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quilts and human rights


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Photo of Quilts of Action text panel Photo of Solar Oven quilt

Solar Oven Quilt
Cindy Mielock, Carol Schon and Kari Ruedisale
Lansing, Michigan
Cotton; machine piecing, machine quilting
89" x 92"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum

This quilt was made to raise funds for Solar Circle, an organization whose mission is to purchase and place low-tech solar-powered ovens in Tanzanian villages. The quilt realized over $8000 through a raffle.

Living in one of the poorest countries in the world, Tanzanians earn an average annual income per capita of less than $500. The project was born to address high rates of deforestation and serious respiratory disease caused by the regular use of wood as cooking fuel. These issues can be diminished by free and abundant solar energy, used to cook in Solar Circle's ovens. When importing the ovens to Tanzania became too costly, Solar Circle started a small industry in the country to build the ovens. Today, more than a thousand men, women, and children have been helped by the addition of a solar oven in their lives.

Mlelwa, one Tanzanian who built a solar oven, coined a new proverb: "People say 'Jua kali,' but we know 'Jua ni mali '" (People say the sun is hot today, but we know the hot sun is wealth). Otilia, another Tanzanian, described how using the oven has changed how she cooks the diet staple ugali, a dish of boiled maize (corn): “In the oven – no squatting, no stirring, no smoky fire!" Other Tanzanian women tell the volunteers of Solar Circle, "Solar ovens work! The sun shines in Tanzania, and solar cooking puts the sun to work for our families."


Photo of Yes We Can quilt

Yes We Can
Denyse Schmidt
Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA
Cotton; machine piecing, hand appliqué, machine quilting
56" x 54 ¼”
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum

The artist made a first quilt in this design for the fundraiser “The Obama Craft Project: Crafting for Change” for Barack Obama’s campaign for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Michigan State University Museum commissioned her to make this copy.

The phrase “Yes We Can” became THE campaign slogan and has become the subject of scholarly interrogation. Dr. Wolfgang Mieder, MSU College of Arts Distinguished Alumnus and internationally recognized proverb scholar, authored “Yes We Can”: Barack Obama's Proverbial Rhetoric (Peter Lang Publishing, 2009). Dr. Mieder and fellow folklorist and MSU Museum curator Dr. Marsha MacDowell included this quilt in their article, "When Life Hands You Scraps, Make a Quilt: Quiltmakers and the Tradition of Proverbial Inscriptions”, in Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 27:2010.

Photo of Beautiful Peasant House quilt

Bel peyizan lakay (meaning Beautiful Peasant Household in Haitian Creole)
Denise Estava
Cornillon-Grand Bois, Haiti
Cotton; hand appliqué, hand quilting
34 ½” x 34 ½”
Collection of the Michigan State University Museum, 2010:137.1

This quilt, with the Haitian hallmark style of dense quilting, was made by Denise Estava, a founding member of the first PeaceQuilts cooperative established in Haiti to alleviate poverty. There are now seven co-ops with about 100 women. Denise keeps a regular schedule: in the mornings she cuts, pieces, and sews with her PeaceQuilts colleagues and after lunch she joins Sr. Angela to teach sewing to the young women at the Centre Menager, a program of which she is a recent alumna.

Denise’s home was destroyed in the earthquake; PeaceQuilts has been able to provide some relief assistance to help with the rebuilding process. The purchase of this quilt directly benefitted both her and her cooperative. For more information on PeaceQuilts and its member artists, go to Haiti Peace Quilts.

Photo of Quiltmaking as a means of coping with oppression text panel Photo of Weya Cloth

Weya Cloth
Unidentified artist
Weya region or Harare, Zimbabwe
Cotton; patchwork and appliqué
23" x 25"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, 2000:30.1

Weya cloths are a distinctive style of appliqued pictorial textiles done by primarily Shona-speaking women in Weya, an impovershed rural area in Zimbabwe located about 170km east of the country's capital, Harare. In 1987, art teacher Ilsa Noy was asked by the German Volunteer Service to devise an economic development project to assist women in becoming financially self-sufficient. Noy thought the women, already skilled in needlework, could make narrative, pictorial scenes that could be sold to tourists. The Weya textile project began with nine women; today cloths are produced by hundreds and sold by artists who travel to marketplaces and through galleries and traders around the world. This applique was acquired in Harare.

Artists chose stories or themes that reflect their experiences, beliefs, and attitudes. This piece tells the sad story of a woman (possibly Sarai Mugare) who hung herself after her husband beat her and left her for a second wife. A small piece of paper in the pocket of one of the panels provides more detailed description: 1) John was married but he fall for a girl; 2) The girl was pregnant and she eloped, with auntie's company; 3) When the wifes [sic] were staying, one day they fought for their husband (shanje); 4) John loved the young wife most so he hit the older wife: 5) One day when John and his young wife were resting behind the hut,the older wife thought of running away; 6) On her way she turn to hear her life, then in the thick forest she committed suicide [with the word Sarai Mugare].


Photo of Walls Talking quilt

Walls Talking: Mulatto Ex-Slave in Her House Near Greensboro, Alabama
Keisha Roberts
San Fransisco, California
Mixed media techniques
15" x 19"
Collection of the Michigan State University

"Born into a social system that deemed her and millions like her chattel, the nameless, formerly enslaved woman in the central image of this quilt endured what seems unendurable. If her walls could talk, perhaps they would tell us how she fought to
outlive a system that owned her life, then struggled through the dark years that followed to build a home and a future."

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