FAIRFIELD — In the Fairfield Civic Center Library Sunday, quilt historian Patricia Turner displayed a picture of a story quilt on a screen.
Turner offered insight into the rich history of African-American quilts to a packed crowd at the library’s meeting room Sunday. Turner explored the evolution of quilts starting in the mid-19th century until present.
The story quilt featured different portraits: On the left was a picture of Harriet Tubman and on the right was a picture of a tall Frederick Douglass, both Civil War-era abolitionists.
It wasn’t an especially unusual picture, but at the time it was created it was, Turner explained. The quilt was created by the Negro History Club of Marin City after World War II. Those days it was hard to get access to black history, but this group was dedicated to educating themselves.
“It was rare to see black images outside the black community,” she said.
The quilt was rare at the time because it featured black people in a position of power: Tubman, holding a rifle, and Douglass, standing tall with a white man looking up at him.
“This was ahead of its time . . . Quilters are always ahead of everyone else,” she said, laughing.
Turner is a professor at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African-American Quilters.”
The library held the lecture in honor of Black History Month. All of the Solano County libraries also exhibited quilts made by the Fairfield Quilting Sisters.
Turner started her lecture with an introduction to quilting in the 19th century. Quilting then was significantly different than it is now and made more difficult by the fact that everything was done manually and without electricity.
“Isn’t quilting enough work? I can’t imagine doing it without my tools,” said attendee Lacy Schubert.
Quilting his always been a significant part of black women’s history. Turner joked, back in the day a good woman had quilts ready by the time she marries, but a “trashy woman doesn’t even have her quilts ready.”
Quilts have played a role in black men’s history as well, Turner said. Black men used to have to choose between inside jobs, such as quilting, and outside jobs, such as farm work. Inside jobs were preferred because they paid better, Turner said.
Throughout her years of research, Turner said she found there is not a particularly distinct African-American quilting style. Some scholars would disagree, but she believes there’s nothing race specific about these quilts.
“African-Americans make every kind of quilt imaginable,” she said.
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