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The African American Collection

Lazy Man Quilt

Lazy Man
Rose Marie Thomas (quiltmaker) and Ruth Clement Bond (designer
Wheeler Dam, Alabama
48” x 72”
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved Michigan State University Museum

Ruth Clement Bond - human rights activist, educator, diploma, and art quilt designer - was part of an extraordinary family whose members, despite the racial prejudice and challenges to opportunities facing African Americans in the 20th century, successfully completed higher education graduate degress, served in many significant educational and diplomatic posts, and worked in leadership roles on behalf of African and African-American peoples.

Ruth was the fourth of seven children of Emma Clarissa Williams Clement and George C. Clement, a prominent family in Louisville, Kentucky. Both Emma and George were graduates of Livingstone College and George also had an LL.D. from Wilberforce University. George's father, James M. Bond (1863-1929), a minister and community leader served as the first director of the Kentucky Commission on Interracial Cooperation. After graduating from the Oberlin College Theological Seminary in 1893, James Bond married Jane A. Browne, who was also a graduate of Oberlin. Together they had six children, including Max Sr. Ruth's mother Emma, a friend of the great singer Marian Anderson, was, in 1946, the first black woman to be chosen as "National Mother of the Year". Her father was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church and an outspoken advocate against racisim.

After completing a bachelor's degree in English and an MA in English from Northwestern University, Ruth married J. Max Bond. Ruth and Max moved to California where Max completed a Ph.D. in sociology and Ruth began a doctorate in English. In 1934 they moved to northern Alabama where Max was employed as an administrator by the Tennessee Valley Authority and where he and Ruth advocated for better conditions for the workers and their families.

In 1944, Max and Ruth entered the U.S. Diplomatic Services and held posts in Malawi, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Liberia. At each post they initiated and/or served in leadership roles in higher education and humanitarian efforts, with a special focus by Ruth on the needs of women and youth.

J. Max Bond and Ruth bond had three children: Jane Bond Howard, Ph.D. Professor of European History, Lincoln University; the late J. Max Bond, Jr., Dean of School of Architecture, City College of New York; and George Clement Bond, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, Teacher's College, Columbia University. Julian bond, their nephew, helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was the chairman of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP).

Ruth Bond was a quilt designer, not a maker of quilts, and was only known to have designed the TVA quilts. There was, however, at least one known quiltmaker in her family. In the fall of 2011, when Julian Bond heard that his aunt's quilt was at the Michigan State University Museum he emailed "You may not know that my great grandmother, Jane Bond, was a quilter too." Jane Bond's story was published in Southern Quilting, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/quilt/bond.html (accessed November 19, 2011) and in Gladys-Marie Frys, Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South, New York: Dutton Studio Books in association with the Museum of American Folk Art, 1990, pp. 32-33.

The Lazy Man Quilt was acquired in 2011 from Jane bond, via Stella Rubin Antiques, with support from the Office of the Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies, the Michigan Quilt Project Endowment, and the Harriet Clarke Endowment Fund.

This quilt, one of Ruth Bond's TVA designs, incorporates a black TVA worker who is in the throes of choosing between the easygoing life he knew before his TVA job, represented by the woman on the right and the musical instrument, and the government TVA job, represented by the hand of the official government. To Ruth Bond, the meaning of this quilt was always obvious: "He chose the TVA job. It has a hopeful message. Things were getting better, and the black worker had a part in it."

Rose Marie Thomas who did the piecing and quilting, on this version of the design, later said that, "The quilt represents us, I mean the black race, the opportunity the black race had through this government to raise themselves up, not to be a frivolous set of people and to have higher ideals and try to accomplish them in various ways." In an interview conducted in 1991, Thomas who had graduated from Atlanta University and who was in public education most of her life, also said this "was my first and last quilt" although she later enjoyed crocheting.

Only four examples of the Lazy Man (also known as Man with a Guitar) quilt design are known to have been originally made: one by Grace Reynolds Tyler (location unknown but possibly owned by a Tyler descendant), one by Rose Lee Cooper (now owned by the TVA Historic Collection, Knoxville, TN) one by a quiltmaker whose name is not known (published in the NAACP magazine CRISIS, current location unknown) and this one by Rose Marie Thomas. A contemporary copy of this quilt was made in 1992 by Hortense Beck of Topeka, Kansas, and is in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The quilts have been included in major exhibitions on American craft and quilts. Michigan State University was priviledged to have the opportunity to acquire this rare, original example of Ruth Bond's work.

From, Ruth Clement Bond: Quilt Art, Activism, and an Extraordinary African American Life exhibit.

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