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Royal Star Quilt

Object Details

Emma Russell
cotton, polyester, batting
80 1/4 × 87 in. (203.8 × 221 cm)
“Star with royal beauty bright” sing Christmas carolers in “We Three Kings,” whose chorus extols the magi’s stellar guide. Fittingly, this quilt’s Royal Star pattern is also known as the Star of Bethlehem. In Emma Russell’s rendition, an eight-pointed star radiates into concentric stars arrayed by still more stars. Light yellow warms the dark brown star at the quilt’s center, followed by bright green. Then, instead of solids, striped fabrics in hues of brown and white suggest rays of light. Dark brown repeats next, outlining the star in dramatic contrast with the quilt’s white background. In the eight angles of the embellished star, bordered in deep greens, is a partial or whole star. This constellation is also dark brown and stands out against white fabric in the quilt’s top, which also forms its binding and backing. Though Russell handstitched much of the quilt, it might also include machine quilting. Star quilts require aligning dozens of diamonds and so are considered technically difficult. Sisters Annie Dennis (1904-1997) and Emma Russell (1909-2004) grew up as fifth-generation quilters in Woodville, Mississippi’s Doloroso community. After studying at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), Russell moved to Bienville Parish, Louisiana, just “over the water,” or across the Mississippi River, from Doloroso. Along with her sister and their mother, Phoeba Johnson (1883-1984), Russell helped both to carry on and to document African American quilting traditions in the Mississippi Delta in partnership with photographer Roland L. Freeman. The quilt was on display at the Anacostia Community Museum’s exhibition Home Sewn: Quilts from the Lower Mississippi Valley from December 2013 to February 2015
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