Friday, January 1, 2010

1 January 1910 - Quilter Harriet Powers Dies

On this day 100 years ago, quilter Harriet Powers died at the age of 72. She had been born into slavery near Clarke County, and later exhibited her quilts at the Athens Cotton Fair. Powers used appliques to tell stories of the Bible and intersperse celestial and historical events in each panel. Even in the one known photograph of her, she wears an apron with applique stars.

Only two quilts survive, the Bible Quilt (ca. 1886), now part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History collection; and the Pictorial Quilt (ca. 1895-1898), now part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Textiles collection. The Pictorial Quilt is thought to be a commission, but she did not want to part with the Bible Quilt until financial hardship left her no other option. She would sometimes visit the quilt in owner Jennie Smith's home.

Not much is known of Powers' daily life. She and her husband Armstead, together since before the Civil War when they were slaves on neighboring plantations, had nine children together, with three surviving to adulthood. Her son Alonzo, a preacher, was interviewed by a WPA Writers' Project employee in 1934 in Clarke County. From his words, a small picture of her life before she was freed from slavery comes into view, for though Alonzo was probably too young to remember being enslaved, many of his memories coincide with the historical record. Harriet Powers is buried with her husband and daughter in Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia.

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  1. THIS I ACCOMPLISH is a fascinating read! Harriet Powers' story needs to be told far and wide,especially in the world of quiltyers. Thanks for highlighting the book.

  2. Just discovered this remarkable woman. I am an African American embroiderer, and am always looking for inspiration...FOUND IT!