Quilt exhibit portrays African-American history

“And Still We Rise: African-American Story Quilts” curator Carolyn Mazloomi speaks to Museum of the Shenandoah Valley visitors about the quilt “240 Million African Slaves Ago,” created by Valarie Pratt Poitier. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

WINCHESTER — Quilts chronicling nearly 400 years of African-American history will tell a visual story from the walls of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley through the end of December.

“And Still We Rise: African-American Story Quilts” opened to guests on Friday, with a special reception attended by the curator and contributing artists on Thursday.

The quilts start with the arrival of the first African slaves to Virginia in 1619 and show snapshots of struggles and achievements along with profiles of remarkable African- Americans throughout history. “And Still We Rise” is one of many storytelling quilt exhibits that Carolyn Mazloomi has curated, with contributions from around 80 artists with their own unique flair.

Mazloomi, who founded the Women of Color Quilter’s Network in 1985, said many quilts found in the African-American community are narrative.

“When Africans were brought here, they weren’t allowed to read and write, so it was an easy transition to put your stories into quilts,” she said. “We have a love affair of story quilts — we find lots of them in the African-American quilt community.”

While giving a tour of the exhibit on Thursday, Mazloomi explained that when the exhibit began touring the country about two years ago, there were even more narrative quilts than the 69 on display at the museum.

“These stories are so awesome. Every time I think about them, I get so excited, I just get carried away,” she told visitors.

She also said that many of the contributing artists are self-taught, and that many of them have traveled to the exhibit openings — some of them from as far away as Africa and China.

Sandra Noble, a contributing fiber artist, visited the museum from Warrensville Heights, Ohio, for the exhibit opening. She created a quilt in the exhibit titled “The Little Rock Nine,” having chosen the historical landmark in school desegregation because she attended college with two of those nine African-American students.

“That gave me a personal interest in that particular subject, and I’ve truly been thrilled with the responses that I have gotten from it,” she said.

She said the African-American population at her college was small, so “everybody knew everybody.” Although she hasn’t talked with the two since that time, she said the subject still struck a chord with her.

“To be really honest, I had no clue as to what they really went through when they were in high school,” she said. “Yes, I knew about the Little Rock Nine, but when I started my quilt and was doing my reading and my research…I was just appalled at what they had to go through.”

In her quilt’s depiction of the Little Rock Nine, Noble said she wanted to represent the students dressed in white for their innocence and referred to photos of the Little Rock school to portray it accurately.

“I’m an art teacher, and I really like abstracts,” she said. “This is a new route that I kind of enjoy too; trying to give my interpretation on a piece of history.”

Mazloomi said she wants “And Still We Rise” to be an educational experience through storytelling with cloth, a medium that she said all humans have a relationship with.

“These are history lessons that I would hope everyone would be interested in learning; these little known snippets and little known important vignettes of African-American history,” she said. “It’s a jumping off point for very diverse groups of people to get to know one another through these quilts and have discussions about history in the museum, which is a safe place — a comforting place — to have such tough discussions.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com



“And Still We Rise: African-American Story Quilts” will be on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley through Dec. 31. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and youth and free for children 12 years old and younger. Visit the museum’s website at http://tiny.cc/o7pqey or call the museum at 888-556-5799.