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  • Renée C. Byer /

    Artist Jan Hollins, right, and curator Barbara Range prepare Wednesday for a quilt exhibit at the Brickhouse Art Gallery in Oak Park. The exhibit , which opens Saturday and runs through February, features work by the Sisters Quilt Collective in honor of Black History Month.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Barbara Range, right, holds up a quilt titled "I Share My Blessings" by arist Jan Hollins, left, as quilter Fredi Slaughter-Walker, center, helps prepare for an upcoming exhibit. Range remembers watching her grandmother quilt in rural Texas.

  • Renée C. Byer /

    Artist Jan Hollins, left, and quilter Fredi Slaughter-Walker hang a quilt in preparation for an exhibit opening Saturday featuring quilts by African American women. Events will include qulting demonstrations and children's activities.

Quilts part of fabric of African American heritage, community

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 - 4:13 pm | Page 1B

Jan Hollins is an established Elk Grove textile artist known for blending vibrant patches of silk with sturdy cotton in her artwork. She has quilted all of her life.

Retired social worker Fredi Slaughter-Walker learned to sew as a child but has started quilting only in recent years.

Gallery director Barbara Range is a recent devotee of the art of quilting, too, but she remembers watching her grandmother in rural Texas hand-stitch large quilts for the family decades ago.

Together, they're part of the Sisters Quilt Collective, which has its second African American quilt exhibit at Oak Park's Brickhouse Art Gallery starting Saturday in celebration of Black History Month.

But they're also part of the larger, richer fabric of quilting in African American life.

"This historical value is really important," said Range, Brickhouse curator and director.

"Quilting has actually been a dying art in our community. It was transported to us by our parents and our parents' parents and their parents. There's a historical value in sharing that and remembering that."

In a sense, African American quilts were an extension of African textile making, sharing those traditional designs and colors. During slavery, African American women learned sewing and quilting as household skills that they later applied to creating their own bedcovers.

Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln's seamstress, incorporated fabric from Lincoln's dresses into her quilts. One of the most historically significant African American quilters, a former slave born in 1837 named Harriet Powers, created quilts filled with family history and Biblical references. Two of her quilts are on display in the Smithsonian.

"Quilting was used as a way to gather various family members," said Range. "It was used in the days of slavery to preserve communication. It was a way to pass on the history of the African Americans transported here."

"And it was a way African American women economically could survive and come together," said Slaughter-Walker. "You could pray together. You could laugh together. You could cry and sing together."

Quilting became a way to create community – and later, a way to make money.

Along with the display of contemporary quilts, the Brickhouse exhibit will include traditional patterns as well as antique quilts handed down from previous generations.

"They may be tattered, but it gives the children a chance to see what came before," said Hollins.

The exhibit, which lasts through Feb. 28, includes a schedule of special events. During the opening reception, from noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 2, there will be a quilting demonstration and a children's corner to educate younger people on quilting.

"This is your legacy," said Range. "It's important. It's rich. It's part of your family. It's connection.

"What better way to tell the story than by having something treasured and understanding why it's important to preserve and pass on the tradition?"


What: "Stitch in Time," the Sisters Quilt Collective's African American quilt exhibit in celebration of Black History Month.

Where: Brickhouse Art Gallery, 2837 36th St., Oak Park.

When: Saturday through Feb. 28.

Cost: Free

For more information: Call (916) 475-1240.

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