Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Celebrating Black History Month

This year, I am celebrating Black History Month in a very special way. I played matchmaker, assisting in the journey of an important, historic quilt made in the late Victorian period by Mrs. Henretta (Bond) George Washington Turnbull in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Karen Gelbard, a weaver who lives on the coast of Oregon, brought Turnbull's quilt in for an evaluation. She was looking for a new home for the quilt, which was owned by a friend. It had descended through the family, whose ancestor was the original recipient. Turnbull was born into slavery and was employed as a nurse by the family, whose son had club feet. While she cared for the boy, she made approximately 16,000 English paper pieced, silk hexagons.

Thurnbull's masterpiece quilt appears in the latest issue of American Quilter Magazine, in an article written by Karen. In brainstorming ideas for how to find the quilt a home, I suggested writing about it for one of the magazines. I offered to do the photography for free, and pitched the piece to American Quilter. They said yes right away. It took some time to get a spot on the calendar, but I am so thrilled the magazine arrived in time for Black History Month. What happened next was even better...

restoration is planned for this incredibly rare piece of history
The ink on the magazine pages was barely dry when I received a note from Carolyn Mazloomi, looking for the quilt and expressing a serious interest. She saw my name in the article, and hoped I knew where the quilt was. When her e-mail arrived, I got goosebumps. It was magical.

Carolyn is a prolific artist, writer, and independent curator. She founded the Women of Color Quilters Network in 1985. In 2014, she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. If I had to make a list of the people who should own Henretta Turnbull's magnificent hexagon quilt, Carolyn would be at the very top.

Carolyn Mazloomi appeared in "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics"
My introduction to Carolyn came through Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics when the series was in production. Shelly Zegart sent me a DVD previewing the series, and I made a donation. That's why my name appears in the credits. In the preview DVD, Carolyn gave an interview, and I was drawn to her, so I asked her to be my friend on Facebook.

"Bible Story" 1979 by Lucy Mingo
Not long after Carolyn and I started communicating, I purchased a Gee's Bend quilt from Kyra Hicks on eBay. The name on the back was Polly Raymond, written in thick, black magic marker. I asked Carolyn if she knew anything more about Polly Raymond, and that was when she revealed the quilt's true story. Carolyn was, in fact, the original owner of the quilt. She bought it from the maker. It was another goosebump moment, and led to a meeting with the quilt's true maker-- Polly Raymond's mother, Lucy Mingo.

Meeting Lucy Mingo was my ultimate "Fan Boy" moment. I was speechless. She and all the ladies from Gee's Bend who attended the Quilters' Affair and Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show lined up and signed the back of the quilt. Quiltmaking is community in Gee's Bend, now known as Boykin, Alabama. There were probably several people involved with the making of Lucy's quilt. It was very special to have a whole group of women sign it.

Lucy's quilt launched me into African-American quilt study. Later, the important discovery of the chintz medallion attributed to Achsah Goodwin Wilkins offered a rare opportunity to learn about the role of African-American women before abolition. The masterpiece silk hexagon quilt made by Henretta Turnbull was somewhere in between. She was born into slavery and lived through abolition. Turnbull left us with a truly exquisite work of art.

I am so grateful to be a small part of this story during Black History Month, also the month of Valentine's Day and my 50th birthday. I may be a quilt magnet, but I'm also a matchmaker, and this was a match made in Heaven. Thank you, Karen, Carolyn and American Quilter Magazine for giving me something great to talk about this year, in celebrating Black History Month


  1. A fantastic story. I love when connections like this fall into place. And especially when something like the Turnbull quilt is preserved as a result.