DELAND, Fla. (AP) _ Visit the exhibit by the Story Quilters of Hannibal Square at the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand, and you’ll come away enriched and even in awe. These aren’t just quilts. They’re works of art.
Guided by quilter Lauren Austin, the nine Hannibal Square quilters are displaying their very personal creations to the public.
“We call ourselves `story quilters’ because our quilts all tell stories, each and every piece,” Austin said recently. “I think that story quilters is the right name.”
The idea of story quilts can be traced back to Harriet Powers, who was born into slavery in the mid-19th century in Georgia and freed after the Civil War. Powers designed and made the Bible Quilt, which depicts biblical scenes and is now at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Pictorial Quilt, which is now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“Her story is incredibly inspiring and it has had an influence on my work,” said Austin, who is herself an accomplished quilter who dyes, prints, silkscreens and makes her own fabrics.
The exhibit at the AAMA has been extremely popular, she said: “The opening was a total blowout. It was amazing how many people came.”
The exhibit opened in July, said Mary Allen, AAMA director.
“This was our ﬁrst opening for the new year since COVID,” said Allen. The African American Museum of the Arts was founded in 1994 by the Rev. Maxwell Johnson and Irene Dixon Johnson, and opened its doors in 1995. Allen said the mission statement is to collect, preserve and exhibit African American and Caribbean American art, history and culture.
Austin led a workshop for the Hannibal Square community in Winter Park in 2010, she said, and after, the women in the group started meeting on their own.
Allen said once the AAMA decided to exhibit the quilts, the women “worked day and night on getting their quilts ready for exhibit.
Austin has helped them come up with creative fabrics to use in quilting. “With the group, we’ve done some dyeing in kind of an organic way,” she said, and they want to do more. Austin said she made her ﬁrst quilt at age 7 and made a quilt every year after that.
“The way I learned to quilt was being in a room with a group of women who were quilters, sewers, who made things. I would sit underneath a quilting frame to hear the gossip. And even though I was small and didn’t really understand, I liked that,” she said. “One week a quilter looked under the frame at me and said, `If you’re here, you have to work’ and put a needle and thread in my hand.”
She supports the idea of learning a craft in a group: “When you’re doing a particular style or technique, there are people there who can give you help.” And she emphasized the beneﬁts of praise, support and kindness in teaching a craft as opposed to critique.
Austin now lives and works in Altamonte Springs, but she has also lived in China, Mexico, Uruguay, Kenya and Spain. And she said she learned something from each place she lived.
The exhibit at AAMA is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. The museum is located at 325 S. Clara Ave., DeLand. For information, visit africanmuseumdeland.org.