Asian Festival this Saturday!

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Image via: Institute of Texan Cultures, Asian Festival 2015

Be sure to stop by the Institute of Texan Cultures this Saturday for all the great music, entertainment, and FOOD at Asian Festival!

Park and ride service will be offered to Asian Festival from the Crossroads Park and Ride, and service will begin at 9:15 a.m. and will run until 5:30 p.m.

Uber is also offering a special promotion for the festival. Sign up for Uber and insert the promo code TXASIAN to receive up to $20 off your trip! This promotion is for first time riders only and you can get started here! If you’ve already taken your first Uber trip, share this promotion with friends and family so that they can enjoy their first ride. This promo doesn’t expire until 2/29/16.

Object: Doll

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I-0277n3
Doll
Japanese
21st Century
Materials: cloth, thread

In Japan the word for doll is ningyō (人形), which translates to ‘human shaped’. Japanese dolls have been, and still are, immensely popular in the western world and while Western society sees dolls as children’s playthings the Japanese doll holds a much more complex standing in Japanese society.

To understand the significance of ningyō it is important to know the history. Ningyō were made before the Heian era (794 – 1185) and originally started out as talismans given to children when they were born. The ningyō  were shaped to look like the child it was being given to, in order to confuse any evil spirits. It was believed that these spirits would attack the ningyō instead of the child. Once the child became of age these ningyō dolls were usually destroyed.  There were a number of different talismans and ritual uses for ningyō including one used for paper dolls, called nademono. These simple dolls were rubbed all over the body with the intent to draw out any sickness or misfortune before being destroyed or thrown into a running river. This particular ritual continued on into the Edo period and became closely linked to the Hina-matsuri festival, or Girl’s Day Doll Festival. During this festival, dolls styled after the imperial court are displayed on a tiered platform where they are ceremonially served cake and teas. These doll are used as a way to magically keep away illness and bad luck from children, typically girls.

Hinamatsuri Festival altar.

Hinamatsuri Festival altar. Via http://www.japanesesearch.com

There are many different types of ningyō from Japan, the one from our collection is an oyama doll. Oyama refers to the male actors who dress in women’s clothes in the Kabuki Theater. Many oyama ningyō are made to represent actors, or actresses, from the Kabuki Theater. Kabuki, which means “to slant” or “to sway,” got its start in the 17th century (1601-1700) by the miko, a Shinto priestess, Izumono Okuni. She started an all-female dance group and her troupe were the first entertainers to cater to the taste of Japan’s common people. However, in 1652 the Japanese Tokugawa shogunat banned women and children from performing. This lead to older men taking over the female roles in Kabuki plays. The trend for an all-male cast has stayed mostly true even in modern day performances. By the 18th century Kabuki had grown into a more sophisticated and established art form. This was, in large part, due to the ability of commoners in Japan being able to improve their social stations. Kabuki remained the people’s theater and provided plays that reflected historical events and as a commentary on contemporary society.

kabuki

Kanamaruza Theater, a traditional kabuki theater in Kotohira, Japan. Via: http://www.japan-guide.com

This particular oyama ningyō, from our collection, is a character from the classical Kabuki theater play, Fuji Musume, or the Wisteria Maiden. The play begins with a young man walking down a street and admiring some paintings. He stops and stares at the painting of the Wisteria Maiden; who is depicted in a painting holding a wisteria branch. The maiden in the picture becomes smitten with the man and steps out of the painting in an effort to capture his attention. She performs several dances in order to get the man to notice her but unfortunately, her attempts are ignored by the man. Her love goes unrequited, and she sorrowfully steps back into the two-dimensional world of her painting still holding her weeping wisteria. The oyama ningyō, in our collection, wearing the costume of the Wisteria Maiden during the last act of the play.

Though ningyō today are often seen as playthings, they are still often considered ceremonial devices and are highly prized gifts. This can be seen today during political gift giving between Japan and other countries; where Japan often gives ningyō as gifts to heads of state. Japanese dolls are still closely intertwined with ceremonial rituals associated with fertility, death, health and purification. [Carlise Ferguson, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Links:

Leiter, S. L.. (1977). Ichikawa Danjūrō XI: A Life in Kabuki. Educational Theatre Journal, 29(3), 311–319.

