Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (Montgomery, AL)


Detail of a star quilt<br />

Odell Valentine's Lone Star is part of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts's collection of African-American quilts. Photo by Emily Stuart Thomas.

Handmade quilts have long served as a medium for memorializing home, family, and friends, and as a means of personal expression and individual creativity. According to Robert Cargo, gallery owner and longtime collector of Alabama quilts, "Prior to about 1980, African-American quilts, particularly those from Alabama, were scarcely known outside the black community that created them." Alabama's first accredited museum, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), has taken up the cause of not only making these works better known, but preserving the works for future generations.

In recent years, MMFA has focused on attracting Birmingham's African-American population through both their exhibits and outreach programs. In FY 2006, MMFA received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $15,000 to conserve and house a collection of 48 African-American quilts, an acquisition representative of southern African-American culture. The project includes the labor and materials for stabilization and for applying the proper headers to display the quilts, and materials for housing the exhibition in a safe environment, all of which must be undertaken to achieve the museum's final goal of displaying the quilts in their gallery and creating an exhibit to tour. Textile conservator Harriet P. Neal undertook the conservation process, which was concluded in May 2007.

All created in the second half of the 20th century, the quilts are representative of the work of some of the region's most well-respected quilters in a style distinctive to the African-American community, such as the use of large patterns, asymmetry, and bold colors and a de-emphasis on precise quilting stitches. The collection will not only provide a deeper understanding of this artistic tradition, but also will attract nontraditional visitors to the museum from Birmingham's African-American population.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)