Kerfe's Reviews > A Communion of the Spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories

A Communion of the Spirits by Roland L. Freeman
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's review
Dec 23, 2008

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bookshelves: visual-arts, textiles
Read in December, 2008

Freeman's project to document African-American quiltmaking in the United States is an ambitious one. He begins with his own history, how the women in his extended family exposed him to both quiltmaking and its magic. Eventually he ends up as a photographer exploring the folkways of Mississippi, and his interest in quilts begins to take over. He ends up moving beyond Mississippi to the rest of the country, and the world.

There are some interesting stories here, but finally, it seems too much for one book. Instead of putting everyone and everything between two covers, it might have been better to focus on a few strands. It was also a problem for me to match narrative with photo as they were often pages apart. Maybe a smaller book with expansive links on a website would work better. One thought I had would be to show family trees with the photos of quilts and makers next to the names. I also would have liked to see more of the actual quilts.

Alice Walker's interview was wonderful, and I thought it summarized Freeman's theme--the beauty of the majority of these quilts comes from the context, the relationships they echo--of home, family, friends. They were made to use, not for hanging in a museum. The aesthetics are secondary, though many are quite beautiful. But the beauty and magic also lies within.

"So it's in the doing, you know, it's really in the doing. It's in the creation. That's where your joy is. It's a gift."
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