Pate, Alan Scott. Ningyō : The Art of the Japanese Doll. Boston, Mass.: Tuttle, 2005. Print.

Klens, D. S.. (1994). Nihon Buyō in the Kabuki Training Program at Japan’s National Theatre. Asian Theatre Journal, 11(2), 231–241.

Object: Dance prop

2013_12_1

2013.12.1
Dragon dance prop
Chinese
21st Century
Materials: cloth, paint

In western society the thought of dragons conjures up fearful images of large lizards that can fly and breathe fire. Often dragons are perceived as evil and a menace upon the land. Knights of legend would ride out and dual with dragons in the hopes of freeing the land and saving a beautiful princess. This image of the evil dragon has gone back for millennia in Greek, Norse, English and German culture and legends. However, the legend of the dragon in Chinese culture is very different.

China and its connection to dragons

The Chinese Dragon, sometimes called the Oriental dragon, is a benevolent creature with the ability to fly and live in the ocean. Dragons in China are often thought to control rain, rivers and other forms of water.  The earliest known depictions of dragons in China date back thousands of years, and can be seen in art, jewelry and pottery. Even though dragons have been a part of Chinese culture for a long time, there is still much debate on when and where they originated. The Totem-Worship Theory states that sometime around 2697 BC, China was made up of a number of different tribes who each had a totem depicting an animal or plant. The tribes believed they were blood related to these totems. One of the tribes, was ruled by the first legendary Emperor Huang Di. Huang Di fought against the Yandi tribe for the throne.

Image depicting Emperor Huang Di

Image depicting Emperor Huang Di

Emperor Huang Di’s tribe won and it is thought that his tribe adopted a coat of arms which depicted a snake. Emperor Huang Di soon started waging wars with other tribes in the area. It is believed that every time they conquered one of these tribes they took that tribes totem animal and incorporated it with their own. Many scholars believe that this is why the oriental dragon looks like it is made up from nine different animals, possessing the antlers of a deer; the head of a camel; the neck of a snake; a hawk’s claws; the palms of a tiger; an ox’s ears; a rabbit’s eyes; a frog’s belly, and a carp’s scales. Under Emperor Huang Di’s rule the central plains of China were unified and the symbol of the dragon has remained popular even today.

Two other popular theories are that the dragon is a stylized depiction of an animal, such as a fish, snake or crocodile or that the Chinese dragon represents lightning. Some evidence to support this is the fact that the Chinese pronunciation for the word dragon, lung or long, resembles the onomatopoeia of the sound of lightning in Chinese culture.

Symbolism of the Chinese Dragon

Today dragons are still highly respected in China and many Chinese consider themselves decedents of dragons. Legends say that after Emperor Huang Di died the gods in heaven granted him rebirth as a dragon. This falls in line with the Chinese belief that the dragon is the symbol of the emperor and all emperors of China were believed to be direct descendants of celestial dragons. Ancient emperors called their robes “dragon robes,” their palace a “dragon palace” and their throne “The Dragon Throne.” The close association with dragons in Chinese culture has made it a well known symbol of China.

Where did the Dragon Dance come from?

The dragon dance originated during the Han Dynasty (180-230 AD). While it is usually performed at festivals, like the New Year’s Festival and Lantern Festival, it originally started out as a folk dance. Because dragons are believed to be the bringers of rain, many farmers started to perform this dance in order to honor the dragon. The farmers would hoped that the dragon would be pleased by the dance and in return bring rain to the crops. By the time the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), the dragon dance had become very popular and being performed almost exclusively for festival events.

b6b1cb392dcd146cbe86aaeae078cbc9Though the dance may look simple from an outsider’s point of view, it takes many hours of practice for the performers to get and keep the movements of the dragon flowing. If one performer messes up, it can spoil the entire performance.  The dragon dance is carried out by a team of performers who carry the dragon on poles. The dragon’s body is made up of a series of hoops with a head attachment on one end and a tail attachment on the other. These dragon props can range from 25 to 70 meters long, with the shorter dragons used for more acrobatic dances while the longer ones are for ceremonial use. The color of the dragon is also symbolic. Most dragons are green, which symbolize the harvest. Gold represents the empire, and red represents excitement and good fortune.

