Grandmother's Flower Garden

Object Details

Emma Russell
cotton, polyester, batting
84 × 79 1/2 in. (213.4 × 201.9 cm)
Hundreds of hexagons create colorful bouquets in Grandmother’s Flower Garden, a centuries-old quilt pattern whose popularity peaked in the mid-1920s. Out of necessity in the Great Depression, quilters transformed scrap fabric into warm bed coverings while generating equally needed good cheer from the floral “mosaics,” as the quilt style was also known. Though Emma Russell (1909-2004) made this fancy quilt six decades later, it sports occasional asymmetry, from fifteen partial bouquets edging the carefully plotted grid of twenty-one full bouquets to a single red, patterned center amidst twenty orange, solid ones. The flowers are constructed from both solid material and prints (calico, gingham, madras) in a wide range of colors, with marigold yellow, bright pink, and aqua predominating. Russell revises the traditional honeycombed pattern by piecing a garden path in orange diamonds. To piece a quilt is to sew its many parts together, akin to assembling the pieces of a puzzle. This quilt was both machine and hand pieced. Its three layers (top, batting, and back) were sewn together by machine. The quilt’s backing is made of undyed cotton muslin, which also forms the front border. Russell was a fifth-generation African American quilter who grew up quilting in the Doloroso community of Woodville, Mississippi. She and her sister, Annie Dennis (1904-1997), learned from their mother Phoeba Johnson (1883-1984), and, in turn, taught others. Beginning in the 1970s, the family played a pivotal role in documenting African American quilting traditions, first in the Mississippi Delta and then nationally, 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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