Underground Railroad Quilts: Myth & Codes?

The Underground Railroad was a series of safe houses that were run for African-American slaves. Quilts would be hung out on fences to indicate the house was safe to approach and act as a map / set of instructions for passersby. Quilting elements would indicate information i.e. a bow tie patchwork indicates one should travel in disguise.

It appears that the focus of knowledge on this subject comes from one families source, while not untrue, a number of academics are not sure of the validity of this.  Myth and Legend or Truth?

Given that majority of history is written by white males and these quilts are done by females and often those of colour – again adds to the is it or isnt it idea.

Alleged codes of the Underground Railroad Quilts.

Image and info from: https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/europe-and-north-america/patchwork-and-quilting/underground-railroad-quilts

Further discussion from: http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1606271,00.html


Kerry James Marshall

Painter whose sole intention is to get more images of black people in galleries. To do this he realised that he needed to be a good painter so he becomes better at painting by copying the styles of other painters i.e. rococco large scale historical scenes, impressionist plein air.  You can see it in all his paintings, a need and desire to develop – so anything goes. FIDGETY ARTISTS. He has, as a result become an excellent technical painter [on top of his powerful image making skills]. When making a painting, he will make the clothes / costumes for the models to wear and will get the flowers in and then sets it all up with mannequins as opposed to models.

He has a constant conversation with the History of Art and will take anything from a few weeks to a decade to complete a painting.

Kerry James Marshall, Nude [Spotlight], 2009
Kerry James Marshall. Slow Dance

Ref: Nude

Ref: Slow Dance

paint by numbers

Stephen Knott talks quite extensively about the phenomena of Paint-by-Numbers, it’s popularity and attraction, he even ran some workshops while at the RCA. I decided to have a go myself and [although yet to be finished] I enjoyed the ability to do something with my hands while not having to think to much. That is not to say I did not concentrate, in fact it took a lot as the image I had was quite intricate, the numbers very small and, I had to mix colours 50/50 to get the range of shades the painting required [this was in the instructions].

To be completed: Paint by Numbers. [Perren, 2016]

Seattle Bad Art Museum

OBAMA – Seattle’s Official Bad Art Museum of America.

The layout of the space allows the work to be considered in a more appropriate context according to Knott (OBAMA) does revel in the otherness of amateur painting, but its methods of display – with canvases hung above cafe booths within an environment of heady Americana – might offer a more sympathetic contextual setting for such work. P40


Amateur Craft, Bloomsbury.

Exploring Cross Stitch

There are a number of things that I associate [as do others] with perhaps typical hobby outcomes. Cross stitch is one such craft and it felt appropriate that I should explore this further. Like a lot [if not all] of the textiles I make, I consider them as drawing. if not a direct observation of something I see, it is an action that takes time and consideration as it creates marks on a surface.

I have done a number of samples that include cross stitch but have not been able to find the focus or stamina to follow a pre-printed edition. Instead I tend to stitch intuitively although [as can be seen in this sample], I may draw some guidelines for shapes on the ground first.

Making it up Cross Stitch. Cotton on Linen. [Perren, 2016]
Trying to follow directions from a 1981, Readers digest Manual. [Perren, 2016]

ummm, not sure about this

I have used the quilt top / sandwich to develop some ideas with sequins. Think in this case it has not worked, not sure why but it feels like it is two separate things forced together. I am going to keep going with this though but it will need more thought. Once I get a little more time I would like to work on a piece a lot more heavily, at the moment it seems too polite.  Need to take it to extremes.

Applied Sequins onto a Quilted Top. Cotton, sequins. 70 x 40 cm [Perren, 2015]
I need to gain more control of the straight line, particularly the machine sewn ones. I am ok with the mix of machine and hand sewn lines but it just needs a lot more of a lot more things?

Gee’s Bend Quilt Studies

As stated in a previous post, I am keen to understand the designs and the possible steps that were taken to piece the quilt tops. This could be done in a much quicker way such as line drawing but by painting the designs out, I get a greater sense of the making process beyond function.

I enjoy spending time observing even small photographs / replicas of the originals, since I can remember visiting galleries, I have always drawn from what I see or at least made written notes. I tend to avoid reading the text that puts the exhibition in context or explains an artwork until I have spent a good deal of time with the work first. Forming my own understanding of an artwork, image or painterly mark provides an insight that may or may not be hoped for by the artist but I am not sure that even matters.

Here are a series of paintings I did in gouache on cartridge paper over a period of a couple of weeks. I have also provided a copy of the image that inspired my version, they are not replicas or copies but studies of something that I admire.

Annie Mae Young born 1928.Strips circa 1975. Corduroy. 101×66″
Annie Mae Young Study [Perren, 2015]
Sally Bennett Jones 1944-1988 Centre medallion of triangles, surrounded by multiple borders. 1966. Cotton. 86 x 77 “
Sally Bennett Jones Study of a Quilt Centre Panel. Gouache on Paper [Perren, 2015]