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Quilting: An Examination of Harriet Powers and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley


Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/20996

Quilting: An Examination of Harriet Powers and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley

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Title: Quilting: An Examination of Harriet Powers and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
Author: Moreland, Jennifer
Advisor(s): Buick, Kirsten
Committee Member(s): Andrews, Justine
Harris, Catherine
Department: University of New Mexico. Dept. of Art and Art History
Subject: Harriet Powers, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, Quilt, slave, African American
textile, Faith Ringgold
LC Subject(s): Quilting -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Women slaves -- United States -- Social conditions
African-American women -- United States -- Social conditions -- History
African American folk art
Powers, Harriet, 1837-1911
Keckley, Elizabeth, ca. 1818-1907
Ringgold, Faith
Degree Level: Masters
Abstract: African American quilting exhibits a long and rich history in antebellum and post– bellum America. Although hindered by their social status as slaves, African Americans were adroit artisans adept at producing exceptional quilts for personal use as well as for the plantation household. In the few surviving examples, slave quilts demonstrate a range of geometric improvisation, decorative patterning, and asymmetrical ornamentation. African American quilts are unique in their ability to articulate personal histories and narratives, religious ideologies, and communicate messages through color, pattern, and emblematic imagery. A close investigation of African and Euro-American design aesthetics is crucial to understanding the hybrid quality of quilts produced by slave women. Within this research, I specifically explore the lives and quilts produced by ex-slaves Harriet Powers and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley—notably, Pictorial Quilt II (1895–8) and the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt (1860–80). In addition to the historical underpinnings of textile production in colonial America, my research also explores the iconographic complexities of African American quilting, and examines how these quilts functioned as a necessary resource for social, spiritual, and political endeavors. Given that slaves were generally provided commercial blankets every third year, sufficient bed cover was essential and provided a means for slaves to engage in quilting bees—social events that offered communal kinship, slave courtship, and psychological respite from the hardships of daily life. Moreover, covert messages evident in slave quilt imagery, played a pivotal role for slaves escaping north through the Underground Railroad. I conclude with the life and work of contemporary artist and quilter, Faith Ringgold. Her artistic quilts and creative storytelling about slavery and freedom, reiterate the lives of enslaved African American women—women like Powers and Keckley. In, Quilting: An Examination of Harriet Powers and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, I hope to thoroughly demonstrate how African American quilts functioned on several levels in nineteenth–century America; and in part, were used not only as tools to compensate for meager supplies, but as special objects that are spiritual, communicative, and artistically extraordinary. In short, I hope that my research expresses the fundamental value, dynamism, and exceptional skill embedded in nineteenth–century African American quilts.
Graduation Date: July 2012
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/20996

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