Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt

Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt
November 1, 2014, is the 150th anniversary of Emancipation in Maryland. Throughout the week several cities, counties, organizations, and the state held events to commemorate the day. Dr. Gaither and Lyndra Pratt Marshall, Vice Chair of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, worked with several organizations including the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, Maryland State Archives, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Four Rivers Heritage Area, Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center, Northern Arundel Cultural Preservation Society, Annapolis 1864 Commission, and over 400 representatives from every county in the state to create Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt.

The quilt is laid out like the Maryland state flag. Each county plus Baltimore City has a square in the interior of the quilt. The border consists of images representative of Maryland and the people and events working towards emancipation and the end of slavery at the state and national level. The center blue panels highlight different paths slaves could take to freedom prior to emancipation as well as images of Annapolis circa 1864 and the Maryland State House. The corners of the quilt are anchored by black-eyed susans, the Maryland state flower.

More pictures and description of the quilt to come along with photos of each square and the unveiling ceremony. Please enjoy!

County quilt square detail featuring Allegany and Carroll counties.

One of the paths to freedom before emancipation was to run away.

Pins hold the quilt and its images together before stitching.

As is tradition with all of her quilts, Dr. Gaither included an angel on the artwork. This angel is constructed from the Maryland state flag.

Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither and Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture Vice Chair/Project Manager Lyndra Pratt Marshall work to attach the individual state squares together.

The quilt squares are slowly laid out in the design of the Maryland State Flag.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Welcoming the New

After many months I am finally back to posting on the blog. There have been quite a few changes over the past several months which have pulled both Dr. Gaither and I away from the blog. The biggest change is that we are now in two different geographic locations. After several years in the Mid Atlantic, I have relocated which has made keeping close tabs on Dr. Gaither's projects a little trickier than usual. I am now updated on progress through text messages, phone calls, and sometimes with pictures rather than seeing the artwork in person. Conversations about ideas for quilts and brainstorming problems now happen via texted photos. The perk for Dr. Gaither is that I am now able to help her hunt for materials to use and I am not searching in the same stores she is looking in. As quilting has become very popular in her area thanks to all of her workshops, many of her materials are hard to find and much more expensive. It is truly a case study for any economist wanting to study supply and demand.

While I have been adjusting to my new life, Dr. Gaither has been extremely busy working on several pieces for new exhibitions. After several years on display at the Bates Legacy Center, the exhibit Trails Tracks Tarmac has moved on to new locations and a new quilt exhibition has gone up in its place. The new exhibition, entitled Legacy, features quilts telling the stories of large families in Anne Arundel county, church history, and community leadership name a few topics.

Dr. Gaither is currently working on completing quilts for an exhibit made up almost entirely of new artworks. Admittedly I am not completely sure what all of the quilts are about, but I know she has been working on the exhibit for nearly a year coming up with a final list of quilts to include. I will get information on the exhibit soon and share it here. The exhibit will be opening at Woods Memorial Church in Severna Park, MD on Easter weekend with an opening reception the following weekend.

That is the very brief update on where Dr. Gaither and I are. I will post information about the new exhibits as soon as I can get my hands on it. In the meantime, enjoy the first days of spring. Hopefully the cold white stuff is finished for the season!
Spencer Family Quilt
(c) 2013 Tony Spencer

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Poster Child

I was running a Google search this evening on a completely unrelated project when I happened to come across the above image. This is the advertising image for the exhibition Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery currently on view at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, TN. The exhibition opened there over the weekend after spending the past several months in New York City and Baltimore.

Just in case you can't figure out why I would be posting this image take a look at the artwork that accompanies it and see if it looks familiar. Yes, that is right, Dr. Gaither's My Spiritual Family quilt is serving as the poster child for all of the Memphis exhibit publicity. There is even a billboard with the quilt on it in Memphis. Given the dimensions of a billboard, I would imagine that the image of the quilt is probably close to actual size.

Ashe to Amen exhibition entrance as posted on the Dixon Gallery and Garden's Facebook page.

To learn more about the exhibition Ashe to Amen, click on the link below for an interview given by exhibition curator, Dr. Leslie King-Hammond and exhibiting artist Jared Small on the Memphis television station WREG. This amazing exhibition includes works a wide variety of artworks and creativity. In addition to Dr. Gaither's quilt there are paintings, photographs, fiber artworks, hats, and much more. The exhibit has been a great success in each city and has been featured in local and national publications..

