Quilts can do more than decorate a bed or keep people warm.
Handed down through generations, they can represent a link to relatives and serve as touchstones to history, both good and bad. Sewn with passion, they piece together tributes or eye-opening revelations. Hung on walls, they become art.
Such are the cotton masterpieces displayed this month at the Brickhouse Gallery and Art Complex in Sacramento’s Oak Park. Presented by the African American History Legacy, “Never, Ever Forget” explores black history through handmade quilts.
“Our theme is so very, very personal,” said quilt artist Marsha Carter, who coordinated the show. “These quilts depict personal experience, historical events, people and places.”
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In a quilt that serves as the show’s centerpiece, Carter paid tribute to late Oakland Tribune columnist Delilah Beasley, a groundbreaking journalist and African American historian. “She let the world know that black people do great things,” Carter said.
Quilt artists from throughout the U.S. participated in this juried exhibition including Oakland’s Alice Beasley (no relation to Delilah) and New York’s Ife Felix, a founding member of the Harlem Girls Quilting Circle.
“We’re always trying to find a place to be heard and seen,” said gallery owner Barbara Range, co-founder of the Sisters Quilting Collective. “It’s very difficult for African American artists to have a venue for an exhibit, to be able to share our history with people who may not even know it exists.”
What makes African American quilts different? “It’s the voices,” Range explained. “We’re preserving them and sharing them. … They’re a form of storytelling and a way to document the past. They bring history to life.”
Lillian LeBlanc, a Sacramento-based quilt historian, will present a chapter of that history in a special talk Saturday, Aug. 12. LeBlanc will profile early African American quilters such as Harriet Powers, a former Georgia slave whose Bible-themed quilt now hangs in the Smithsonian. LeBlanc will also follow the thread that links their work with that of modern quilt artists.
“Harriet called that quilt ‘the brainchild of her mind,’” LeBlanc said. “There’s a lot of history behind that quilt. And it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Among the traditional patchwork quilts on display during this show are two sewn by Carter’s great-grandmother, Rosie Washington, more than 80 years ago. Made with scraps from family clothes, the blocks include material from one of her mother’s childhood dresses. Hand-carded cotton from her family’s Texas farm forms the quilt’s batting, which gives it warmth.
“These quilts were made to be used on a bed, to keep you warm,” Carter said. “You can see by their wear that they were used a lot – and loved. My great-grandmother would sure be amazed to see them up on a wall.”
‘Never, Ever Forget’
What: African American History Legacy juried quilt show.
Where: Brickhouse Gallery and Art Complex, 2837 36th St., Sacramento.
When: Through Aug. 26. Noon-6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon-7 p.m. Saturdays.
Details: 916-475-1240, www.thebrickhouseartgallery.com.
▪ “Canvases of African-American Quilters,” by historian Lillian LeBlanc, 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, $10.
▪ “Tribute to the Civil Rights Movement Heroines,” by artist Patricia A. Montgomery, 2 p.m. Aug. 19, $10.
▪ Closing reception with Black Urban Farmers Association including farmers market, 2 p.m. Aug. 26, free.