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Quilts and Textiles

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

This exhibit features the textile collections of the late Cuesta Benberry, one of the twentieth-centuries pioneers of research on American quiltmaking and the forerunner of research on African American quiltmaking.

"Every collection reflects a point of view, a passion a mindful purpose of the collector who made it," explains Marsha MacDowell, MSU Museum curator of folk arts and MSU professor of art and art history. "In literally unpacking a scholar's collection, a museum or an archive has a responsibility to care for, research, interpret, and make accessible the contents of the collection. It is when a collection-its parts and its whole-is figuratively unpacked, that we can learn more about the scholar and the subjects they researched."

The Cuesta Benberry African and African American Quilt and Quilt History Collections contains 52 quilts (including family quilts and the only one Benberry actually made), notebooks, quilt kits and patterns, and scores of notes and clippings related to quiltmakers, quilts, and quilt exhibitions. A founder of the American Quilt Study Group in 1980, Benberry was also the author of several books about quilt history, including Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts and A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans.

Benberry had a long association with the MSU Museum, the home of the Great Lakes Quilt Center, when she passed away in 2007, her family gave the Michigan State University Museum her collection of African and African American quilts and her quilt history. Then in 2009, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City transferred its Benberry collections to the MSU Museum so that the bulk of her work could be in one place where it could be more effectively accessed for research and educational uses.

MSU Museum staff, students and volunteers have "unpacked" -- sorted through, cataloged, and re-housed Benberry's collection. "In the process, these workers engaged in discussions of their observations about both the collection and the collector and the issues and insights that help make collections available for research, teaching and exhibitions," adds Mary Worrall, co-curator of the exhibition and Assistant Curator, MSU Museum.

Included in the exhibition is a sampling of Benberry's quilts and reproductions of some of her quilt history ephemera and research papers. Those venues who book the exhibition are encoureaged to provide in-gallery computer link to Cuesta Benberry Quilt Treasure Online Portrait (http://www.allianceforamericanquilts.org/treasures/main.php?id=5-16-3). which features a short interview with Benberry as well as a link to The Quilt Index (www.quiltindex.org) where visitors can search for and access all of Benberry's collection. Both the Quilt Treasure portraits and the Quilt Index are projects of the Michigan State University Museum, The Alliance for American Quilts, and MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online.




  Rental fee (12-week period $5,000, plus shipping
  Number of pieces: 16 quilts, assorted emphemera
  Running feet required: 200 running feet
  Insurance Value: $30,000
  Security requirement: Lockable, limited access display area; trained guards or comparable protection system; provisions to prevent public from touching objects; object handling by museum professionals; temperature and light controls; fire protection according to local ordinances
  Additional materials available: Educational materials; press materials.

 

Afro American quilts
PICTURED: Afro-American Women and Quilts by Cuesta Benberry.

W.P.A. tulip quilt
PICTURED: W.P.A. Tulip Quilt by Minnie Benberry.

Pinwheel quilt
PICTURED: Pinwheel Flower Quilt, maker unknown.


 



 

 


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