I will post an in-depth walk through of My Spiritual Family in the coming week in the style of many of the other quilt descriptions on this website. In other website-related news we are currently working on an overhaul of this site which will make its debut in the coming months. We will keep you posted on the changes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Mamie

Dr. Gaither with her mother and sister Kathy.
This past week we said goodbye to one of the founding members of Joan's quilting circle - her mother, Mamie. Mamie was an ever present fixture at Joan's events, workshops, and quilting sessions up until three years ago when she moved to Virginia to live with Joan's sister, Carolyn. Joan's "posse" consisting of her mother, sister, and great-niece were always guaranteed to come out and show their support. Mamie was a strong woman in a little package. She was the person who taught Joan how to quilt. She was frequently known to proudly say "I taught my daughter how to quilt, but I never taught her how to do anything like this."

Mamie worked on each of Joan's quilts, the final being the National Black Theatre Festival quilt. Never one to throw her words around, she was frequently found quilting quietly listening to all the conversations going on around her while creating surprises on the quilts that not even Joan knew about until several days, weeks, or months later.

Detail, Poulson Slaver Quilt
(c) Joan M.E. Gaither, 2006
One of Joan's favorite "Mamie surprises" is on the Poulson Slaver quilt. While Joan and her quilters were sewing this quilt, Mamie worked on different areas of the African fabric along the border. She would spend a considerable amount of time in specific locations leading Joan to think she was "stuck." When Joan would tell her mother she should move to another part of the quilt, Mamie would respond "I've got this." Several months later, Joan was giving a talk on the Poulson Slaver quilt when she suddenly stopped in amazement. She then informed the audience that her mother, who Joan had thought was sewing simple stitches, was in fact sewing faces into the African fabric every time a certain pattern appeared. When asked about it later, Mamie said that the quilt talked about people being taken from Africa, but you needed to have people in Africa to be able to take them away.

Mama Mamie Stories
(c) Joan M.E. Gaither
Over the years, Joan has created two quilts dedicated to her mother - Ode to Mama Mamie - The Wise One and Mama Mamie Stories. Those of you who have attended one of Joan's workshops have seen and heard about the Ode to Mama Mamie's quilt. This quilt is made up of six memorable stories from Joan's childhood. Each story shares an encounter between Joan and her mother where Mamie creatively instilled values and knowledge into her eldest child - respect, education, cleanliness, responsibility, sharing, and community. From taking a water pistol to Joan's new hairdo purchased with her first paycheck to teaching her daughter about what "being grown" really is by taking away everything in the house that had to be purchased (an experience shown on the Cosby Show many decades later).

Mama Mamie Stories is relatively unknown outside of Joan's family. Joan created this quilt four years ago to share stories of her mother and her siblings. Included on the quilt is a story about her mother and each one of her brothers and sisters. When Mamie moved to Virginia, Joan sent the quilt to her sister to put outside her mother's room as reminder of all of Mamie's children. The two quilts came together this week and were hung side by side at Mamie's Celebration of Life services as a testimony to her legacy, love, and strength.

Mamie Ellis working on
Journey to the White House
We will miss Mamie's physical presence but we know she will be present in spirit and through everything she taught Joan and her brothers and sisters. To end this post, I am including the quote that makes up the border of the Ode to Mama Mamie quilt.

"Someone once said to me, 'You are who you think you are; you are who others think you to be, you are who you actually are.' Mama says 'You are the sum total of your life experiences, childhood experiences set values for life.' I say 'life is about choices; you choose who you want to be. Be prepared. Expect the BEST.' The REAL DEAL is 'You are who you are, not who others think you are. All you can ever do is to be your BEST.' " 

Thursday, April 25, 2013


This past week, Dr. Gaither and I went to the Historic Annapolis Museum at City Dock in Annapolis to talk with the organization's staff and docents about the Poulson Slaver Quilt. This quilt, the 3rd in the My American Series, tells the story of slavery in Maryland. It is constructed like a Baltimore Album style quilt (5 squares across and five squares down) with each individual square telling a different story.

The Poulson Slaver Quilt is currently on display at the museum as part of the exhibition Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake. This exhibit discusses the lives and stories of runaway indentured servants, convict servants, and slaves living in the Chesapeake Bay region by focusing on nine specific runaways. Their stories are shared through videos, audio clips, documents, images, and hands-on activities. The entire exhibition is spread among three different sites in Annapolis - the Historic Annapolis Museum, the Historic Annapolis Waterfront Warehouse, and the Banneker-Douglass Museum. The exhibition is currently slated to run through March 2014, however extension plans are already on the table.

