Hayti hosts quilting circle’s ‘Reflections’ exhibit

By Amanda Ruehlen
UNC Web Editor
The Durham VOICE

What do you get when you combine a traditional hobby like quilting and a modern photo editing software?

Marjorie Freeman stands in front of her quilt, “I Speak for the Human Race,” which is a reflection of the life of Pauli Murray, a Durham native and civil rights activist. Words about Murray’s life as the first female priest in the Episcopal Church are written on the colorful stripes. (Staff photo by Amanda Ruehlen)

Just ask Carol Beck, a member of the African American Quilt Circle of Durham, whose most recent quilt contrasts photos from the past and present using Photoshop.

“We are all experimenting in different ways,” Beck said. “You can see how photos looked in the 1930s, and now you can see my bags and wrinkles. It’s interesting to see the difference in young and old.”

Beck’s quilts, along with more than 70 other quilts made by members of the AAQC, canvas the walls of the Hayti Heritage Center on Old Fayetteville Street as a part of the group’s biannual exhibit, “Reflections.” The exhibit, which attracted about 300 community members when it opened on Feb. 4, will be on display until March 30.

“It’s whatever you want to reflect upon,” said Willa Brigham, a member of the AAQC who has six quilts on display at the exhibit. “It gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves via their memories. Quilts aren’t just for sleeping anymore, they have many dimensions.”

Many of Brigham’s quilts are innovative, incorporating used materials like beads and felt into the design.

“I’m much more aware of recycling and I love to give life to that which has once lived,” Brigham said. “So for me, I just took it another step.”

She said some of her other quilts maintain a traditional approach, like the black and white gingham one flanked with bright flames.

“It reminded me of a black and white gingham skirt my mom made me, just when skirts were going above the knee,” she said. “It was so cute and I thought I was so hot – I was 15 and skinny.”

And not only do the quilts reflect on the past, but Brigham said they will help preserve memories.

“It helps you to remember little things you sometimes forget,” she said. “Children grow up so fast, and you forget the little things they do that are now amusing, but at one time they were a headache. Those are the memories you’ll keep in your heart.”

One of the memories inspired a quilt that she said looks like the inside of a computer, which reminded Brigham of her son taking things apart when he was younger.

Carol Beck and Sauda Zahra pose in front of their self-portraits at the ninth biannual exhibition by the African-American Quilt Circle. The exhibit is at the Hayti Heritage Center from Feb. 4 to March 30. (Staff photo by Amanda Ruehlen)

Creating the quilts for “Reflections” came as a challenge to the AAQC, said Sauda Zahra, who has eight quilts on display. She said each exhibit hosted by the AACQ usually comes with a specific challenge, and this year it was self-portraits.

“It’s one of our most diverse exhibits,” Zahra said. “The idea of reflections made people open up.”

Zahra’s self-portrait is set on glittering gold fabric, complemented by warm hues of purple and blue.

“I wanted to do something whimsical and abstract,” she said.

Unconventional methods did not stop there. Marjorie Freeman said she used the reverse side of the fabric to create her self-portrait, which was an outline of her face.

“The right side was too strong and detracting,” she said of the fabric, which was comprised of her favorite colors – lime green, blue and purple.

“We wanted people to think not just about youth, but about an idea or concept and to use that in creating,” Freeman said. “It’s not just looking in the mirror.”

The exhibit’s visitors recognized these sentiments attached to the quilts on display.

“It’s encouraging, colorful and authentic to the region,” said Teresa Richardson, who was visiting Durham from Washington, D.C. “I can see the incredible personality, hard work and care.”

To help preserve the stories within the quilts, Freeman said the AAQC encourages people to document information about the quilt on the back so it can be passed on as a family heirloom.

“When you look at some of these quilts, you come to realize that every quilt tells a story,” Freeman said.

Past VOICE article about the AAQC: http://www.durhamvoice.org/tag/african-american-quilt-circle/

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