Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African Textiles and African-American Quilts

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Figge Art Museum, 2006 - Art - 175 pages
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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.

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About the author (2006)

Eli Leon was born Robert Stanley Leon in the Bronx, New York on June 27, 1935. While still at the High School of Music and Art, he spent a summer at Black Mountain College studying with the potter Karen Karnes. Leon received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 1958 from Reed College and a master's degree from the University of Chicago. He became a Reichian psychotherapist. He was also a collector and self-taught scholar of African-American quilts. In 1989, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct research in the South. He organized several exhibitions of quilts from his collection at museums around the country. He died from septic shock on March 6, 2018 at the age of 82.

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