While Dr. Gaither spoke about the quilt, I filmed her and am now sharing the raw footage of the first two minutes of the talk. I am working to get the second clip with the remainder of the talk up in the next few days. The second voice in video clip is that of Heather Ersts from Historic Annapolis.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Is In the Air

Every spring brings about an urge to conduct spring cleaning - organizing and purging the clutter we have accumulated over the past year. When this happens people find items they "lost" and discover memory-evoking objects that they reminisce over. For people who have come into contact with documentary story quilting, it almost inevitably leads to a desire to collect those objects and put them in a quilt. This spring, slow coming as it is, has been no exception.

This past Thursday community members and organization representatives formed a continuous parade through Dr. Gaither's studio seeking assistance with several quilting projects. The projects ranged from a church celebrating its 170th anniversary to a local heritage organization documenting its accomplishments over the past 10 years and finally two separate families documenting their history through the lives and legacies of family members long gone.

I had the privilege of participating in a few of these meetings/quilting sessions where Dr. Gaither helped to advise the quilters on how to proceed with their pieces. The final meeting of the day involved a family documenting the story of a family patriarch who was critical to the foundation of a local African American community in Anne Arundel County. During this quilting session, the project's leader brought his daughter to participate for the first time. Throughout the session he shared copies of documents and told stories about the history of his family, many of which his daughter had not heard before that day. In a short amount of time, she was "hooked," wanting to come back to help work on the quilt.

The quilt is in its early stages but it is progressing quickly. Over the period of two brainstorming sessions and four quilting sessions, a quilt measuring 7-8 feet in length has emerged including a full body representation of the family patriarch. The family members are including personal touches including using a copy of one of the family member's hands stuffed with batting to create the hand for the figure. 

So why am I writing about this? As you do your spring cleaning, be aware of what you are cleaning/donating/purging. When you find something that causes you to pause and remember, write down the memory, share it with a family member, and/or save the object to use in a documentation project. The spring holiday season is upon us and families will be gathering to celebrate. Use this as an opportunity to share and record memories. Graduation season will soon be here and a gift idea that is quickly growing in popularity is a t-shirt quilt. Before you throw away/donate/turn into extra cleaning rags take a minute to see if you would like to turn those old t-shirts filled with memories from school into a lasting memento.

Happy spring cleaning everyone, or should I say happy documentation gathering?!?!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forever Covered With Their Love

Genevieve Kaplan and Joan Gaither with
the National Black Theatre Festival Quilt.
It was recently pointed out to Dr. Gaither and I that this blog has provided a very interesting way for people to get to know Dr. Gaither’s work as well as her and to a lesser extent me. Through my blog postings readers are able to have glimpses into our lives and the way we interact. You have come to know that I love to tease and surprise her while she completely amazes everyone around her including myself at her incredible ability to put people at ease and make them want to share their stories and themselves with her. Some of the stories you have seen me write about have been written with the intention of getting a rise out of her. Well, I will be honest, most of the stories have been written with that goal in mind. In my defense, she completely knows that and I always remind her that “that is why she likes me.” (She agrees with that by the way.)

There are other stories on here that have been more serious in tone, striking into the heart of the person that I have been so honored to call my friend and sister. For Dr. Gaither quilting is her release and way of expressing emotion and sentiment in a way that cannot always be expressed in a conversation. For me it is writing. Hence why we make such a good team. She creates and I document her work through my posts, articles, and other writings. In this way we are able to celebrate each other as well as the people and places documented in the quilts. It is my hope that you readers are able to see this celebration in the posts and the quilts.

Katherine's Quilt, (c) Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither
As I was thinking about writing this post, I went through some of the video clips I shot of her while her social justice exhibition was on display at the Maryland State Arts Council. In particular, I was drawn to the videos on Gordon’s Quilt and Katherine’s Quilt.  Each of these quilts focus on one person, but have common themes of celebration and love within them. In each of these quilts Dr. Gaither endeavored to share her love of the people depicted as well as their families and friends as a means of “celebrating the individual and that which supported them.” She calls them healing quilts because they hold good memories and celebrate life.

This is something that I have been thinking about quite often over the past few weeks and months. The concept behind these quilts is a positive and loving one – allowing people to honor those who have touched their lives and the lives of others through fond memories and stories. This is the root of documentary storyquilting. It is at the heart and soul of what makes Dr. Gaither’s works powerful, emotional connectors between people, places, and events. When she begins brainstorming quilt subjects with workshop participants, she does not say “pick a person, place, or event and create a picture of them.” Instead she asks participants to think of their memories. "What are three things you associate with them? What are three words you would use to describe them? Is there a color, smell, action, habit, etc. that you think of when you remember them?”
Kayla's Quilt
(c) Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither

By using these types of questions to encourage memories to flow, each person is able to connect to their subject through a space of warm memories and love. I have often thought that it is a good way to think about life and those around us in general. Dr. Gaither said in her description of Kayla’s Quilt, a work done in memory of a family member who died in their childhood, “it helps us to be more aware and to protect ourselves and those around us.” Especially in trying times, this way of thinking represents what we can do to help us heal. “Sometimes forces around us are stronger than what we can handle on our own.” Through Dr. Gaither’s quilts and her special way of capturing memories, it allows one to celebrate while moving forward.

