Signs and Symbols
Maude Southwell Wahlman

Some African American quilts are the visual equivalent of blues, jazz, or gospel, rich with color and symbolism. Characterized by strips, bright colors, large designs, asymmetry, multiple patterns, improvisations, and symbolic forms, these African American quilts have their roots in African textile techniques and cultural traditions. The antecedents of contemporary African textiles and African American quilts were developed in Africa as far back astwo thousand years ago, when cotton was domesticated along the Niger River in Mail, and used for fishnets and woven cloth. The actual links between African and African American textile traditions can be traced to the years between 1650 and 1850, when Africans were brought to the Western Hemisphere. African American quilts are unique mixtures of various African, Native American, and European traditions that intersected as a result of trading in Brazil, Surinam, Haiti, Cuba, opther Caribbean islands, Mexico, and the southern United States. African influence on the history of music, dance, and speech in the New WOrld has long been documented. African influence on American folk art such as quiltmaking is less well known, yet it is possible to trace African textile techniques, religious symbols, and aesthetic traditions that were adapted by African American textile innovators to the needs and resources of a new world. This fascinating and important study of African American quilts contains more than 150 color plates, along with portraits of and interviews with many of the leading quilters whose works are published in this splendid book.