Thursday, September 15, 2011
From Hearts to Hands
I know that we are wrapping up the unit on folk knowledge, but I could not pass up this opportunity for a great post! Once a week I have an honors seminar where we listen to a lecture from different professors or professionals on campus about what they do. This week’s was from the Museum of Art’s curator and educator Lynda Palma. She talked about the main exhibit entitled “From Hearts to Hands”. Quilts hang in the museum made by a diverse group of African American quilters working in Alabama and its environs during the last half century.
These quilts are a perfect example of folk knowledge. All these women learned how to sew from their mothers who learned from their mothers. In addition to being passed down in families, there is a culture attached to this quilting. All the women get together to quilt and share stories. These quilts become precious heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. Even as sewing machines have become popular, these women do all of the stitch-work by hand, using only the materials they have at their home. This makes the patterns spontaneous, asymmetric, and colorful. There is a rhythm throughout some of the designs, a syncopation where the 4th beat is stressed. This adds flavor and life to the quilts.
However, this flavor and life did not agree with everyone. As a museum educator, Palma invited to show the exhibit to the Utah Women’s Guild. At first, these women were not impressed by the unprofessional, off-putting quilts. The stitching was poor and the designs were unconventional. However, as Palma explained the ideas behind the quilts, the women learned the value of the quilts as pieces of art. They had to realize that mistakes have meaning; they add depth and character to an otherwise impersonal piece of art. They also had to acknowledge the beauty of the asymmetry and juxtaposition in the quilts. In essence, they had to redefine the word “art”.
This presentation struck a chord with me because of the sheer genius of these quilters. It’s true, the quilts were by no means perfect, but they were genuine and creative. And isn’t that what art is?