“My children’s grandmother was shot in Quantrill’s Raid and survived,” Marla Jackson tells me, her eyes alight with intensity, as we talk at her African American Quilt Museum, tucked inside an office building at 2001 Haskell Ave.
Complete with vintage green chairs, matching pink milk glass vases on the end tables, and 1963 copies of Jet magazine, the museum is set up as a replica of Jackson’s mother’s mid-century living room. Except for the quilts.
The walls of the entire room are lined with quilts, each one reflecting some part of African-American history. On one panel, the first Kansas colored troop engages in battle; on another dark figures—with so much character you can almost see them moving—dance at a jazz club. Harriet Tubman gives me a penetrating stare from near a window, Barack Obama gazes up hopefully from a quilt rack and the most fabulous rendition of Aretha Franklin I’ve ever seen lies folded over a trunk.
Jackson’s passion for telling “the real story, not the fantasy” of African-American history through art quilts will rise to a crescendo this summer as she brings the National African-American Quilt Convention to Lawrence from July 12-15th. The citywide convention will be the first of its scope, and is the culmination of seven years of work and planning on Jackson’s part.
“We’re going to have quilts everywhere!” she exclaims proudly. “And some absolutely world-renowned quilters and speakers.”
Beginning with Final Friday at the end of June, quilts will begin going on display across Lawrence, including exhibits at the Spencer Museum of Art, the Lawrence Arts Center, the Watkins Museum of History, and the Lawrence Public Library.
On July 12th, the conference will officially kick-off with an opening lecture at the Lied Center by artist and activist, Faith Ringgold. Ringgold will relate first-hand stories of the past 60 years of the civil rights movement through her own award-winning quilts and paintings.
The rest of the week will feature, among others, lectures from storyteller, Denise Valentine, about the hidden meanings and codes often contained in slave quilts; and a lecture by Jackson, herself, about Maria Rodgers Martin, a talented quilter and slave who was kidnapped and brought to Lawrence by Union soldiers in 1862.
From Thursday to Saturday, the convention will include classes covering everything from natural dying methods to making portrait collages to piecing scrap quilts. Tours of notable African-American historical sites in Lawrence—visiting areas relevant to the Underground Railroad, Langston Hughes, and Henry Copeland—are slated for Thursday and Friday. And a vendors’ market and pockets of time for downtown shopping are interspersed throughout.
Whether you’re excited about quilts or history or both, the convention should be a wealth of learning opportunities.
The convention fee is $325, plus the cost of classes, and Jackson plans to use any proceeds to help support another project she’s passionate about—the “Beyond the Book” quilting and research classes she hosts for children at her museum.
From the convention to the museum to the classes, as Jackson perches on the edge of her seat in her mother’s reconstructed living room, her passion for honoring African-American art and history pours from her lithesome frame. She speaks like a woman who is dead certain of her life’s mission. “Black stories aren’t being told. There’s so much black history in Lawrence that isn’t being told,” she says. “It’s like the slaves are talking from the grave, if only we can listen.”
For more information about the National African-American Quilt Convention, or to register, visit www.naaqc.org.
A proud Lawrence transplant, Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in a hundred-year-old house with her sweet husband, two darling kiddos, one puppy, one gecko, and an ever rotating flock of poultry. By day, she’s a public defender. By night, she writes, takes photos, knits, and cooks up a storm. She chronicles her adventures on her personal blog, My Bit of Earth.