NH exhibitions of story quilts narrates 400 years of African American experience

August 29. 2018 2:45PM
This is a detail image from quilter Peggie Hartwell. It is titled “Lucy Terry Prince: The Griot's Voice,” and it harkens back to the mid-1770s and a poet's enslavement. 

This story quilt references more recent history — 2005’s Hurricane Katrina — and is titled “Katrina Wreckage and Tears ... and Still We Rise,” by Viola Burley Leak.

An exhibit of 44 dramatic story quilts narrating 400 years of the African American experience will open concurrently at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough and the Canaan Street Meeting House in Canaan on Saturday.

“And Still We Rise,” created by members of the Women of Color Quilters Network and organized by Carolyn L. Maz­loomi, has been touring the country under the coordination of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Cincinnati Art Museum.

Its New Hampshire debut, presented by the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center and the Canaan Historic District, opens a tour of the New England states to be coordinated by the Mariposa.

It will remain on view through Oct. 14.

“This exhibit touches the eye, mind, and heart, whether you are a quilter, an art lover, an activist, or simply drawn to American history and recent events,” said Mariposa Museum Director Karla Hostetler.

The quilts’ topics range from slavery to school desegregation, from the Underground Railroad to the raid at Harpers Ferry, and include such contemporary subjects as Hurricane Katrina and the formation of the first all-black female flight crew.

Ten of the quilts will be at Mariposa and 34 will be installed at the Canaan Street Meeting House, itself a landmark in a town that made history in 1834 for creating the second high school to admit students of color. The decision to create Noyes Academy was debated and made in the meeting house, paving the way for 14 African American students to enroll,” Hostetler said.

But within a year, a different kind of history was made.

“An angry mob gathered to drag the school off of its foundation by oxen, an act also plotted in the Meeting House,” according to a press release from the Mariposa. “The students escaped with their lives. Several went on to prominent careers. The story of Noyes Academy, its founders and students, and of Canaan’s abolitionists and other notables is documented in the history museum across the street from the Meeting House, overseen by Donna Dunkerton, a descendant of one of the Noyes Academy founders.”

While the Canaan portion of “And Still We Rise” will only be open on the weekends and on holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dunkerton will open the building during the week by appointment and will also offer tours of the exhibit, the museum, and the town for those who call ahead or stop in. Canaan Historic District Chairman John Bergeron is also willing to open the Meeting House by appointment, according to Hostetler.

“The Historic District, where the Meeting House is located, looks very much like it would have looked in 1834, when Noyes Academy was founded, and the museum across the street is thought to be a replica of the academy,” she said.

“To travel to this beautiful and now peaceful spot at the edge of a lake, and to stand here where these events took place is a powerful experience,” she added. “It feels good to bring this very positive and affirming exhibit to this place in New Hampshire.”

The Women of Color Quilters Network was founded in 1985 by Mazloomi, a quilt artist. The network has exhibited throughout the United States and in Japan, England, South Africa, Italy, and Australia. The average age of the network’s members is 72.


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