By putting all of the information she gathers into a quilt, Dr. Gaither is able to interpret people visually while creating an artwork out of something commonly associated with home, warmth, and love. She often talks about quilting being an age-old tradition that gathered people together to share stories and memories. I know this to be true based on what I have witnessed at the community quilting sessions over the past several years. People sit down to quilt and begin to share their stories, creating connections that perhaps never would have happened otherwise. Whether these connections are fleeting or last a lifetime, they have been created through the love around them. Dr. Gaither’s quilts take that concept of creating quilts with love one step further by incorporating images and memories into the quilt itself, allowing the subject to literally cover this symbol of comfort and protection. The memories included on the quilt become intertwined with the concept of a quilt providing cover for the person using them. In doing so, whomever experiences the quilt is forever covered with their love.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

And we're back....

6 month hiatus. Yikes! As Ricky would say on I Love Lucy, "You've got some 'splainin' to do!'"

Last minute finishing touches.
I have been dreading this posting and Dr. Gaither is somewhat enjoying that fact. As longtime readers of this blog know, I am one of the most tireless fighters for Dr. Gaither to take it easy and slow down. When she works too much she generally gets sick or ends up on lockdown which is exactly what happened over the past six months. And now for the reason why I have been dreading this posting -- much of the overwork has been my fault.

For the past three years I have worked with area high schools to document local history while working with the community. The students conduct research on a subject near and dear to the community's heart that has connections to national history but is not covered in their textbooks. The students learn about oral history and then interview several community members. They combine their research with information gathered during the oral history interviews to create an interpretive product. During the first two years of the project they created a mini-documentary and a panel exhibition respectively focusing on Carr's and Sparrow's Beaches. This year they studied Rosenwald Schools and created quilts featuring Rosenwald Schools in Anne Arundel County.

When the project was originally envisioned, I had planned on working with one high school to create 2-3 quilts measuring 3 ft x 3 ft. I had planned for the project to help jumpstart the expansion of the Trails Tracks Tarmac exhibition to the southern part of the county. When Dr. Gaither's community group found out about the project they were excited and happy to help, but asked if we could make one little change....
"Could you also include a high school in the northern part of the county?"
Late night quilting session. Can you find the sleeping person in this photo?
The addition of the second high school meant doubling the size of the project. That brought the number of quilts to 4-6. We quickly decided to go for the higher number. I know, I know, what was I thinking and doing? After we selected the six Rosenwald Schools for the students to focus on, one of the community members decided to have a group of girls she worked with at the northern high school create a quilt focusing on an additional Rosenwald School bringing the total number of quilts to seven. Are you following me so far?

At the same time, two of my counterparts at other museums in the area were working on similar community/school/museum collaborations to document local history using story quilts. Historic London Town and Gardens (HLT) worked with a high school government class to tell the stories of the black and white residents of the Anne Arundel County Almshouse. Dr. Gaither and Lisa Robbins, the Director of Education at HLT, decided each student would create two 12 inch squares - one depicting the white dormitory and another depicting the black dormitory. These squares would be compiled to create two quilts, one for each of the dormitories. There were 23 students in the class. Are you doing the measurements in your head? Yup, that's right. Two quilts measuring about 6 ft x 6 ft each.

My counterpart at Historic Annapolis partnered with Bates Middle School to work with a sixth grade class to tell the story of the integration at Annapolis High School (the white high school in Annapolis) and Bates High School (the only high school for African Americans in Anne Arundel County, MD from 1933-1966). When my colleague, Heather Ersts, approached the school, they didn't want to choose just one class and asked if the entire grade could participate. After much discussion, Dr. Gaither agreed to work with the larger group of students, helping them to create six inch squares that were sewn together to make 3.5 ft x 3.5 ft quilts. Did I happen to mention that there were 275 6th graders? We ended up with seven quilts from this group.

All 16 quilts prior to being installed at the Banneker-Douglass Museum.
How is your math? Do you have a total? When completed this entire project generated 16 quilts. Did I also mention that we didn't start the quilting process until 12 March? We worked with the students at all four schools several times and then had multiple community quilting sessions to get the quilts finished by 17 May with Dr. Gaither and I up working until 4 a.m. the night before they were delivered to the Banneker-Douglass Museum. Sixteen quilts in two months. Lockdown for Dr. Gaither was inevitable.

