Monday, January 26, 2009

Lonnie Bunch - Here's my Quilt History Wish for the Smithsonian

A few days ago I read an article about Smithsonian curators collecting materials from the 2008 US Presidential election for preservation. Items are also being collected for the Smithsonian's newest museum - the National Museum of African American History - which is expected to open in 2015.

Lonnie Bunch (photo) is the founding director for the new National Museum of African American History. According to the museum's website, he says the museum will stand on four pillars to: 1) explore African American culture, 2) demonstrate how central African American history is in American history, 3) place the African American experience in context of the African Diaspora, and 4) be a place of collaboration.

Mr. Bunch - as you and your team collect artifacts for the new museum, may I make a few suggestions of African American quilt items I'd LOVE to see on exhibit at the National Museum of African American History? Now, I don't know if these items are even available. But what an exhibit of African American quilt history these would make!
  • The sewing machine Harriet Powers used to stitched the Bible Quilt
  • A 19th century sampler stitched by one associated with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation of Black Catholic nuns founded in Baltimore, MD in 1829
  • One of the quilts stitched by Harriet Tubman
  • An actual pre-Civil War African American newspaper - with a classified listing featuring black women marketing their sewing skills
  • The prototype of Thomas Elkins' 1870 combination dining room table, ironing board, and quilting frame invention (U.S. patent no. 100,020). He lived in Albany, NY.
  • The Coffee Tree Quilt stitched by Martha Ann Ricks and given to Queen Victoria
  • Anything sewn by George Washington Carver - yes, he did sew, too!
  • One of the sewing machines donated to Mary McLeod Bethune's Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls by Thomas H. White, founder of the White Sewing Machine Company and board member of the school
  • A handwritten copy of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "The Quilting" - even a draft copy will do
  • Ok, you'll need a "Little Brown Koko" quilt - or a Mammy quilt... it's part of history
  • A ribbon from a winning quilt at one of the hundreds of "Colored Fairs" held across the US
  • Rosa Parks' sewing basket
  • A Freedom Quilting Bee quilt - one from the 1960s, or one of the $10 pieces they sold when they cut up the 1969 "World's Largest Quilt" they sewed. It was 20 feet wide and 44 feet long and held that record until 1982.
  • A needlepoint piece by Pearl Bailey - ok, it's not a quilt, but I'd LOVE to see her work! And, while we're talking about needlepoint - be sure to collect a piece by former football star Rosey Grier - and ask if he would autograph his 1973 book "Needlepoint for Men"
  • One of the quilts designed by Romare Bearden. Mr. Bunch - did you know he designed a quilt in 1976? The design was hand-quilted by ladies in Ohio of the Amish faith.
  • Find a quilt - any quilt - celebrating the Presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the freedom of Nelson Mandela, the Civil Rights Struggle
  • Ask S. Epatha Merkerson if the museum can borrow one of her quilts. Not familiar with her name - you may know her as Law & Order character Lt. Anita Van Buren.
  • Don't forget quilt collectors! Find a newsreel or magazine interview of Sue Bailey Thurman talking about her efforts to purchase the "Harriet Tubman Quilt" stitched by the Negro History Club of Marin City and Sausalito, CA.
  • Display the camera Roland Freeman used to photograph African American quilters in more than 30 US states
  • Quilt history article written by noted quilt historian Cuesta Benberry
  • A copy of the 1997 police report from the African American Museum of Tacoma, WA after thieves broke into the museum and stole handmade quilts
  • Quilts stitched by women, including Black women, currently in prison
  • A bolt of fabric from an African American owned fabric store. Be sure to also get a photograph of the owner in front of the store!
  • Yards of fabric featuring African American and African images
  • Profile African American fabric-designers!
  • Photo collage featuring black folks sewing - in the US and across the Diaspora
  • A collection of postcard invitations to African American quilting shows and exhibits nationally
  • African American quilting guild newsletters, websites and annual club pins!
Mr. Bunch, I can't wait for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History to open! Hope these few suggestions are helpful - I'm sure the folks who read this blog have great suggestions on African American quilt items too! Enjoy!


Quilted Librarian said...

I love your blog and this is a tremendous list. You and Cuesta and Carolyn Mazloomi should all get in touch with the Smithsonian. What a fantastic exhibit to open the new museum!
All the best,
Dana Fisher

Quilted Librarian said...

Hi again,
I just thought of a fantastic addition: Elizabeth Keckley's crazy quilt made from the scraps of Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses. (I saw it in Louisville years ago @ Kentucky Celebrates the Quilt.

Kyra said...


Thank you for your note. Glad you enjoy the Black Threads blog. As for your suggestion about the Elizabeth Keckley quilt - I JUST saw the quilt on Saturday - it's here in Washington, DC on display. How wonderful to see it in person!

Best, Kyra

Dei said...

Outstanding points of interest. I am new to your blog and only dabble in quilting...mainly special occasions for my children, birth and college.
Thoroughly enjoying your insight.

Karoda said...

Kyra, this list knocks me off my feet!!!!

Big Mama said...

Tremendous suggestions. Now if only Mr. Bunch sees it!

Candy Parker said...

I'm a member of the Sisters of the Yam Black Quilters Guild in Richmond, VA. One of my quilt sisters, Colleen Williams, shared your site with our guild and I plan to visit on a regular basis! I learned a world of information just by reading this list.

Question: Has anyone compiled a list of black owned fabric shops across the country? I travel a lot and I would want to visit those shops.
Here in the metro Richmond area (Chesterfield), we have JoJo's Quilt Shop. It's so important to frequent our shops, especially in these economic times (Ujamaa!)

Thank you for this wonderful resource.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.