Elizabeth Kanost
Spencer Museum of Art

Spencer Museum exhibitions highlight African-American story quilts

Tue, 07/11/2017

LAWRENCE — The Spencer Museum of Art recently opened two evocative exhibitions that highlight African-American quilting traditions. Both exhibitions, on view through Sept. 17, are presented in conjunction with the National African American Quilt Convention held in Lawrence July 12-15.

“The Spencer Museum is eager to participate in this citywide project and engage the community with the national and local histories depicted in the quilts,” said Susan Earle, Spencer curator for European and American art. “The quilts now on view at the Spencer teach us so much about historical and contemporary issues with pressing relevance. Textiles are especially effective tools for telling these histories, as we can all relate to the presence of clothing and cloth in our lives.”

And Still We Rise: Race, Culture, and Visual Conversations” narrates nearly four centuries of African-American history, from the first slave ships to the first African-American president. This traveling exhibition is organized by the Women of Color Quilters Network in partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

To complement this exhibition, Earle curated “Narratives of the Soul,” which presents significant African-American quilts from the Spencer Museum’s collection, as well as regional and national loans. One highlight of the exhibition is the art museum’s “Flag Story Quilt” by renowned artist Faith Ringgold. Ringgold will give the keynote lecture for the Quilt Convention on Wednesday, July 12, at the Lied Center.

One of the featured local artists in “Narratives of the Soul” is Marla Jackson, organizer of the Quilt Convention and founder of the African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy in Lawrence. Earle collaborated closely with Jackson on the exhibition and several programs related to the convention that the art museum will host.

Jackson will give a talk at the Spencer Museum on Saturday, July 15, about the quilts of Maria Rodgers Martin, a former slave who lived in Lawrence during the Civil War. Two of Martin’s quilts will appear in “Narratives of the Soul,” along with a quilt Jackson made in honor of Martin.

“In many ways I identify with Maria,” Jackson said. “Not only do we share a common love for making quilts, but I admire her strength and her courage in facing the difficult challenges in her life.”

Jackson’s research on Martin was funded by the Kansas Humanities Council, which also provided principal funding for both quilt exhibitions and associated public programs at the Spencer Museum.


Related programming

Wednesday, July 12

Artist talk with Faith Ringgold / 6-9 p.m. / Lied Center of Kansas

Renowned artist and activist Faith Ringgold kicks off the inaugural National African American Quilt Convention with a keynote lecture. Tickets are required and available for purchase at


Saturday, July 15

Gallery talks with Phyllistene Lawson & Marla Jackson / 2-4 p.m. / Spencer Museum of Art

In these back-to-back gallery talks, artists Phyllistene Lawson and Marla Jackson share their research on African-American quilters Lula Horne and Maria Rodgers Martin.


Sunday, July 23

Up Close: “And Still We Rise” & “Narratives of the Soul” / 2-3 p.m. / Spencer Museum of Art

Delve into the two quilt exhibitions with Spencer Curator Susan Earle.


Saturday, Aug. 19

Art Cart: Paper Story Quilts / 1-4 p.m. / Spencer Museum of Art

The Art Cart is a drop-in activity station for children and grown-ups. Explore how artists use symbols to tell stories and create your own paper story quilt.


Sunday, Aug. 27

Slow Art Sunday: Jazz Storm / 2-3 p.m. / Spencer Museum of Art

Slow down and spend time getting to know Viola Burley Leak’s quilt “Jazz Storm,” on view in “Narratives of the Soul.”

Image: Faith Ringgold, “Flag Story Quilt,” 1985, Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund, 1991.0040, copyright Faith Ringgold.

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