Many celebrations tie into a thread of Mississippi’s bicentennial, but none quite as literally as quilt shows.
“Mississippians have created a remarkable record of history and art in their quilts,” said Mary Lohrenz, who curated “Stories Unfolded,” a temporary exhibition of quilts from the state archives’ collection. The collection is part of the Dec. 9 opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Quilts, from utilitarian bedcovers crafted from scraps to high-style showpieces of imported fabrics to narrative quilts that share a story, all have a place in the state’s history and “Stories Unfolded.”
Practiced primarily by women, quilting has had a role in all different ethnic/cultural/racial groups and at every socioeconomic level, Lohrenz said. Each is layered with meaning — in patterns traditional, improvised or wholly original.
The national quilt revival in the 1970s, sparked in part by America’s 1976 bicentennial, brought a new focus on their role in American and women’s history, and how they were viewed and valued. Formation of local quilt guilds in the 1970s and 1980s also saw the founding of Mississippi Cultural Crossroads and Tutwiler Quilters, promoting African American quilt-making, and the statewide Mississippi Quilt Association to preserve and promote the art, Lohrenz said. Famed Mississippi quilt artists Gwendolyn Magee, Hystercine Rankin and Martha Skelton, now gone, are all represented in the state archives collection.
The Mississippi Museum of Art, too, showcases artistry in design and stitches in one of the dozen exhibitions showcasing Mississippi artworks in its permanent collection. “Voices in the Threads: Quilts from the Mississippi Museum of Art,” will be on display at the Union County Heritage Museum in New Albany during January and February.
Now Mississippi’s bicentennial becomes the framework and fuel for showcases. The theme for the recent Old Man River Quilt Fest in Vicksburg, organized by Stitch-N-Frame in Bovina, was “Twenty Stars: Celebrating the Mississippi Bicentennial 1817-2017.” Quilters explored that theme in thoughtful ways.
“You Wear It Well,” Beth Burke named hers, a colorful creation using the Mississippi Star block.
“It’s supposed to be 200 years. It’s a birthday,” and vintage-flavored fabrics lend an old-fashioned air.
Libby Hartfield, for “United Stars,” stitched together free cut stars fondly described as “wonky.” They all had the same center but slightly different points that brushed alongside each other in what could be a hopeful vision of handholding. Symbolizing the 20 states when Mississippi joined the Union, “I wanted them to interlock as if becoming one, working together, interconnecting,” she said.
A block exchange in a group of 10 quilters assured every one of their quilts would share the same star blocks, in different designs. Another in Sarah Ketchum’s hands, “Thank You Stars,” had a patriotic gist and destination, as a military veteran’s gift.
“I like the Old Glory look, as far as red, white and blue. It’s not tattered, but aged,” she said of its “antique-y” hues.
Myra Cook’s “Deep Purple Dreams,” a Sedona Stars pattern in hues from lavender to deep purple, with longarm quilting by Carol Kossman, had sly design at work and a 1960s pop hit for inspiration. Purple combines the warmest and coolest colors, red and blue. In her quilt, one star’s fabric was another star’s background, block to block.
“So, they’re different, but they have things in common, which I think is a good part of the theme of the way our country was born,” she said.
In more bicentennial tie-ins, in Chickasa-Leaf Barn Quilt Trail (Greene and surrounding counties) community workshops, children pieced small fabric squares of red, white and blue prints into designs similar to quilting blocks. Once glued, mounted and sealed on plywood, the quilt-like pieces become community folk art. Trail founder Regina Breland also re-created the U.S. 20 Star Flag in paint on plywood — “We cut holes in the board to make it look as realistic as possible,” she said — to add to the trail.
“Stories Unfolded ” Quilt Exhibit
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
380 South Lamar Street
Jackson, MS 39201
Exhibit opens Dec. 9
Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday 1 – 5 p.m