Growing up, I cuddled in a quilt my Nana made from different pieces of fabric. Although I have fond memories of wrapping up in it on chilly fall days, watching TV and eventually dozing off, I never gave much thought about the love, detail and attention that went into making it.
Memories of the quilt made by my Nana came back to me recently as I engaged in conversation with members of Cleveland’s African American Quilt and Doll Guild (AAQDG): current president Felecia Tinker and Sandra Noble.
The organization initially formed on a foundation of love for the art form as part of African American heritage, but eventually, Felecia, Sandra and fellow members realized there was something else – the power of storytelling, and the power to heal individuals and foster kinship among members and the community as a whole.
The group formed in spring 2006 with 35 ladies coming together to share their work, ideas and talents. Fast forward to 2018. A membership group with 72 members gathers two Saturdays a month to continue the tradition of quilt and doll-making at the Warrensville Heights Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library.
African American quilting traditions, believed to have origins in slavery, according to Kinship and Quilting: An Examination of an African-American Tradition, remained relatively unfamiliar as an influence in folk arts and crafts until recently. Today, a quick search on the internet results in lists of organizations, individuals and resources dedicated to quilting in the African American community. Felecia says it’s not a dying art form, but one that’s thriving and opening up doors for organizations like AAQDG to create fiber art with a message to share with the world.
The International Quilt Convention Africa selected nine members of Cleveland’s group to display their quilts at the 2014 event in Johannesburg, South Africa. Each quilter interpreted some aspect of Mandela’s life and designed a quilt honoring his legacy. They even made 100 dolls to donate to a South African daycare.
Other notable exhibits displaying their work stateside include “And Still We Rise,” a display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. “A Tear for America” by Julius Bremer, currently AAQDG’s only male member, is on display at the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas, until the end of August 2018. It’s a beautiful piece depicting Obama’s visage as a sole tear falls down his face.
The AAQDG works with community organizations like Lexington-Bell Community Center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood to teach local children quilting. One quilt on display is a collaborative project in which children and guild members worked together. The children illustrated their stories on fabric pieces sewn together with the help of the guild. Members also give back by presenting quilt and doll-making at churches and schools in the spirit of passing on the tradition.
On another note, the guild wrote Inspirations, Visions and Traditions in Fiber Arts, featuring quilts and other fiber art created by members. Carolyn Mazloomi also features quilts by members in her book, Journey of Hope: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama. The organization is currently working on their next book (set to publish in 2019), featuring quilts and dolls highlighting aspects of Kwanzaa, the African American holiday.
Felecia noted the guild’s fiber art (the category quilting and doll-making belong to) catches people off-guard because it comes in so many different forms, including portraits, abstracts, landscapes on wearable art, wall hangings and traditional, functional pieces that some of us cuddle with.
Along with memories of my grandmother’s quilts, I now have a new respect for quilting as an art form that has the power to do much more than keep someone warm on a cool, fall day.
Since 2008, AAQDG hosts biennial quilt shows. You’re in luck if you want to check them out because their next show, “The Voice & Power of Fiber Arts! Quilt & Doll Show,” is Nov. 9 to 11 at the Warrensville Heights Civic & Senior Center. The weekend-long show includes speakers, exhibitions and fashion shows featuring wearable art. Tickets are available here. Contact Felecia Tinker at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about the event and ways you can connect with the guild.