So now the quilts are all at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis ready to make their debut this Saturday. Fifteen of the quilts will go on exhibit for the summer at BDM and one of the Bates quilts will go on display at Historic Annapolis' museum at City Dock in Annapolis. Please come and check out the work. We will have a public unveiling on Saturday from 1:30-3:30 where you can meet the people involved in the project.. If you can't make it to the opening, they will be at the museum all summer before heading off on tour to their respective schools.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Images of Stolen Quilt and Media Coverage

Photo by Genevieve M. Kaplan, 2011

Photo by Genevieve M. Kaplan, 2011
Here are images of each side of the stolen quilt. If anyone has any information on the theft, please contact the police at 1.866.7.LOCKUP.

Media Coverage/Details: 

Baltimore Sun:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

News footage on the quilt theft with images of the quilt.

URGENT: We Need Your Help!!!!

Good evening everyone,

I wish I could be writing this post under better circumstances, but I am writing to ask for your help. Last week, one of Dr. Gaither's quilts was stolen while on exhibition at Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum. The quilt was stolen early in the morning on Tuesday, 19 December 2011.

The quilt is entitled Maryland: What a Strange Civilization It Is and has been exhibited as part of Dr. Gaither's social justice series as well as in the At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland exhibition held in 2007 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and the Maryland Historical Society. I am including the police description of the quilt as posted by WBAL in Baltimore.

I will post images of the quilt within the next few days. If anyone has any information, please contact the police immediately. Please share this information with anyone you believe may be able to help!

Thank you!


A 63-inch tall historical quilt is missing from a museum in Baltimore County, and police are searching for a culprit.
Investigators said a glass pane to the rear door of the museum was broken and that several items were damaged in the recent incident, but the quilt was the only thing stolen.
The quilt is 43 inches by 63 inches. It’s bordered with gold-colored feathers and an image of an American eagle on one side, and the phrase “Maryland the free state” and legal writings on the other side.
Authorities haven’t said how much the quilt is worth.
Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-866-7-LOCKUP.

Read more:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Health and Safety

Hi everyone,

Sorry for practicing our great disappearing act on you! We didn't mean to become magicians this year, but we have been getting pretty good at it. As the title of this posting alludes, there is a good reason -- health and safety. This applies to both Dr. Gaither and several of the quilts, specifically the Trails Tracks Tarmac community-created quilts.

One of the questions that comes up when Dr. Gaither presents at workshops, lectures, and conferences is "how long does it take you to make a quilt?" This question implies that it takes her a long time to fabricate a quilt. In fact, the actual physical creation of a quilt is often times the fastest part of the quilting process. The National Black Theatre Festival quilt was 2 years in the making, with the actual fabrication part only taking a year with her working off and on. When you take out all of the breaks, the fabrication probably took closer took 5 months. Keep in mind the quilt is about 9 feet wide and 11 feet long. I have seen her pull a quilt together from start to finish in less than a month.

All of the "speed quilting" does come with a price. Angry muscles and tendons, carpal tunnel, and general aches and pains start to take over after stitching for several hours at a time for many days (weeks) at a time. The solution? Physical therapy, weight lifting, stretching, icing the muscles, wearing braces on the arm and wrist, and good old ibuprofen. When all else fails, lockdown. When this solution is required, Dr. Gaither is forced to stop quilting entirely as well as avoid work on the computer. Lockdown is Dr. Gaither's least favorite solution, but it is also the most effective. Not working on the computer is the only part of lockdown that Dr. Gaither enjoys given her technophobia. Stopping her from quilting is another matter.

During lockdown, Dr. Gaither's community rallies around her not to help her quilt, but to "keep her in check" as she often says. There are a few people (myself included) who really stay on her about resting and call her out whenever she even hints at doing something she shouldn't. Dr. Gaither was put on lockdown in the early fall by her physical therapist and was just allowed to start quilting a few weeks ago. Now that she has been allowed to quilt again, she has completed one quilt (started prior to lockdown) and another is speeding towards the finish line.

As for what put her on lockdown this time, it was the health and safety of the 25 community quilts from the Trails Tracks Tarmac exhibition. The TTT community quilts were created in 2006 and have been on constant display for over five years now. The continuous display as well as lengthy display in direct, unfiltered sunlight at one of their exhibition sites has caused very serious damage to the quilts. People have frequently asked how long her quilts last and these quilts have accidentally become test cases for how much the fabric sheets can handle. The quilts are displaying varying levels of fading and discoloration ranging from barely noticeable fading to images almost completely disappearing.

