Late last year during one of the marathon stitching sessions to complete the Black Watermen quilt, I sat down with Dr. Gaither to talk about the My American Series quilts to build up information for a potential exhibit script. During the conversation, I attempted to type as she spoke which is an almost impossible task. While I am a fairly quick typist, my keyboarding skills were no match for the rate at which she talks when she is speaking about something she is passionate about. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation, although not word for word as I had to do some pretty serious paraphrasing and shorthand to keep up. I thought it would be a nice addition to the weekly series to get her take on each of the quilts in the series. Enjoy!
Talking about the Brown's Quilt as the opening or the first in what was to become a series [is difficult] because I didn't know at the time [it would become a series]. My process involves sharing the familiar experiences, sharing stories, and the moving out from that to incorporate others. Identity, choices we make, and then how these are layered. The format, the structure, felt like a perfect fit that it becomes more than that. Quilts protect us, keep us warm, are easily accessible. People have some knowledge of at least comfort quilts. Quilts are holders, holding the human stories, not just comfort quilts.
What has driven the series is the notion of an American Series. What struck in the Brown's quilt that needed telling was the news commentary that people were surprised not by the amount of money donated but that it was an African American couple who had done that. It made me stop and think.
While I was working on [the Brown's Quilt] I was working on series for my sabbatical show on who am I and I was struck by the number of people making up my biological family, spiritual family, and friends/community family. Each could be a story. The key for me is finding that story that needs telling that only that sort of one person can tell. With the Brown's quilt, it was significant that they had wealth and chose to give it for the preservation of the culture of the African American story in Baltimore; looking and recognizing the history and contributions as part of a collective American culture, not a separate culture.
I just stepped out into the community, telling the Brown's story, my own family story, my church story. It seemed like the next logical piece would be [to go into] the neighborhood and that was Trails, Tracks, Tarmac (the Community Quilt). In order to get that completed it required going out and working with the comminuty to identify people, places, and events that shaped Anne Arundel County. From that, the conversations multiplied. Somewhere in the mix, it became a 501(c)3 organization. That was like a huge pivitol moment that happened around art making and bringing people together for art, history, fellowship, museum collaboration. It just built on itself and just exploded.
More on the My American Series from myself and from this "interview" to come as the weekly series continues.