Today, if you want to see a dragon dance without visiting China you need look no further than within your own local community. Here in Texas there are multiple festivals held throughout the year that feature dragon dances. At these festivals one can see a dragon dance and celebrate Chinese culture. In San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures holds the Asian Festival every year. This year it will be held on February 13, 2016.  [Carlise Ferguson, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Blust, R.. (2000). The Origin of Dragons. Anthropos, 95(2), 519–536.

Nickel, H.. (1991). The Dragon and the Pearl. Metropolitan Museum Journal, 26, 139–146.

Petersen, V. D.. (1962). Dragons—in General. Elementary English, 39(1), 3–6.

Wilson, J. K.. (1990). Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 77(8), 286–323.

Liu, Xie, and Youzhong Shi. The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons: A Study of Thought and Pattern in Chinese Literature. Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms International, 1979.

Object: Shoe

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I-0575a
Shoe
Nike, Inc.
American
Made in China
1990s-2000s
Materials: Leather, Thread

The most popular sport in the United States is American football, with professional football and college football the most popular forms of the game. The first game of American football was played on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. However, the game played back then looked completely different from what fans today are used to. The first game consisted of 25 players with a round ball and could only kick the ball, not touch it with their hands. Rutgers won the game  with a score of 6-4.  The sport is thought to have evolved from rugby and soccer, blending and modifying the rules of both. This object is a pair of football cleat shoes belonging to Dat Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American to be drafted into the NFL and be recognized as an All-Pro.

Early football game between Harvard and McGill.

Early football game between Harvard and McGill.

Dat Nguyen was born in Arkansas in a refugee center. His family had fled South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. His family then moved to the small fishing town of Rockport-Fulton on the Texas gulf coast. While in High School Nguyen played football as a middle linebacker. He earned honors as a punter and was recruited by Michigan, UCLA, Notre Dame, Texas and Florida. However, Nguyen decided to stay close to his home town and attended Texas A&M University. Nguyen played on the Aggie football team from 1995-1998. Throughout his football career he was always thought to be too small to play the position of linebacker. However, he proved his critics wrong and excelled. He received multiple awards including the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award. Nguyen is known as one of the greatest defensive players in the Texas A&M history and was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.

Dat Nguyen #59 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates during a game. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Dat Nguyen #59 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates during a game. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In 1999 after a successful college career Nguyen was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round. The Dallas Cowboys are one of two NFL teams in Texas, and is regarded as the most valuable team in the world, worth 4 billion dollars. The Dallas Cowboys got their start in the 1960s. Over the years the team’s name has changed from the Dallas Steers to the Dallas Rangers and eventually the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had a rough start their first season but eventually improved and got their first taste of success in 1965. The Cowboys continued to improve and made several Super Bowl appearances. While with the Cowboys, Nguyen excelled and became a starting middle linebacker. However, while with the Cowboys Nguyen sustained several different injuries and played on and off. He eventually retired in 2006 leading the team in tackles in the years 2001, 2003, and 2004.

Following his career as an NFL player Nguyen became an assistant coach for the Cowboys and remained there until 2010. Nguyen then went back to his alma mater and became an inside linebacker coach. Nguyen left A&M in 2011 after a successful season. Today Dat Nguyen can be found as a co-host of The Blitz with Jason Minnix. To keep up with Nguyen he can be found on twitter @dat959. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Nguyen, Dat, and Rusty Burson. Dat Tackling Life and the NFL. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2005.

Professional Football Researchers Association

Watterson, John Sayle. College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Weyand, Alexander M., and Parke H. Davis. American Football, Its History and Development. New York: D. Appleton, 1926.