To remedy the situation, emergency action was taken in July and August beginning with the complete de-installation of the entire exhibition. The quilts were examined by Dr. Gaither and the respective quilters and then cleaned via vacuuming techniques and the like. Next, the quilters and Dr. Gaither went through their files to see if they could reproduce the images on some of the quilts. In some instances they could, but in others it was not possible. At times when they could not reproduce the images, Dr. Gaither would use her drawing skills and draw back in the details of the photos and try to bring the colors back to life. It was through this process of extreme detail work and spending hours at a time bent over quilts that sent her muscles out on strike, subsequently putting her on lockdown for nearly three months.

Several of the TTT community quilts have gone back on display at the Bates Legacy Center, but only temporarily. They will be coming off exhibition to rest and get out of direct light next year. Two of the quilts have been so badly damaged by the sun that they will not be going back out on display at all. The damage to these quilts is not uniform with all of Dr. Gaither's works. Most of her quilts are in extraordinary condition, requiring little to no touch-up work. The situation with the TTT quilts has allowed Dr. Gaither and her quilters to examine what fabric types hold up best, which printer inks last and which fade, and the effects of long term display on different colors. Every cloud has a silver lining, right?

I hope everyone has a great holiday season. I will try to post here again before the New Year. With Dr. Gaither just coming off restriction and doing so much quilting, I don't dare ask her to post. That hasn't stopped me from bugging her about it though. I am thinking a video interview about her work may be in her near future. Hmmm.....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Honoring a Post-September 11 World

In honor of the 10th Anniversary of September 11, I am posting a video of Dr. Gaither discussing two quilts she created in the months after the attacks. These quilts are part of Dr. Gaither's social justice series and share her views on the changes she saw in the world immediately after September 11 and those that endure today. Below are close up images of each of the quilts.

Selective Perceptions/Reality
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Selective Perceptions/Reality
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Selective Perceptions/Reality
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Selective Perceptions/Reality
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Response to 9/11
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither
Response to 9/11
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Response to 9/11
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Response to 9/11
Detail Image
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

National Black Theatre Festival Opening Reception Photos

Hi everyone!

Here are several photos taken of Dr. Gaither at the opening reception for the National Black Theatre Festival. The quilt turned into the step and repeat at the event. If you don't know what a "step and repeat" is, that is the background celebrities stand in front of at special events to get their photos taken. I wasn't in Winston-Salem for this event, so I will ask Dr. Gaither to help with the commentary on these photos in the next few days.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Hi everyone!

I am posting a message without Dr. Gaither's knowledge in order to reveal that today is the birthday of everyone's favorite documentary story quilter. Please drop her a line if you can. I know it would mean a lot to her.

Also, pictures and stories from the National Black Theatre Festival to come this weekend. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Now on Facebook!

You can now follow Dr. Gaither on Facebook! After months of trying to get her to agree to setting up a fan page, she is finally joining the world of facebook. If you would like to follow her, click on the button on the right hand side or look her up under Joan M. E. Gaither. Hope to see you there. Please spread the word!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

National Black Theatre Festival Quilt in the News-UPDATED

The Winston-Salem Journal interviewed Dr. Gaither on the National Black Theatre Festival Quilt. Click the link below for the article and a brief video.

Monday, August 1, 2011

At the Heart of It All...

Marvtastic Memories
National Black Theatre Festival Quilt
(c) Dr. Joan M. E. Gaither, 2011

The past few days have been a whirlwind of phone calls between Dr. Gaither and myself on the reaction to the National Black Theatre Festival quilt. The festival is in full swing starting with a large kick off party last night. The packed house featured the quilt as a backdrop for many photos and it is quite the talk of the festival which has everyone involved in the project smiling with pride in the quilt, their work, and in Dr. Gaither. I was out with a group this afternoon when Dr. Gaither called me with an update and several people gathered within earshot to hear her as she shared stories on speakerphone. Her infectious energy raced through the phone and everyone's hearts started beating a little faster with shared excitement and happiness for her.

In the last posting, I deciphered the borders. For this posting, I will decipher the interior (or heart) of the artwork. Starting at the top left corner of the quilt next to the 3-D figure you will see several small pictures of people's faces. These photos are of each of the celebrities who have performed at the festival since it began in 1989. There are at least 200 faces on the quilt. It took months to add these faces to the quilt. Dr. Gaither used images from the festival's program and drew into them to make the pictures more detailed and vibrant. Each picture was then attached on three sides, stuffed with batting, sewn on the bottom edge, and then framed with gold fabric paint. These pictures run in a circle around the quilt. It was quite an effort to make sure that every face was included on the quilt. To keep everything straight, Dr. Gaither had an excel spreadsheet which I would go through repeatedly checking to make sure everyone was on the quilt. Sometimes people were inadvertently left off the quilt and making things interesting, some people where on there a few times. One person's picture was on the quilt three times with their name spelled three different ways when I caught it.

