Author Traces Af-Am Quilt Culture
Beardsley underscores the role of improvisation in African-American quilts
Held in Piper Auditorium at the GSD, the hour-long lecture included a series of visual slides, artistic analysis, and a brief question-and-answer period, all of which focused on analyzing quilts from the early 20th century as forms of African-American narrative in the South.
Beardsley is the author of Gee’s Bend: The Women and Their Quilts. His work catalogs the social, historical, and artistic significance of quilt-making in African-American culture—saying that quilts had devotional, artistic, and trade purposes.
Yesterday he distinguished the artistic quilting of the African-American tradition from its European counterparts.
He particularly highlighted the role of “improvisation” in African-American quilts.
“In the European tradition, there’s a tendency to repeat patterns. In the African-American tradition, there’s a desire to break patterns,” Beardsley said.
“As with visual art, culture, and dance, this is not improvisation but a systematic way to break predictability,” he added.
One visual slide that elicited a reaction from the crowd was that of a simple green and white quilt entitled “Lazy Gal.” Made from corduroy, this quilt employed a style which Beardsley dubbed “improvised geometries.”
He said that African-American quilting at the turn of the century was “being fortified in Christianity”—particularly for the group of women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, about whom he wrote his book.
Beardsley also established connections between the artistry of quilts and devotional worship.
Some who attended the talk yesterday were themselves involved in quilt-making.
“I saw an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. I heard there was going to be a discussion about the quilts from Gee’s Bend and I decided to hear what was going to be said,” said Joanne Cornell, a local quilter and artist.
Beardsley said that through his work on Gee’s Bend, he hopes to promote a more inclusive view of art.
He joked that his son regarded him as a “white boy sticking his nose where it didn’t belong” in reference to his interest in African-American visual culture.
But he responded by saying his ultimate goal is to demonstrate that “art can be rural or urban, popular or elite, and white or rainbow-hued.”
Beardsley currently teaches a course for undergraduates entitled Visual and Environmental Studies 168, “Theories and Practices of Contemporary Landscape Architecture: 1950 to the Present.”