Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My American Series - Trails Tracks Tarmac (aka The Community Quilt)

Trails Tracks Tarmac (TTT) is the second quilt in the My American Series. Formally titled Trails Tracks Tarmac: Lives of African Americans in the History and Culture of Northern Anne Arundel County Maryland from 1850 to the Present, this quilt is actually part of two series. The second series is a group of over 25 small (3 square feet) quilts inspired by TTT. These smaller quilts came about during the creation of TTT. I am getting ahead of myself. As the song says, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

TTT is the culmination of several individual's desires to document African American history of Northern Anne Arundel County. For those who are not from Maryland, this area comprises the distance between Baltimore and Annapolis. Begun as a wish by Ms. Irene Hebron, a historian at Dr. Gaither's church, a group of individuals including Dr. Gaither and Ted and Betty Mack began the process of researching and documenting history at their church. The effort quickly grew to include other churches in the area, picking up more and more interested individuals and groups as they went. The group eventually consolidated into a 501(c)3 organization called Northern Arundel Cultural Preservation Society, Inc. (NACPS).

As the group worked, they built up a treasure trove of information, oral history interviews, and objects. Dr. Gaither incorporated the research into an idea for a quilt - TTT which is also known as the Community Quilt. I have referenced this quilt and shown several images from it in past postings. Dr. Gaither asked the community to come together and provide her with people, places, and events to add to the quilt. This was the beginning to what would become her signature community quilting process. As people came to her with information, several people stepped forward wanting to get involved and be a part of the quilting process. What resulted was a massive group of quilters who would get together to help work on TTT.

During the quilting process, Dr. Gaither came to a point where she had more content than she could possibly fit onto the quilt. As a solution to this dilemma, she invited the quilters to design and create their own quilts using this content. The result was a series of 25 smaller quilts in varying designs and styles on topics including small enclave communities, sports heroes and teams, schools, family trees, and many others.

Along the way, NACPS began working with staff members of the Banneker-Douglass Museum and eventually put together an exhibition of all the research and objects they had collected. The exhibition also included the TTT quilt and the 25 smaller quilts. The resulting exhibition took over every temporary exhibition space at the museum and was a smashing success. The exhibition ran at BDM from November 2006 through January 2008 before moving on to travel throughout the state of Maryland. The exhibit is now on display at the Bates Legacy Center in Annapolis.

Now for a little description of the quilt itself. TTT is unlike most of the quilts in the My American Series in that it is a crazy quilt. A crazy quilt is one that does not follow a prescribed structure/design. The quilt centers around the placement of three major railroads which run through the county - Baltimore & Ohio (now the Chessie System), Baltimore & Annapolis Electric, and the Baltimore & Potomac (now Amtrak). Throughout this space are several churches and early African American elementary schools. Also included is Bates High School, the only high school for African Americans in Anne Arundel County from 1933-1966. The quilt takes its name from these two components as well as from BWI airport which is located in the heart of this area. The crossroads, or trails, place family enclaves within the county, connecting historical figures and families within current residents. Tracks is for the railroads and tarmac for the tarmac at the airport.

TTT is the first quilt to appear with the signature My American Series quilt border. The quilt also share the other common feature of the series pieces - enormous size. TTT is 110 inches long and 98 inches wide. Translated into feet, that is 10 feet 2 inches by 12 feet 2 inches. Massive! Fortunately there were several hands to help put it together. This quilt also includes the railroad fabric which has become a signature component of the My American Series. This fabric was also included on each of the small quilts. Every one of the small quilts had to have the railroad fabric appear somewhere, although the amount and placement was left up to the quilt makers. This quilt's design process is the stuff of legends among those who have worked with Dr. Gaither and has been the topic of my posting series Table Linens Beware. TTT was conceptualized and sketched on a napkin at Dr. Gaither's favorite restaurant. That napkin has been preserved and an image of it is on display with TTT.

Well, this is a very long posting. I will end here and do a follow up posting in a few days. I would like to thank Dr. Gaither for her assistance with providing me images. As the blizzard rages outside, preventing me from getting to my library of images on my computer at the museum, we have been able to jointly put this posting together with the help of Skype and email. Talk about community teamwork!

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