On the top you can see a large blue eagle which is over the North Carolina state flag. These symbols pay tribute to the festival's home state. Moving from these two images to the right there is a large star made from black and gold ropes and strands of silver beads. The star serves as a counter point to the large figure on the other side of the quilt in terms of having a second large-scale image on the quilt. The star contains several celebrity photos within it. There are also the names of several different events that go on as part of the festival. In the center of the star is a bow tie and the festival's logo representing some of the events held as a part of the theatre festival.

Between the 3-D figure and the star is an orange grid which is actually a map of the festival venues in Winston-Salem. In each of the corners there are colorful images of men and women representing the music and drumming that goes on during the theatre festival. Images from festivals past are also included among the celebrity photos.

Throughout the center section of the quilt are black lines which are intended to make the quilt look somewhat like a stained glass window. The inspiration behind this were the stained glass windows at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Dr. Gaither used my book on the cathedral's windows to give her ideas on how to make this happen. The effect simultaneously helps to tie everything together and keep the content from getting too overwhelming.

So that is the overview of the National Black Theatre Festival quilt. I will post some of the in process photos in the next few days so that you can see the evolution of the quilt from basic pieces of fabric to the finished product.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Marvtastic Memories!

Ok all you Joan Gaither quilt fans, the time has finally arrived! The latest My American Series quilt is about to be revealed.

Are you ready for it? 

It is my pleasure to introduce to you the seventh quilt in Dr. Gaither's My American Series,
Marvtastic Memories!


Marvtastic Memories documents the history of the National Black Theatre Festival set to open next week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As with all of Dr. Gaither's quilts there is so much detail, it is going to take days to explain all of the various components. I will start by giving you a general overview today and then make frequent updates throughout the run of the festival with more information and detail.

So, where to begin? Perhaps by talking about the largest component of the quilt - the figure in black. This figure is a nearly life sized 3-D image of Larry Leon Hamlin, the founder of the National Black Theatre Festival. He founded the festival in 1989 with the vision of hosting a festival every two years, something that has happened consistently since it began. Dr. Gaither fashioned the figure of Mr. Hamlin based on photos taken from the annual programs, matching his brightly adorned clothing down to his hat and sunglasses. Sadly, he passed away shortly before the 2009 festival. Dr. Gaither placed an angel in one of his hands with the other pointing down on the orange map of the theatre festival's venues to symbolize him as the event's guardian angel. For those of you familiar with Dr. Gaither's work, you will recognize the angel as one designed by Ms. Ruth Taylor, Dr. Gaither's "Angel Lady."

Working to the right from Mr. Hamlin's hand you will see photos, oba faces (the brown faces), and black and purple boxes. Each of these sets contains the names of all of the plays and honored celebrities (in the boxes) and the festival chairs for each year. The first festival, held in 1989, was chaired by Maya Angelou followed by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. These sets continue around the top and right borders of the quilt all the way through the 2011 festival. If you look underneath these sets you will see Dr. Gaither's traditional My American Series border with a few alterations. On this quilt there is no railroad fabric, but all of the other elements (African fabric, red and blue fabric for the blood shed in the Middle Passage, the safety pins, and the rolled American flag colored fabric) are all there.

On the bottom border you will see several small red rectangles. These are actually the backs of director's chairs with the names of many of the festival plays' directors on them. Also on the bottom of the quilt you can see what look like many light brown lines. Believe it or not, those are letter beads spelling out the names of each and every production company to present a show at the festival in its 28 year history. There is a good story about those which I will share in the next couple days involving Dr. Gaither, myself, and a large problem with math. In the middle of this border is an image which represents stage curtains with the name and details of the festival spelled out in letter beads.

Moving to the left border, you will see a figure in purple just below Mr. Hamlin's foot. That is his wife, Sylvia, with the word "Marvtastic" written next to her. "Marvtastic" was a word Mr. Hamlin coined to convey his, and those of people involved with the festival's, sentiments towards this large event. As you move up Mr. Hamlin's leg, you will see white writing listing the names of the festival's sponsors throughout the year.

I will save the details about the center of the quilt for my next posting. The quilt is currently on display at the Milton Rhodes Arts Center in Winston-Salem and will remain so through 6 August 2011. If you are in Winston-Salem or nearby in the next week, please stop by to take a look. The quilt is on display in the main lobby of the Arts Center

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oops, We Did It Again!

