At first glance, the lumpy structure in Maxine Stovall's basement resembled a hastily-made bed.
But then, the sheet was pulled back to reveal a treasure trove of handmade quilts — carefully folded in preparation for their journey to our nation's capitol next week.
Stovall, Kathy Muhammad, Sandi Brothers, and Jannie Wyatt will transport the quilts to the Smithsonian Institution, where they will participate in Folklife Festival 2012 on the grounds of the venerable museum June 27-July 1 and July 4-8.
The four members of Sisters of the Cloth, the area's only African-American quilt guild, will conduct “bed turnings” during the first exhibition period.
“During a bed turning, multiple quilts are placed on a makeshift bed,” explains Stovall. “One by one, the story of each quilt is told by a narrator. The quilt is held up by two people who show the quilt to the audience. It is then folded, and the next quilt is shown until the bed is emptied of quilts.”
The process will be repeated three times at the festival, along with block-making demonstrations and an exhibition of their quilts.
In 2009, Sisters of the Cloth member Katrina Gorman was interviewed by Traditional Arts Indiana (TAI), an organization documenting and encouraging the preservation of arts and crafts.
“According to TAI, their over-arching goal is to integrate and connect cultural heritage to educational activities, cultural conservation, and arts and community development at the local, state and national level,” Wyatt explains.
Sisters of the Cloth was then invited to the Indiana State Fair to demonstrate and conduct bed turnings.
“I was blessed to have a picture of my quilted portrait of my grandmother on the banner introducing Sisters of the Cloth and also on the cover of their magazine,” recalls Muhammad, who went to the fair.
Association with TAI led to the invitation last month to participate in the Folklife Festival.
To Washington, D.C.
“We were thrilled to be asked and didn't hesitate to accept,” says Stovall.
“TAI considered it a short notice,” adds Wyatt, “but the members of SOC (Sisters of the Cloth) never doubted that we could make it happen. (They) came together quickly to offer quilts.”
“Each quilt submitted was sorted by technique and style,” says Brothers, “(and) the quilter submitted the description/story of each quilt.” The selection reveals a wide variety of designs, color and techniques.
Celebration of culture
“(The festival) has been held annually since 1967,” Stovall says. “It's mission, like that of TAI, is the preservation and sharing of folk traditions and cultural heritage.”
“As people imported from Africa, this has been a way of passing down tradition, ... our history,” says Muhammad. “We tell our stories in our quilts.”
The festival has three sections: Campus and Community; Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River; and Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt. It draws from every region of the United States and more than 90 countries, says Wyatt, with numerous ethnic communities, American Indian groups and 70 different occupations represented.
“The festival generally includes ... programs of music, song, dance, celebratory performance, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, illustrations of worker's culture and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues,” reports Wyatt.
“Our guild will be part of the Campus and Community program,” says Stovall. “This division focuses on connecting the university to the community through the research of the folk traditions of that region.”
The bed turning requires 30 quilts, with an additional 15 quilts and wall hangings for display.
Brothers, a Massachusetts native and co-owner A Quilt of Many Colors in Leo, is taking “Dixie Diary.”
“Based on the diary of Sara Morgan,” she explains. “Quilt historian Barbara Brackman designed the quilt. Each block refers to the diary.”
A retired licensed practical nurse, Muhammad has six whimsical wall quilts with such names as “Tricky Dicky,” “Buzzy,” and “Flower Child,” along with quilts for the bed turning.
“(One is) called 'Venus', named after my sister,” she says. “I made the quilt ... for her 50th birthday. It's pink, purple and gold.” She will also introduce “Granny,” her grandmother quilt.
Wyatt, a Fort Wayne Community Schools case worker, will introduce the “Underground Railroad” quilt, composed of 16 12-inch blocks in shades of reds, blue, green, brown, gold, cream and black. Based on the book “Hidden in Plain View,” the blocks reveal the codes used to guide slaves to freedom.
“I'll have a quilt... called 'Wonky Squares',” says Stovall, a semi-retired veterinarian. “My project began as my first log cabin quilt, but I grew tired of the uniformity of the design and began to twist the shapes. It's now a more artsy looking quilt that I just love.”
A distinct honor
“We are so honored and excited to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Wyatt.
“Quilting may be the common thread that brought us all together,” says Stovall, “but we are a group of women who work hard at being supportive of one another beyond our sewing machines. We come from various backgrounds, but we all come together to learn from one another and then share our craft with others. We really do try to live our motto of 'Each One Teach One.'”