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Written by Barbara Herkert Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers (2015)
ISBN: 0385754620 (ISBN13: 9780385754620) Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
While I am familiar with the quilt artwork of Faith Ringgold (see Fats’ feature of Tar Beach here) and Anna Grossnickle Hines (see my review of Peaceful Pieces here), this is the first time I am hearing of Harriet Powers whose now-priceless quilt artwork resides at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in DC, and another one on permanent exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as could be found in the Author’s Note at the end of the book.
Similar to Dave the Potter (see my review here) and folk artist Clementine Hunter in Art From Her Heart (see Fats’ review here), Harriet Powers did not go through formal schooling to learn her art. Rather, it is an organic skill that she picked up and acquired from childhood, as this is part of her family’s way of living and making meaning of their existence.
The quilt’s patches tell a coherent story – a way of marking time, memories, and significant events. It is also a form of devotion as most of Harriet’s quilts depict Biblical narratives that speak to her.
I really felt bad reading how Harriet’s quilts had to be sold off at such an absurdly cheap amount when the price of cotton fell and Harriet had no way of supporting her family. While the privileged and wealthier people had plans for the quilt and duly recognized its craftsmanship, Harriet was paid only five dollars for the first grand massive quilt that she created by hand. Now these quilts are priceless. I wonder if the proceeds from people witnessing the quilt in grand museums at least go towards some kind of provision for Harriet’s descendants at present. If it is, I did not see it indicated in the Author’s Note at the end of the story.
I felt that she was taken advantage of by people who should have known better. Regardless, her story quilts cast a spell on people, and will continue to do so for a long time to come, preserving a history of injustice, exploitation, and ultimately some form of salvation.
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