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Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, An American Quilt Scholar


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Photo of A Lifetime honored text panel
Photo of Joseph's Coat quilt  

Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors
Freedom Quilting Bee
Gee’s Bend, Alabama
38" x 55"
MSUM #2008:119.6

The quilters of rural Gee’s Bend, Alabama first received national attention during the 1960s when they were a part of the Freedom Quilting Bee, a cooperative that sold quilts through outlets that included Bloomingdales and Sears. It was not until 2002, when the quilts were packaged into the exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend and vigorously promoted in the media, that interest in these quilts skyrocketed. Although other exhibitions had exhibited quilts as art and simultaneously revealed the stories of the people and communities who made them, The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibition is credited with bringing this way of displaying and interpreting quilts to the attention of art and media critics.

Photo of Intombi quilt  

Maria Hlomuka
Soweto, South Africa
29" x 38"
MSUM #2008:119.7

In 1986, a group of black South African quiltmakers who were members of the Zamani Soweto Sisters Council, were brought to England as part of a program to create a self-help group for impoverished and mistreated South African women. Cuesta was invited to be an instructor for the program and, while in England, purchased this quilt from Maria. After returning home, Cuesta began to give lectures on the patchwork quilts of the Zamani Soweto Sister Council and the anti-apartheid struggle.

From Cuesta, "I had written and become friends with Zamani prior to my meeting with them in London in 1986. I especially admired Maria Hlomuka because she was a poet as well as a creative quiltmaker. In London, I spent the most enjoyable three weeks with Zamani that I can remember. I bought the "Intombi Quilt" not only for its beauty but also to have a Maria Hlomuka work, a Zamani work, something unlike any other piece in the world."

Photo of Rafiki quilt  

Carole Harris
Detroit, Michigan
35" x 35"
MSUM # 2008.119.20

"Carole and I have also been friends for a long time. She was the first African American quiltmaker that I knew who made Art Quilts. She has never made any other kind. She has always been an original quilt artist, influenced perhaps by her training. She is a Fine Arts graduate from Wayne State University, but she preferred to work with fabric instead of painting." – Cuesta Benberry, information that was with the quilt collection.

Photo of Kiss 1 Kiss 2 quilt  

Kiss 1, Kiss 2
Faith Ringgold
New York
52" x 41"
MSUM #2008:119.19

Internationally known artist Faith Ringgold and quilt historian Cuesta Benberry were longtime friends. When Cuesta curated an exhibition of African American quilts for the St. Louis Art Museum she included a loaned Faith Ringgold quilt. Later, the Museum commissioned Ringgold to make a quilt for its collection. The Museum told Benberry that the commission was done in honor of her, this had been the first African American quilt exhibit held there.

Ringgold made the commissioned quilt to honor famed performer and St. Louis native Josephine Baker. When Ringgold came to St. Louis for the installation of the quilt at the Museum, she also brought this quilt as a surprise gift for Cuesta.

Photo of Black Family Series quilt  

Black Family Series #1: The Family of 3
Carolyn Mazloomi
West Chester, Ohio
54" x 60"
MSUM #2008.119.31

Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi an artist, author, historian, curator, and friend of Cuesta’s, is acknowledged as being among the most influential African-American quilt historians and quilting artists of the twenty-first century. Carolyn founded of the Women of Color Quilters Network, the largest organization of African American quilters in the United States.

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