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  • Sewing History: Harriet Powers

    Born into slavery, Harriet Powers learned to sew from other slaves on a plantation in Madison County. Her story quilts show strong evidence of her west African roots combined with a European style of sewing and are known as historical records as well as folk art. One of her quilts hangs in the Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institute and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Without the ability to read or write, how was Harriet Powers able to tell stories?

    2. Explain the purpose of Harriet Powers' quilts.

    3. Describe the visual appeal of Harriet Powers' story quilts.

    4. What are some ways people tell stories without writing them down?

    Expansion

    1. Create your own story quilt that reflects your personal history and heritage.

    Vocabulary

    folk art: encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople
    appliqué: decorate (a garment or larger piece of fabric) with pieces of fabric to form pictures or patterns
    lore: a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Without the ability to read or write, how was Harriet Powers able to tell stories? 
    Harriet Powers created story quilts that depicted tales from the Bible and stories that reflected her own personal experiences. 

    2. Explain the purpose of Harriet Powers' quilts. 
    Harriet Powers' quilts provided a creative outlet as a way to tell stories or represent one's heritage. Her quilts also served as a way to record what she saw around her and is one of the best representations of African-American life during this time. 

    3. Describe the visual appeal of Harriet Powers' story quilts. 
    The figures on Harriet's quilts seemed to be in constant motion with her varied use of patterns and shapes. The contrast of light and dark colors filled the quilt with life and power. 

    4. What are some ways people tell stories without writing them down?
    Student answers may vary. Some ways we tell stories without writing them down include oral stories, plays, art, music, dance, and quilts.

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