Grandma made me a quilt that has followed me for many years, from college to my current bed. My Sunbonnet Girls quilt, made from scraps of family clothing, reminds me of her fingers stitching and how she never wasted a thing.

Works of art are often a platform for personal expression. Painting, printmaking, sculpture, writing - all give voice to the artist’s passions and feelings. Quilts, too, are more than fabric and design. Quilts can have a passionate message. Traditionally a women’s medium of practicality, now quilts are “out of the box” and can depict themes of political and social unrest. In the center of all the piecing, pattern, and story-telling color and enthralling beauty of the entire show, The Houston International Quilt Festival featured a specific display of quilts with human rights themes. “OURstory: Human Rights Stories in Fabric” is a 42-quilt show that is traveling around the country.

“Color Blind,” by Mary Jane Sneyd of New Zealand, features two young girls embracing, one fair-skinned and the other dark-skinned.  Above them are two stitched signs with dates. The 1957 sign features: "No Dogs, Jews, Negroes," while the 2017 sign lists: "No Dogs, Muslims, Mexicans." Another quilt features Anne Frank’s words on an off-white background of quilted fabric: “I believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart,” and was created by Maggie Vanderweit. She related to Anne Frank through family stories of resistance workers and family losses in concentration camps.

“Women’s Voices Matter,” is a composite of several photos Susan Price took while at the Women’s March on Washington. The quilt features many figures against the backdrop of Washington, pink hats visible against the grey, white, and black of the background. Price speaks of herself as always staying in the background, but the 2016 election created such a strong reaction within her that she had to speak out through a quilt. Cynthia Parry is half-Japanese and has grown up with stories of family hardship and internment. Her quilt, “Don’t Fence Me In,” shows a young girl standing behind a barbed wire fence and an armed soldier in the background.

The show’s originator, Susanne Miller Jones, said, “The quilts in this exhibit are very poignant, and many of them tell the same story of ‘I was denied my right to do this because I’m this and I’m not this.’ " An elementary teacher until she retired several years ago, Jones took up quilting, expecting to use more traditional designs. Political unrest around the world has refocused her perspective. Her quilting has given her a political voice. She had two quilts in this exhibit:  “Gotta Eat” which references access to food and “We’re Still Here,” a picture quilt of two elderly people looking still very capable.

These are only a few of the 42 quilts in the show. Eventually, these quilts will be part of a book about OURstory. There are several other traveling quilt shows which feature politically-charged topics. Look for “Threads of Resistance” and “The Migrant Quilt Project.” These quilts are profound in their voices, juxtaposed against the soft comfortableness of fabric. I try to imagine my grandmother’s Sunbonnet Girls speaking, and because Grandma always donated quilts to the tribes in northern Minnesota, I imagine the girls saying, “Everyone deserves to be warm.” (Some details in this essay are courtesy of the Houston Chronicle.)

WiVLA Member Lane Devereux also had a quilt in the You’ve Got Talent exhibit. Lane gave it to her mother for her 90th birthday. Beautiful!

Cori Austin

"An ekphrastic poem is like a jolt of electricity surging through a work of art."
- Patricia Smith, ARTLines2

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