LECTURE: “PRESENCE: Illuminating Black History, Faith, and Culture” by Steve A. Prince: Printmaker, sculptor, draftsman, and “art evangelist” Steve Prince is the director of engagement and distinguished artist in residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia—and a personal friend of mine! In this lunchtime presentation organized last fall by Upper House, a center for Christian gathering and learning in Madison, Wisconsin, he discusses his body of work, which is influenced by his New Orleans background and is full of symbols and of figures from African American history. Bessie Mitchell and the Trenton Six, Mamie Till, the Little Rock Nine, Henrietta Lacks, the Greensboro Four, Amadou Diallo, John Coltrane, Harriet Jacobs, and Sarah Collins Rudolph are just a few of the people he references. He discusses the role of the arts in lament, healing, renewal, and celebration, framing the whole talk in terms of the first and second lines of the New Orleans jazz funeral—metaphors, he says, of life on earth (“the dirge”) and life in the hereafter.
ABOUT HARRIET POWERS:
Harriet Powers (1837–1910) was an African American quilter from Georgia who used traditional appliqué techniques to record Bible stories, local legends, and astronomical events. Her two extant quilts, referred to as the Bible Quilt and the Pictorial Quilt, are considered among the finest examples of nineteenth-century Southern quilting. They really are extraordinary.
>> Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: I received this children’s picture-book biography about Powers as a Christmas gift last year, and I love it so much. I recommend it for people of all ages! For easy reference, a photo of each of Powers’s quilts is reproduced on the front and back endpapers. Listen to a complete reading by Alicia McDaniel of Art for the Creative Soul in the video below.
>> “Celebrating Harriet Powers and Quilt Stories,” a conversation at the MFA: Powers’s two quilts were brought together for the first time ever in Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories, an exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that ran from October 10, 2021, to January 17, 2022. Curator Jennifer Swope moderated a virtual discussion about Harriet Powers and her legacy with artist Bisa Butler; quilt historian, artist, and author Kyra E. Hicks; Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi, artist, educator, and founder of the Women of Color Quilters Network; and Dr. Tiya Miles, a public and academic historian.
A breakdown of the individual squares on Powers’s quilts happens at 14:44–22:16, and conversation continues about Powers specifically until about the one-hour mark. Notably, when asked about the importance of the quilts, Hicks says, “They’re important because you have a woman who is testifying of her love for God 135 years after those quilts left her home. She continues to testify. When you think about all the people . . . I just think she’s a storyteller, but she’s a storyteller with a purpose, and I admire her for that.” The second hour is about story-quilting today—where a new generation of quilt-makers is taking the art form in the twenty-first century—and touches on functional use of quilts versus display.
For more on Harriet Powers, see this five-minute video produced by the MFA, narrated by Dr. Miles.
>> “Blessed Assurance”: A Black gospel arrangement of a classic Fanny Crosby hymn, performed by the Portsmouth Gospel Choir from the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
>> “Parachute” by Arielle Howell and Moses Hooper: A song of surrender. Filmed in 2016, this was the first music video made under the aegis of Under the Belltower, a Biola University initiative (no longer active) that brought together student musicians, composers, and filmmakers to make art in community and showcase that work with an end product.