their diaries, creating permanent but unwritten records of events large and small, of pain and loss, of triumph and tragedy in their lives. And each piece of cloth became the focal point of a remembered past."

Dr. Fry's research forced us to remember by offering documented insights into slaves as seamstresses, quilting during slave times in America, and more. It takes courage and leadership to be the first. And, she was.

In 1976, Dr. Fry's landmark essay profiling the life of former slave and quilter Harriet Powers was published. This was the first large-scale effort to recreate Mrs. Powers' life story... and place the Bible Quilt (now at the Smithsonian Museum of American History) and the Pictorial Quilt (at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) into context.

When I started researching Harriet Powers' life myself, I called Dr. Fry, since she was one of the leading authorities in this area. I had this idea about tracing the people who touched Mrs. Powers quilts and understanding how the quilts actually got into the collections of two major US museums. Oh, and I wanted to self-publish the research. Dr. Fry really lit into me on that point. And, if you've ever met Dr. Fry, you know she's rather feisty. She thought the work deserved to be published more traditionally. When we hung up, I cried because someone I so looked up to seemed so disappointed in me. Once I sent her the (self) published book, she apologized and said the equivalent of "well done," which I cherished! We laughed about that phone call when I visited her last month.

A major force in documenting African American quilt history has left us. I'm saddened to share that Dr. Gladys-Marie Fry passed away November 7, 2015. Her memorial will be Saturday, Nov. 28 at McGuire Funeral Service, Inc., 7400 Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20012, (202) 882-6600.

You can sign the online guestbook for Dr. Fry at Legacy.com - click here.  Best, Kyra