Thursday, March 18, 2010

My American Series - The Poulson Slaver Quilt

The third quilt in the My American Series is the Poulson Slaver Quilt. The quilt was created in 2007 for the exhibition At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland, a joint exhibition between the Maryland Historical Society, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Morgan State University. This exhibition was created by the students at MICA and Morgan with the assistance of staff members at the MDHS and the Lewis Museum. As part of the exhibition, two artists were selected to serve as artists in residence for the exhibition, one of whom was Dr. Gaither.

Dr. Gaither created the Poulson Slaver Quilt especially for this exhibition and based it on an artwork in the MDHS permanent collection. The quilt takes its name from the center square featuring the Poulson slave ship which is the subject of the painting in the exhibition. Dr. Gaither used the Poulson slave ship as the launching point for a visual discussion of slavery throughout the quilt. The squares in each corner of the center square represent the abolitionist movement and their actions. In the outer corners of the quilt are squares depicting a few of the ways slaves were able to gain their freedom - manumission (being set free by the slave's master), a will, escape, or joining the Union Army during the Civil War. On this quilt, the American-themed fabric rope which is included in the My American Series border comes down in the bottom corners to form nooses. This unique feature of the quilt border acknowledges the lynchings occurring in Maryland during slavery and beyond.

The exhibition has a great website with extensive information on the show and images including a great quote from Dr. Gaither talking about this quilt. In line with my belief that no one talks about Dr. Gaither's work better than she does, here is a portion of her statement from the website.
According to Gaither, “I juxtapose issues of slavery and racism against the warmth and comfort that quilts provide. I highlight the consequences of laws, codes, beliefs, and values for those who continue to be marginalized. These quilts are layered, embedded and embellished with images, text, objects, and symbolic cloth to make emotional connections with issues of identity and freedom of body, mind, and spirit. The Baltimore Album style quilt focuses on particular people, places, objects, and events that challenge the complexities of the institution of slavery.

When the exhibition opened, it was located at both the Maryland Historical Society and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. The Poulson Slaver Quilt was hung at the Maryland Historical Society next to the painting it was based on. Also included in this exhibition was Dr. Gaither's quilt How Much Longer? This powerful quilt is held together entirely by pins. There are no stitches holding it together. Dr. Gaither depicts acts of discrimination and racism against herself all while asking the question how much longer will this go on. Several of the pins on this quilt are left open to show the pain brought about by racism and the events shown on the quilt. It is an impressive and moving work which uses soft colors to draw viewers into the artwork only to confront them with the subject of racism upon looking at the quilt up close.

More information to come on this quilt in the next few days. To learn more about the exhibition At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland, visit

1 comment:

seabag said...

This painting was on loan to the Maryland Historical Society for the exhibit from the Penobscot Marine Museum in Maine.

Ben Fuller, Curator, Penobscot Marine Museum