Hello???? Anyone still out there????

I can just hear everyone saying "Where have you been? You haven't posted anything in almost three months!!!!!"

Just as Dr. Gaither was getting into the idea of posting and I had started up weekly postings, we dropped the ball and stopped. With this posting I offer a mea culpa and a few exciting explanations.

The title of this post not only refers to one of our unintentional multi-month hiatus' from posting but also to the fact that for the third time in three years, another My American Series quilt has been completed. Yes, that's right, completed. The National Black Theatre Festival quilt was finally finished last week after months of promises from Dr. Gaither that it would be completed by the end of the month. "It will be finished by the end of February....March...April...May... It has to be finished by the middle of June." And when was it finished? The first weekend in July!

For those of you who are loyal readers of this blog (thank you!), you know that I somewhat serve as Dr. Gaither's personal assistant. I take care of correspondence, posting on this website, monitoring her calendar, helping her with appearances and workshops, and many other duties. One of those duties includes keeping her on task and on schedule which is not an easy feat. Keeping her on task for this latest quilt has been quite the ordeal as she loves to work under the pressure of a deadline and there wasn't one for several months. With every My American Series quilt, there has always been a pressing time factor which has lead to round the clock quilting sessions as well as several public appearances by the quilt as it makes the rounds with community quilting sessions. This quilt was not like that. Begun more than a year ago, this quilt was way ahead of schedule, not needing to be in Winston-Salem, NC until late July/early August.  Because of this, Dr. Gaither seemingly had plenty of time to complete the quilt, despite my insistence that it had to be finished absolutely no later than Memorial Day in order to give the theatre festival representatives time to create the posters, cards, and other items that will be on offer with this quilt.. Plus I need time to be able to create a diagram to allow people to find themselves and their organizations on the quilt. It was finally completed last week because she received the date the quilt was going to travel to Winston-Salem, putting her in a time crunch-induced panic (finally).

The National Black Theatre Festival quilt will make its debut at the festival in three weeks and will be on display for the entire run of the week long festival. Once it has made its debut at the festival, I will be able to post full pictures for everyone to see. Only a few more weeks. Sadly, I will not be able to be there to see the debut of the quilt, but I have put Dr. Gaither on notice that she is to designate one of her friends to be her "official" photographer and get photos for the blog. If I am really daring, perhaps I will venture into the realm of teaching her how to put photos on her computer and upload them to the blog. She keeps swearing her computer is about to blow up on her, so it might not happen. Then again, it could just be her way of getting out of blogging.

So that is Dr. Gaither's excuse for not blogging. It is a partial excuse on my part as well since I have spent many a day and night helping to work on the quilt. I slowed down my involvement on that somewhat after Dr. Gaither threatened to "get me" multiple times after I went through her multiple lists of people, places, and organizations that needed to be added to the quilt and found several omissions. Lets just say for one of the lists, the number was in the triple digits! I will fill you in on that once I can post pictures.

As for the rest of my excuses (and a little self promotion) I have been taking up the community involvement aspect of Dr. Gaither's work and applying it to my own. I just completed the second phase of a great project called Music to Our Ears: The Sounds of the African American Experience at Carr's and Sparrow's Beaches. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Carr's and Sparrow's Beaches, they were two segregation-era hot spots located just outside of Annapolis where African Americans spent their summers relaxing by the water and taking in the biggest musical acts of the day such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Drifters, the Supremes, and many more. These two family-run beaches brought in audiences from all over the East Coast including audiences of 40,000 people for the James Brown concerts. Not bad considering the current population of Annapolis is around 35,000 people. Can you imagine doubling the size of the city for a day?

Very little research has been done on these sites and the people who attended, worked, and performed there are aging quickly. The Coordinator of Social Studies for Anne Arundel County and I put our heads together and came up with the Music to Our Ears project where high school students learn about the beaches as well as how to do oral history interviews. Then the students go out into the community and conduct oral history interviews as well as gather photographs and other memorabilia from their friends, family, and other community members. All of this is then compiled into a public presentation of some sort. Last year the students created a mini-documentary and this year they did an exhibition that opened at the Banneker-Douglass Museum just after Memorial Day and will be up through Labor Day. The project has been embraced by the community and has kept me running and off the blog for the last several months. Now that the project is on break for the summer, I am able to return to my blogging and other activities.

So there you have it. Our mea culpa and reasons for our absence. I promise a plethora of posts to come in the next few weeks and lots of pictures to make up for our absence. Thanks for hanging in there with us!