Program Features Liberian, African American Quilts

Program Features Liberian, African American Quilts

April 1, 2019

The International Quilt Study Center & Museum will explore the connections between Liberian and African American quilts with a series of fast-paced talks on Friday, April 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the museum’s Reception Hall.

“Stitching the Transatlantic: Liberian and African American Quilts” will feature a panel of experts moderated by Curator of International Collections Marin Hanson. The guest speakers will introduce their research in a lightning talk format—20 slides at 30 seconds each. Afterwards, they will answer questions from the audience to provide further discussion on quiltmaking in the African diaspora.

“The museum is pleased to welcome such eminent scholars to the museum for the panel,” said Executive Director Leslie Levy. “We are excited to learn more about Transatlantic quiltmaking traditions and to share this information with our visitors.” 

Made possible with the support of the Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Excellence Fund, the lightning talk panelists include Stephanie Beck Cohen, Kyra E. Hicks and John Singler.

Cohen is an art historian and independent curator interested in women artists, their networks and diplomacy. She earned her Ph.D. at Indiana University Bloomington in the Department of the History of Art in 2016, specializing in art histories of Africa and the South Pacific. Her research considers how women artists made political statements and participated in diplomacy through textiles globally in the 19th and 20th centuries. She is particularly interested in quilting practices in Liberia and the United States.

Hicks is an author, quilt historian and maker, who explores political, religious, familial and romantic themes. Her work has shown in prestigious institutes, including the American Craft Museum in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She is the author of “Black Threads: An African American Quilting Scrapbook,” a children’s book about Martha Ann Ricks, a Liberian quiltmaker who notably made and hand-delivered a quilt to England’s Queen Victoria.

Singler is professor emeritus of linguistics at New York University. After graduating with a degree in history from Dartmouth College, he taught in Liberia for six years. He holds a master’s in African area studies from the University of London and a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California, Los Angeles. In all, he has more than 50 publications on Liberia. He recently returned from two months of research in Liberia, on the language and lives of the quilters in one settler community. 

The lightning talks are being held in conjunction with two exhibitions now showing at the museum. 

“From Kente to Kuba: Stitched Textiles from West and Central Africa" shows some of the museum’s recently acquired textiles and quilts from Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is on display through May 12.

“Stitching the Transatlantic: The John Singler Collection of Liberian Quilts,” on display until June 16, connects quilts with the larger story of Liberia, the West African nation established by free-born blacks and freed slaves from America in the 1820s. It examines how settlers brought quiltmaking skills with them to Liberia and passed them down through future generations. The exhibition is guest-curated by Cohen.

“The exhibitions put quiltmaking into a larger global context,” Hanson said. “They show the relationship between what we are most familiar with—in terms of American quilts and quiltmaking—and links them with the larger world of textile creation. It also explains how they are significant works in their own right, within their own countries and in a cross-cultural context.”

For more information about these and other exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, visit our Exhibitions page.