Object: Painting

I-0206w3

I-0206w3
Painting
“Rosanna Osterman in Galveston, 1862”
Bruce Marshall
American
20th Century
Materials: Paint/Paper/Metal/Glass

This object is a framed original watercolor by Bruce Marshall entitled “Rosanna Osterman in Galveston, 1862.” Rosanna Osterman was a Jewish resident of Texas known for her work as a nurse during the Civil War. She was born in Germany in 1809 and moved to Maryland as a child. She married Amsterdam native Joseph Osterman, a silversmith and merchant who established a mercantile business in Galveston in 1838. Rosanna joined him in Galveston in 1839. When the town was overrun by a yellow fever epidemic in 1853, Rosanna operated a makeshift hospital on her family’s property to help care for the sick. As more epidemics swept through Galveston, evidence suggests she continued to volunteer as a nurse during these outbreaks. In 1862 the Civil War came to Galveston and the widow Rosanna again opened her home as a hospital, this time to both Union and Confederate soldiers. When citizens started to flee the city, she continued to care for the sick and injured. In addition to her nursing duties, Rosanna carried military information for the confederate army. In recognition of her nursing services, the 8th Texas Infantry regiment published a letter praising her in the Galveston News. She died in February of 1866 in a steamboat explosion aboard the W.R. Carter.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix Via: Wikimedia Commons

Many women wanted to help during the Civil War but were initially discouraged from contributing on both the Union and Confederate sides. In the north, women had to deal with male colleagues who thought they didn’t belong. In the south, women were denied permission to work as nurses for fear the experience might expose them to the horrors of war. However, as the war progressed, both the Union and Confederate armies changed their policies. Two months after the war began, the United States Secretary of War Simon Cameron appointed Dorothea Dix as Superintendent of Women Nurses. Dorothea was in charge of organizing and staffing the military hospitals. She also established specific criteria for her contracted nurses which included: a minimum age of 30, the ability to pay their own way, 2 letters of recommendation, and sobriety. Dorothea discouraged single women from joining for fear of exposing them to strange men and the hostilities of war. In August of 1861 the United States Congress authorized the Surgeon General to employ female nurses and as compensation paid them about $12 a month, plus food rations. Several northern women operated as nurses under the U.S. Sanitary Commission. The following year (1862) the Confederate Congress passed a law allowing civilians to serve in military hospitals, including women.

When the Civil War began, there were no formal schools to train nurses. Volunteer nurses were largely inexperienced. Instead, they received their education on the job. Civil War nurses had a lot of responsibilities. Among them, nurses had to change bandages, tend wounds, dispense medicine, pass out supplies, write letters on behalf of soldiers, cook and serve meals, and wash the laundry. In the course of their duties, they risked exposure to communicable diseases in unsuitable conditions as well as exposure to the dangers of the battlefield. Makeshift hospitals were overrun with the wounded and dying. But many women continued to volunteer. About 3,300 women served as nurses for the Union Army from 1861-1865 The number of confederate nurses is unknown, but the number seems to be in the thousands.

Civil War Nurse Anne Bell caring for soldiers in Nashville, Tennessee ca. 1861-1865

Civil War Nurse Anne Bell caring for soldiers in Nashville, Tennessee ca. 1861-1865 Via: Wikimedia Commons

The efforts of women during the Civil War transformed the profession. The war shifted the range of nursing from the home to the hospital. It was Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse veteran, who founded the American Red Cross in 1881. In 1868 the president of the American Medical Association, Samuel Gross advocated for the creation of an official nursing school. The first formal nursing school in Texas was founded in 1890 by John Sealy hospital in Galveston. Thanks to the men and women who volunteered as nurses during the Civil War, nursing has become an integral part of the health profession that we benefit from anytime we need medical attention. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Alcott, Louisa May. 1993. Hospital sketches. Chester, CT: Applewood Books

Devine, Shauna. Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Favor, Lesli J, PhD. Women Doctors and Nurses of the Civil War. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2004.

Judd, Deborah, Kathleen Sitzman, G. Megan Davis. A History of American Nursing: Trends and Eras. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2010.

Don’t forget to order your Asian Festival tickets!

2016 Asian Festival card with time1

Asian Festival tickets are on sale now! Call 210-458-230, or click here, to get yours today.

