Arkansas is well known for its rich tradition of upland folk arts. Little, however, has been reported from the lowland areas, particularly on African American contributions to the state's cultural heritage. A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansas seeks to rectify that oversight by drawing attention to the extensive, important collection of African American quilts in the Old State House Museum in Little Rock.
Over seventy-five individual pieces of patchwork art are presented in this publication in full-color plates, each with a commentary by the exhibit's guest curator, Cuesta Benberry. The book details the importance of quilting to black Arkansas; the quilts' uses, materials, and construction; and what each piece says about the artist and her beliefs. We are granted a glimpse into the living conditions and cultural mores of the quilters' lives. Regionalisms, such as the unusual custom of renaming traditional quilt patterns for things seen in the farmyard, such as Rooster Tail or Chicken Feet, and of piecing patchwork funerary cloths to decorate coffins are discussed.
This impressive collection of cultural artifacts is placed in the larger context of the African American experience through an introduction by noted scholar Raymond Dobard (art history, Howard University), co-author, with Jacqueline Tobin, of the highly acclaimed book, Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (1999, Doubleday). All those interested in American folk art, the quilting craft, and black history will find this beautiful book fascinating and rewarding.