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National African American Quilt Convention, July 12 – 15, 2017

By Dawn Williams Boyd, a visual artist who changed her primary medium from acrylic paints on various mediums to fabric in 2001. She graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, MO (BFA studio) in 1974 and lives with her husband, artist Irvin Wheeler and two cats in Atlanta, GA. All images courtesy of the author.

The city of Lawrence, KS is alive with colorful flower gardens, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and small shops featuring handmade goods. Known for its historic associations and cultural amenities, Lawrence gained another feather in it cap as it hosted the inaugural National African American Quilt Convention, July 12 – 15, 2017. The brainchild of visual narrative artist and quilter Marla Jackson, founder of The African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy, the NAAQC “celebrated the history and legacy of African Americans in Lawrence, the African American quilting traditions and contemporary art in various mediums by African American Artists.” Quilters from all over the U.S. descended upon this vibrant college town for four days of textile art exhibits, lectures, workshops, classes and tours.

Aisha Lumumba signs books at NAAQC Vendors Market

The week began with a ribbon cutting and Vendors Market in the Carnegie Building. Many Black owned and operated small businesses were represented at the Vendors Market offering everything from polymer clay artifacts from Debbie Jackson and beautifully scented skin creams by DeBorah Yeboah, to African inspired dolls and quilts from Kianga Jinaki and fabrics, accessories, and beads from Lisa Shepard Stewart.

Polymer artist Debbie Jackson at NAAQC Vendors Market

Several of the nation’s premier visual and textile artists provided original artwork for citywide exhibitions: Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi curated the touring exhibition And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations which shared space at the Spencer Art Museum, University of Kansas, with Narratives of the Soul featuring Patricia A. Montgomery, Faith Ringgold, Marla Jackson, Viola Burley Leak, Sonie Ruffin, Marvin Crum, Sherry Whetstone and Sara Bunn, curated by Susan Earle, Spencer curator for European and American art. Awe inspiring work by Hollis Chatelain, Carole Harris, Valerie White, Bisa Butler, Sonji Hunt, Alice Beasley, Valerie Scruggs-Goodwin and Lola Jenkins graced the walls at the Lawrence Art Center. Aisha Lumumba’s “Women Who Fly” made a last minute move to the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy. “Cloth Paintings by Dawn” by artist Dawn Williams Boyd was featured at Wonder Fair Gallery on Massachusetts St.

Faith Ringgold, keynote speaker, at NAAQC event at Lied Center of Kansas

Inestimable artist, civil rights and women’s rights activist, Faith Ringgold, of “Tar Beach” and “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima” fame, kicked off the week of lectures by noted historians, authors, curators and storytellers. The octogenarian’s keynote speech, at the Lied Center of the University of Kansas, included a retrospective of her 68 year career as a painter and author of numerous children’s books.

Artist Sara Bunn with guest at NAAQC event at Lied Center of Kansas

Other notables on hand at the Lied Center were: Dr. Myrah Brown Green who spoke on the use of African symbols in African American quilts; Denise Valentine discussed “how enslaved peoples found ways to express what they could not say or do outright…through stories, music, song and dance;” Phyllis Lawson, author of “Quilt of Souls,” told how her grandmother, master quilter Hula Horn, reared her on an Alabama farm. Dr. Daniel Atkinson spoke about Lawrence’s own native son George W. Walker, who in collaboration with playwright Will Cook, director Jesse Shipp and lyricist Paul Lawrence Dunbar produced a musical called In Dahomey, the first all black play to appear on Broadway.

Bisa Butler’s work at NAAQC solo exhibit “Legacy” at Lawrence Art Center

The NAAQC offered four days packed with classes and workshops for the amateur quilter as well as the professional artist, taught by top notch masters in the fields of fabric manipulation and surface design: Sandra Johnson and Lori Triplett offered a range of instruction in natural dye and resist techniques; Aisha Lumumba presented a Scrap Quilt workshop; Jan Hollins’ demonstrated Mosaic Fiber Art; Lola Jenkins and superstar Bisa Butler taught Portrait Collage workshops. Sherry Whetstone concentrated on Organic Embellishments and Victorian Crazy Quilting, among others. All of the classes and workshops, which were held at citywide locations such as the Carnegie Building, the Lawrence Art Center, and the Spencer Museum, were sold out months in advance.

Artists Dawn Williams Boyd and Faith Ringgold at NAAQC event at the Carnegie Building

Aside from some minor hiccups concerning transportation and the last minute communication of venue changes, this inaugural event was a roaring success. Kudos to Marla Jackson of Marla’s Quilts, Inc., the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy, the youth of the Beyond the Book Program and the city of Lawrence, KS for a job well done.