Object: Drawing

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I-0206c3
Drawing
“Mary Crownover Rabb Churning”
Michael Waters
American
20th century
Materials: Paper and ink

This object is a pen and ink drawing titled “Mary Crownover Rabb Churning” by Michael Waters. Mary Crownover Rabb wrote one of the first accounts of early life on the Texas frontier. Mary penned her story of life on the frontier for her children and grandchildren to read. Originally born in North Carolina in 1805, Mary met and married John Rabb in 1821 and in 1823 their family moved to Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. Over the course of their life in Texas, the Rabb family moved several times, establishing temporary homes along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. Mary’s life was not without hardship. When John was away on business, she would try to ease the children’s fear of the nearby Karankawa and Tonkawa Indians. The family lost one of their homes to flooding. Later, when Texans fled their homes in 1836 in fear of Santa Anna’s forces known as the Runaway Scrape, one of Mary’s children died. Her description of those first few years in Texas was published under the title Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’s.

Painting of Stephen F. Austin, 1840 via Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Stephen F. Austin, 1840 via Wikimedia Commons

Life on the Texas frontier was hard for early pioneer women. Many Anglo-American women who journeyed to Texas migrated with their families. At the time, women were expected to stay home while men went virtually everywhere else. Women managed all the child-rearing responsibilities including education and socialization. But they also helped to clear land and plant crops. They were also in charge of sewing all their families clothing. Women who were fortunate enough to be literate expressed themselves and cataloged their experience in diaries and letters. Similar to the works of notable pioneer woman Laura Ingalls Wilder, early women writers in Texas provided information on what life was like at the time.

A number of pioneer women provided early accounts of life in frontier Texas. Stephen F. Austin’s cousin, Mary Austin Holley, wrote Texas: Observations, Historical, Geographical, and Descriptive, in a Series of Letters, Written during a Visit to Austin’s Colony, with a view to a permanent settlement in that country, in the Autumn of 1831, which was published in 1833. Her family letters and diary gave a good record of life during the Texas Revolution.  She later wrote a book titled Texas which detailed the history of the state and it is one of the first known histories of  the state in English.  Jane Cazneau published Eagle Pass; or Life on the Border under the pen name Cora Montgomery in 1852. Her book detailed the years between 1840-1852 during which her husband founded a town and opened a trade depot. Teresa G. Viele wrote Following the Drum: A Glimpse of Frontier Life in 1858. The book described the years she and her husband Egbert Ludovicus Viele stayed at Fort Ringgold. It included descriptions of the landscape, food, and Comanche raiders.

Luara Ingalls Wilder

Luara Ingalls Wilder Via Wikimedia Commons

Pioneer women writers in Texas also used their literary talents to fight for the right to vote and advocate for social reform. Female writers in Texas have written everything from poetry to novels. One of the first articles dedicated to the history of female writers in Texas was a two-part article titled “Women Writers of Texas” in 1893 by Bride N. Taylor, vice president of Texas Women’s Press Association, which ran in the Galveston Daily News. It gave brief biographies of more than 70 female authors starting with Mary Austin Holley. Since frontier times, Texas has had a long, rich history of female authors who contributed to the state’s literary legacy. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Exley, Jo Ella Powell. Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine: Voices of Frontier Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985.

Holley, Mary Austin. Mary Austin Holley; The Texas Diary, 1835-1838. Austin: University of Texas, 1965.

Rabb, Mary Crownover. Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’S, Being the Reminiscences of Mary Crownover Rabb. Waco: W.M. Morrison, 1962.

Schlissel, Lillian. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York: Schocken Books, 1982.

Tex Kits are back!

Tex-Kits Slide 1
The Institute of Texan Cultures Education Department has updated our Tex Kit collections, and they are now available for loan to K-12 classrooms across the state! This traveling trunk program features small collections of demonstration artifacts with accompanying TEKS-based lessons, images, and worksheets (loaded onto a flash drive for easy downloading and photocopying!) designed to enhance your classroom learning experience. As your students explore the content of each kit, they will gain a better understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage.
Questions or need more information? Visit the ITC website, call (210) 458-2291 or email texkits@utsa.edu.

Object: Quilt

2014_5_1

2014.5.1
Quilt
African American
America
1950-1959
Materials: Cloth/Thread/Cotton

This item is a quilt from ca. 1950 obtained from the estate of an African-American family living in the San Antonio area.  An appraiser from the Antiques Roadshow verified the date and ethnic origin of the quilt by its style, construction, and materials. The quilt appears to have been made using a “strip construction” technique. Strip construction uses strips of fabric cut and sewn together in bands. This method, combined with the improvisational style, is consistent with African American quilts from the 1950’s.

