Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African Textiles and African-American Quilts
This exuberantly illustrated book celebrates the sophistication, vivacity, and significance of improvisational African-Aemrican quilts, both as artistic achievements and as expressions of African-American traditions. The knowledge, attitudes, and values carried across the Atlantic by enslaved Africans appear to have informed a quiltmaking tradition so powerful that, to this day, it preserves its identity in a special province of African-American quilts. Such "Afro-traditional" quilts are made by people who have no formal art training and who usually do not consider themselves artists; they learned their craft and absorbed its aesthetics by watching and helping their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who, in turn, learned form previous generations. The resulting--often highly idiosyncratic--quilts call out to be seen as the works of art that they are. The brilliance of this work must be partially credited to a tradition which encourages individual expression and provides a context in which the talents of individual artists can flourish. Improvisation, pervasive in black African art and familiar as a basic element of many African-American musical forms, is a vital force in this tradition. The artists maintain a generous attitude toward the accidental, embracing innovations that originate beyond the conscious domain. they use approximate measurement and "flexible patterning," in which the design, conceived of as a an invitation to variation, will not repeat, but will materialize in a sequence of visual elaborations. Afro-traditional attitudes and methods are antithetical to the standard American quiltmaking tradition--practiced by both whites and blacks--in which great value is placed on precise measurement and exact pattern replication. Instead they bear a keen likeness to the improvisatory practices of the textile-makers of Kongo and West Africa, regions from which American slaves were taken. These antipathies and affinities suggest an enduring African influence on the Afro-traditional quilt.