Collections Blog

Collections Blog

A Piece of My Soul Quilt Exhibit

Old State House Museum - Friday, June 01, 2018

Buzz Saw Quilt, made by Docella Johnson of Bradley, Arkansas. Circa 1900-1920. This month’s blog features quilts by Black Arkansas. Our first quilt was made by Docella Johnson of Bradley, Arkansas; she was a cook and general housekeeper for the McKinney family. When she quilted, Docella arranged her quilts in a “halves” system since the McKinney’s mother would provide the materials for two quilts, one for the McKinneys and one for her. Of these quilts, The Buzz Saw, was made in the early 1900s by Johnson. The Buzz Saw’s nine large 21-inch square blocks are a cream color, pale orange, and wedgewood blue, separated by two-inch sashing of chrome orange. In the corners of each block are four small white appliqued triangle-shaped motifs. Johnson called these shapes “Chicken Feet,” possibly an idiomatic term unique to rural Arkansas. The materials in The Buzz Saw quilt are hand-dyed cottons, sacking, and a little calico. The quilt has three to four stitches per inch over medium batting.

The Rising Sun quilt was made by Beulah Smith of Paragould, Arkansas in 1924. Another quilt in the Old State House Collection is the Rising Sun Quilt, quilted by Beulah Smith, a talented cook and seamstress. Smith worked as a housekeeper for a family in Paragould, Arkansas. Beulah’s husband, William, worked at the same strip mining company as her employer’s husband, who held the position of foreman. Smith was considered to be fine cook, making memorable molasses cakes in a hot skillet. She was also an excellent seamstress, making many clothes and quilts for her employer’s family. In the family’s kitchen and multipurpose room were large quilting frames suspended from the ceiling. Smith made numerous quilts here. The Rising Sun Quilt, quilted in 1924, was said to be a special wedding gift to her employer, this special occasion could possibly be why it is in such excellent condition today.

The blocking pattern of the Rising Sun Quilt is of 16 block dimensions, with no sashing. Placed on a background of rich sky blue, the wheel shaped centers of the “sun” blocks are of light and dark orange, with a green center, encircled by green and dark orange triangles, and bordered by an orange binding. Beulah’s quilt Rising Sun Quilt has a thin batting and is quilted seven to eight stitches per inch.

Currently thirteen quilts by other Black Arkansans are currently on display at the Old State House Museum in the “A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans” exhibit.

Biographic information from Cuesta Benberry’s, “A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans” published by the University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Arkansas.