The origin of quilting in African-American culture is a greatly debated topic. Researchers are unsure what influenced the quilts style. They also question what purpose and function they were made for. The answers are hard to pin down because few quilts from before, during, and shortly after the Civil War survive today. Some scholars suggest that African-American quilts were influenced by traditional African weaving and textile production. In West Africa, men were traditionally the main producers of textiles. However, when enslaved Africans were transported to the United States, women became the principal makers of quilts. Some scholars point to the use of bright colors combined with pattern improvisation, asymmetrical design, and strip banding as proof of African influence in African-American quilting. They claim that strip banding in particular is similar to African weaving. They also suggest that slaves may have hid African designs and religious symbols in the quilts they created in order to preserve their African heritage. However, other scholars say those theories are the result of speculation. Instead, they believe that the time periods as well as the regions the quilts were produced in were the major influences on the design and construction of African-American quilts.

This is a photo of a former slave in her home taken in May 1941 by Jack Delano. Two quilts can be seen in the background

This is a photo of a former slave in her home taken in May 1941 by Jack Delano. Two quilts can be seen in the background. Image via: Wikimedia Commons

Another controversial topic is whether African-American quilts were used during the Civil War to conceal secret communications. Two historians, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, suggest that a “quilt code” may have been used to assist slaves in navigating the Underground Railroad. According to their theory, a slave seamstress would sew a quilt that contained several patterns for other slaves to memorize. The seamstress would then display different quilts using those patterns to provide information to help people trying to escape. The patterns displayed may have included designs such as a wrench pattern directing them to gather tools, a wagon pattern indicating the need to pack, and a bear claw pattern directing slaves north over the Appalachian Mountains. But no verified “code quilts” exist to this day. Additionally, Tobin and Dobard obtained their information about the quilt code from only one source: an individual descended from slaves. The claims have yet to be corroborated by other individuals or oral histories.

Some of what we do know about early African-American quilting culture was obtained by the WPA during the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal program created to provide work relief. The WPA started the Folklore Project in order to employ out of work writers. They would gather stories from Americans who lived during major historical periods, including former slaves. In the oral histories, prior slaves could recall female family members piecing together quilts out of old clothes and scraps. More information on early African-American quilting can be found in documents about slave life. Both the WPA and written records verify that slaves made quilts for both their masters’ use as well as out of necessity for their own families. What does seem to be apparent about early quilting practices is the importance of quilting parties, or frolics. Quilting parties were integral in allowing slaves to socialize.  Informally, female slaves would gather in the evening or on Saturday afternoons to quilt and sew.  After the Civil War, quilts were made from scraps of discarded clothing and feed sacks. During the 1920’s, more and more people moved to northern cities to find work in jobs created by increased industrialization. As the years passed, African-American women were able to create quilts for enjoyment as well as need.

The Bible Quilt, created by former slave Harriet Powers circa 1886

The Bible Quilt, created by former slave Harriet Powers circa 1886. Image via: Wikimedia Commons

In 1966 a group of African-American women in Alabama established the Freedom Quilting Bee, a quilting cooperative. The group began as a way for poor women to provide for their families. It began with 150 quilters who learned their craft from their mothers and grandmothers. They would auction off their work and split the proceeds with their members. The group also provided a support network for the women of their cooperative. Their group is credited with revitalizing the popularity of quilts in American home decor during the 1960’s.

Today, African-American quilts are artistic as well as functional and can be found in both homes and museums. A list of museums that exhibit African-American quilts can be found here. Despite the controversy of its origins and influences, what is clear about the African-American quilting tradition is that it is a mix of cultural influences and traditions that can be seen in quilts made today. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Beardsley, John. Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilts. Atlanta: Tinwood Books, 2002.

Brackman, Barbara. Facts & Fabrications: Unraveling the History of Quilts & Slavery. Lafayette: C&T Publishing, 2006.

Brackman, Barbara. Making History: Quilts & Fabric From 1890-1970. Lafayette: C&R Publishing, 2008.

Callahan, Nancy. The Freedom Quilting Bee: Folk Art and the Civil Rights Movement. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1987.

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