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Just How I Picture It in My Mind: Contemporary African American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

By Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff; Photography by Emily Stuart Thomas
River City Publishing, 2006
$29.95, Hardcover

Reviewed by Julia Oliver

A joint venture by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and River City Publishing, this well-designed, hardcover book documents a collection of quilts obtained from Kempf Hogan of Birmingham, Michigan. Museum Director Mark M. Johnson states in the Foreword: “The Hogan collection encompasses the work of a diverse group of African American quilters working in Alabama and its environs during the last half century.” The collector was aided in the selection, a seventeen year process, by gallery owner Robert Cargo. In a concluding testimonial, “The Triumph of Spirit in Hand,” Hogan enthusiastically answers the question he begins with: “What is a man in Michigan doing collecting quilts made by African American women mainly from Alabama?”

Joey Brackner, director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, notes in the Introduction, “Folk artists do not live in a vacuum and are not immune to the national and international movements in art. These may influence their work, but if the folk process persists, their products will still reflect their community traditions.” This group effort represents a huge pool of talent. There are twenty women “all-stars,” as Brackner calls them, whose inspired handiwork created the quilts shown in exquisite color plates: Jannie Avant, Mozell Benson, Mary Duncan, Nora Ezell, Sallie Gladney, Floydzeller Graves, Carole Harris, Bessie Hood, Mattie Jackson, Roberta Jemison, Mary Lucas, Mary Maxtion, Lureca Outland, Addie Pelt, Plummer T Pettway, Maggie Smith, Catherine Somerville, Sarah Mary Taylor, Odell Valentine, and Yvonne Wells.

Montgomery writer Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff, a recognized authority on quilts and quilting, has provided illuminating narrative that makes this book more than just a companion volume for an exhibit. Here are some of those pearls: “For its devotees, the abstract quality of patchwork has a compelling appeal. The notion of sewing together all those little geometric forms to make a larger, different form intrigues them...The quilters who want immediate gratification are the ones who love appliqué, which is very much a painterly approach...Each of these forty-eight quilts is an arresting visual tour de force, a strong personal statement from the woman who made it.”

Julia Oliver of Montgomery is a fiction writer and journalist

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