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Quilt History Snippets - January 2024
By Kathleen (Kathy) L Moore
Posted: 2024-01-10T06:00:00Z

What:      Review of Uncoverings 1992, Volume 13 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group, edited by Laurel Horton

Topic:       “Quilt Talk: Verbal Performance among a Group of African-American Quilters"

Author:     Jane E Hindeman

 

The objective of this month’s article intentionally offers an “alternative to the material culture research model” by describing and analyzing “the social and oral context within which African-American women teach and perform quilting” practices. The author collected her “data” by participating and observing interactions between predominantly African-American sewing class members at a neighborhood community center in Tucson, AZ. Hindeman states at the outset that her ”data corroborate the notion that from the verbal performances of any group—rather than from the group’s material culture alone—emerge the values, beliefs, and notions of order that provide an impetus for the aesthetics informing the traditional material items that a group produces.” [p. 85]

 

The author joined the group as a beginner in the Fall of 1991 on the pretense of needing their guidance while at the same time observing and taking notes on their interactions, conversations, relationships and the skills, abilities, and characteristics of their quiltmaking. Throughout the article, Hindeman highlights several specific participants and elaborates at length on their interactions with her and within the group on class days.

 

Hindeman uses some terminology more familiar to an academic sociologist than the average quiltmaker. She describes the participants as “teaching performers” and “quilt talkers” and provides direct quotes of in-class conversations and instructions. Some of the interactions Hindeman reports seem to describe a somewhat fluid contest between participants for social dominance within the group. Parts of this interaction may be what Hindeman refers to as the “practice of signifying.” [p. 92] Later in this article Hindeman designates the discussions of the stories of their quilts among the participants as “the referential meaning of the quilt.” [p. 94]

 

Hindeman’s process seems to be a methodology akin to that of a folklorist. It has its merits in trying to understand the motivations behind the production of any cultural artifact. That said, it cannot replace the standard material cultural approach, particularly when evaluating ancient or even more recent cultures for whom there is no one alive to speak to their cultural realities. There is not enough data in this report to identify essential and unique differences in African-American quilting which would set it apart from the overall cultural milieu across time and place in America, a subtext Hindeman hints at on page 105.

 

If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. To access an online version of any issue of Uncoverings find the links at the AQSG website or the Quilt Index at www.quiltindex.org. As always, you can contact me at kmoore81@austin.rr.com