The Original Makers: Stitching a Legacy

/ Exhibitions - Publications

Pine Burr or Petal Quilt, about 1960 –1970
Made in Tuscaloosa, Alabama Cotton, wool, polyester, nylon, silk, and corduroy
Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Helen and Robert Cargo

The quilts in The Original Makers: Folk Art from the Cargo Collection illustrate important movements and moments in Alabama quilt history and how the work of these artists has driven a deep interest in the quilters of our state. They are by black and white makers, many of whom are unidentified. Most date primarily (though not exclusively) from two periods: the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century and roughly the fourth quarter of the twentieth.

In the late nineteenth century, production of factory-made cloth increased dramatically. This increase made cloth more available and affordable, and women responded with a corresponding increase in the number and variety of creative designs. The last 30 years of the twentieth century saw the national rise of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the embrace of the handmade object. Collectors and critics began to acknowledge works by self-taught and folk artists, as well as the contributions of African American artists. The rich traditions of the state of Alabama, plus the momentous changes of this period, combined to illuminate and inspire works of beauty and power.

Album Quilt, 1858
Appliquéd solid cottons on muslin backing
Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Helen and Robert Cargo

In general, Alabama-made quilts reflect the styles and techniques of making commonplace in the rest of the country. Settlers moving into Alabama in the nineteenth century brought the possessions they could carry, as well as the traditions and skills learned from their heritage and former communities. Once quilt-makers were established in Alabama, their needlework followed national styles but was influenced by other factors, such as the materials available, adaptations to a new environment, techniques and ideas generated in a new community, and (as they became available) ideas and patterns from newspapers and ladies’ magazines.

Excerpt from the The Original Makers catalogue, now available in the Museum Store.