Thursday, February 21, 2008

Improvisational Quilts of Susana Allen Hunter @ The Henry Ford

What goes into a quilt?
- Love.
- A lot of time.
- A lot of fabric.

Yes, all of these are true. But what is hidden among the array of fabric we see is a piece of the quilter's soul.

Prepare to see the soul poured into one woman's quilt collection at the brand new exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. called "Quilting Genius 2: The Improvisational Quilts of Susana Allen Hunter."

The exhibit features 30 creative quilts created by Susana from the "fabric" of her everyday life in Wilcox, Alabama -- one of the poorest counties in the nation.

Susana's quilts, dating from the 1930s - 70s, provide a feeling of life context to her experience as an African American female living in the Jim Crow rural south. In her inspiring designs, she incorporated pieces of her life -- rice sacks from food she consumed, feed sacks from the farm animals she took care of, jeans from old farm overalls and cotton that her and her family had hand-picked in the hot, southern sun. Every piece was reused or recycled and no fabric went to waste.

When I walked through the exhibit, I felt connected to Susane and got the vibe that quilting was her way to escape the harsh reality of being an African American female living in the racist/sexist south. It was through her creative outlet -- quilting -- that her mind was able to escape the confining and complex barriers of the era.

I believe through her quilting, Susane sends a message to all of us -- creativity can't be judged by material things. Sometimes it's the imperfections of art coupled with the soul and emotion poured into the piece that create true art and always out-measure any store bought item. Sometimes it's the lack of what we have that makes us artists -- after all, it's always those who can make something out of nothing that always ends up on top.

To Susane, the fabrics she chose for each quilt seem to symbolize hope for change and a desire to express herself. Her quilts are not just simply blankets for the purpose of warmth. To me, they each tell a story of her strife and longing to escape and make something that wasn't "pretty" in the first place, beautiful and purposeful.

The exhibit is truly something to see. I had chills thinking about the soul that had obviously gone into the amazing pieces. This lady was poor and down on her luck at times, but didn't let that stop her from using her mind to create something that helped her escape.

Check it out for yourself. The exhibit is going on now through April 27, 2008.

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