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Quilts and Human Rights

Quilts Honor Champions For Human Rights

Individuals who stand up for human rights are regarded as heroes and leaders by those whose causes they champion or support. Some of these leaders are well known—Rosa Parks, César Chávez, Leonard Peltier, Chief Joseph, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela; others are anonymous individuals who have struggled, been punished or tortured, and even lost their lives in their fights against injustices. Quiltmakers honor human rights heroes—famous and anonymous, historical and contemporary.


 


   

South African Black Women Anti-Apartheid Leaders
Phina Nkosi
Soweto, South Africa
2000
Cotton with polyester batting
77 1/2" x 83"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

The quilt incorporates portraits of black South African women who the artist felt were instrumental in the struggle for freedom in South Africa. Depicted, left to right and with artist's original spelling in parentheses, are: (row one) Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo (Addelatte Thamo), Lindiwe [no last name give, but likely Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu], Thandi Modise; (row two) Nokukhauya Huthuli, Lillian Masediba Ngoyi (Lillian Mosediba Ngoyi), Princess Constance Magogo (Princess Contance Magogo), Dudu Masondo, Stella Sigcau (Stell Sigcawu); (row three) Dipuwo Hanni, Florence Mkhize (Florance Mkmize), Charlotte Maxeke, Dr. Ellen Khuzwayo, Princess Irene (Princess Irene); and (row four) Marry [sic] Nontolwane, Lillian Ntshang, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, Rose Givamanda, and Kate [no last name given, but likely Kate Molale].

This quilt was included in a national exhibition of crafts shown at the Craft Council of South, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2004. It was acquired during a bi-national South African Cultural Heritage Project for which the MSU Museum was a lead US partner.


   
   
Honor the First Nations
Pat Courtney Gold
Scappoose, Oregon
1996
Cotton with polyester batting
69" x 85"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum
Photo by Doug Elbinger, all rights reserved

Wasco artist Gold, a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Award, says of this quilt, "I wanted to do a quilt to represent various tribal entities throughout the United States. I could not include all nations, and it was hard picking the art forms on this quilt. Each block represents a different tribal art and/or region. I especially wanted to show respect for the elders in a block. I chose the clothing style during transition from the 'traditional ways' to the 'white man' ways. I felt this was a painful time in tribal history, and the strength of the generation was passed to us. I left her face undefined, so that as we look at her, we will each see our grandmothers.Another strong symbol is the turtle. I did put various herbs in it, as do many tribes. The circle of life is whole. I varied it by putting a golden halo around it. It displays the reverence as do the halos around the Christian figures."

The quilt includes: wood mask (Iroquois); beaded flower (Plateau); whale (Alaska); basket design (Plateau); rabbit (Southwest); quote (Iroquois); weaving modern twill; petroglyph (Southwest); Yei figure (Navajo); cornhusk (Nez Perce); quote (Nez Perce), horse (Plains); hand (U.S.); drum (Plains); frog (Northwest); quote (Shawnee); petroglyph (Wasco); quail (Southwest); circle of life (U.S.); elder (U.S.); quote (Cherokee); basket figure (Wasco); turtle (Midwest); salmon (Northwest); bird (Pueblo); and shield (Alaska).


   
 

Beverly Ann White was interviewed by Marsha MacDowell on January 21, 2008 at the MSU Museum.
On that day, the Quilts and Human Rights exhibit was part of a campus-wide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. Mandela
Beverly Ann White
Pontiac, Michigan
1990
Cotton
43 1/2" x 44 1/4"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, gift of the artist
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

Of this quilt, White says: “My statement quilts are made as a result of emotion. The inspiration for Mr. Mandela came from the very strong emotions of elation and relief I experienced when he was released from his years of captivity in South Africa.” The museum has over forty African-American and African quilts, as well as quilt-related documentary materials, which reflect a wide range of individual styles and traditions found within Africa and African diasporic communities.

 
View from the Mountain Top
Beverly Ann White
Pontiac, Michigan
1991
Cotton
82 1/2" x 48 1/2"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, gift of the artist
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

“I cannot chronicle the brave and valiant fight of each and every one of the honorable souls who have fought for the rights of African-Americans throughout the history of the United States; I can, however, attempt to show several of those heroes who have impressed me. May GOD and those who are not represented here forgive me and perhaps their souls will move other African-Americans to produce more and more quilts that will extol their efforts and keep the struggle alive to ensure the ultimate goal of equality for all.”

White made this quilt to teach students, family, and friends about important heroes in African-American history. The quilt features appliquéd and embroidered portraits of Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Bunche, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Dubois.

   
   
Nelson Mandela's Presence
Meena Schaldenbrand
Plymouth, Michigan
July 2004
Cotton, decorative thread; thread sketched by machine bobbinwork
20” x 24”
Collection of Michigan State University Museum
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

This quilt was made for the Michigan Quilt Artist Invitational whose theme was “Exploring Africa.” Of this quilt, the artist says, “I greatly admire Mr. Mandela and decided to draw his portrait free motion on the sewing machine.”

   
 

Hilda Freeman Vest was interviewed by Marsha MacDowell on January 21, 2008 at the MSU Museum.
On that day, the Quilts and Human Rights exhibit was part of a campus-wide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Tribute to Nelson Mandela
Hilda Freeman Vest
Detroit, Michigan
1990
Cotton with polyester batting
49" x 51"
Collection of the artist
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

“Fascinated by African fabrics since discovering the joys of quilting, I was auditioning scraps of brillliant colors when news of Nelson Mandela's release from prison flooded the airwaves. How timely, I decided, it would be to fashion the King's X pattern I had already chosen into a humble "monument" dedicated to his survival after twenty-eight years as a political prisoner. African symbols were incorporated into the quilting and I proudly embroidered MANDELA FREED 2-11-90.” Vest purchased the scraps of fabric used in this quilt from a vendor of African clothing at the African World Festival. “I gave him $30 and weeks later, he must have cleaned out his studio because he sent me a box of African scraps which included pieces of garments, such as sleeves, etc.”

This quilt has appeared in exhibitions at the Museum of African American History in Detroit (1995); Juneteenth Celebration in Oberlin, Ohio; Detroit Public Library (2005); Greenfield Village, Dearborn; and, in 1996, took a second place ribbon at the Senior Olympics, Detroit Parks and Recreation.

 
 

Deonna Todd Green was interviewed by Marsha MacDowell on January 21, 2008 at the MSU Museum.
On that day, the Quilts and Human Rights exhibit was part of a campus-wide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Voices of Freedom
Deonna Todd Green
Remus, Michigan
1992
Cotton with polyester filling; hand quilted
48" x 48"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, gift of the artist.
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved

Each of the 49 blocks in this quilt is devoted to a different figure important in African-American history and includes an embroidered portrait, the person's name, their birth/death date, and a note about their accomplishment. The embroidery is in green, red, and black embroidery floss—the colors of the Pan African Flag. This flag originally created as the official banner of the African Race by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League. It was formally adopted by UNIA in article 39 of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World on August 13, 1920 during their convention held in New York City. The flag and the colors became an African nationalist symbol for the liberation of African people everywhere.

 

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