We recently celebrated our first year of operation in the physical space that anchors the Midtown Square complex in Seattle’s historic Black community, the Central District. The backdrop for our celebration was a representation of a craft that has played a significant role in the history of Black folk art and American folk art. The Pacific Northwest African American Quilters exhibit – The Ties That Bind Us: Woven Stories of Celebration is now on view in the ARTE NOIR Gallery.
There could be no better way to express our passion for the history, legacy, and future of our community than to have the opportunity to bring what is a Southern Black Folk art tradition into a contemporary space. These are the ties that bind us – our past, our current connections, our shared vision for preserving our culture, and our contributions to the cultures and traditions that also bind us together.
Quilting is a kind of folk art that reflects stories about our heritage, which became a staple of Black life and Black art over time. Black American Muslim journalist Imani Bashir wrote that “quilts can be seen as powerful works of art that have held the hopes and dreams of Black American families for generations.” In her article for Sleep.com, How Quilts Became a Canvas for Black American Artists to Preserve History, Bashir states, “Black American culture can be understood as an interwoven tapestry of dialects, foodways, spiritual systems, and community-based customs that have endured for hundreds of years.”
Quilting is an intricate and detailed craft that also serves as a kind of community gathering tool. While much work can be done alone, the gathering of quilters coming together to share stories and enjoy camaraderie is in and of itself, a cultural mechanism that builds strength and resilience. Weaving together visions for the future while connecting threads from the past provides us comfort and warmth, and also helps us map our way.
Quilting in Black culture is noted to have begun in the 17th century and was mostly a method that enslaved women used to fuse together scraps from slaveholders to keep their families warm. The craft evolved over time to become a tool for messaging by using certain patterns and outlines for escape routes and indicators for safe places where refuge could be gained during long journeys to freedom. Today, we have the ability to view these works and explore how our history is being woven into new threads for our future and our imagination.
Much to our surprise, one of the quilters shared with us that this is their first full exhibit in the Seattle area. This is what ARTE NOIR was made for, to provide the kind of space and place for our history to be shared and celebrated.
We couldn’t be more proud and excited to have made a home for this exhibit, which will be on view now through January 7, 2024. The love these women have brought into our space to share with our community gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. To celebrate year one, wrapped in the warmth and beauty of this exhibit is beyond anything we could have imagined would be the case. We celebrate the women of the Pacific Northwest African American Quilters and we thank you for entrusting us to provide a safe space for your craft to be experienced. Thank you!
Vivian Phillips, Founder + Board President