In the 1970’s the feminist movement brought recognition to domestic arts and textiles.  This led to the rediscovery of Harriet Powers, whose two surviving quilts currently hang in the Smithsonian and in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Harriet Powers, folk artist and quilt maker, was born into slavery outside Athens, Georgia (1837). She was married at 18 and gave birth to nine children. She lived most of her life in Clarke County, where in 1897, she began exhibiting her quilts at local cotton fairs. She was believed to have been a house slave and first learned to read with the help of the white children she cared for.

Powers quilts used a combination of hand and machine stitching along with appliqué to form small detailed panels. She then organized these squares to unfold a larger story, much like a modern graphic novel. This teaching style of quilting has its roots in West African coastal communities, and her uneven edging of panels mirrored the complex rhythms of African-American folk music. Through her quilts, she recorded legends and biblical tales of patience and divine justice. Only two pieces of her work have survived: Her Bible quilt of 1886, which she sold for $5 in the aftermath of the war, now hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Her Pictorial quilt of 1888 is displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Powers’ work is now considered among the finest examples of Southern quilting from the 19th century.

Harriet Powers. Pictorial quilt. 1895-98. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Harriet Powers. Pictorial quilt. 1895-98. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston






Harriet Powers Bible Quilt, Smithsonian


The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.

I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.

About Bernadette

I live in the small town of Haddonfield, NJ. I am at an age in my life when I seem to spend time thinking and musing about life. These musings are usually stimulated by my walks through Haddonfield, my reading of books and fellow bloggers, and my interaction with my group of fabulous family and friends.

11 Responses

  1. Bernadette, I know I’m always in for a treat with your Friday posts and save to read them with my breakfast. Harriet’s work is astonishing, visually appealing and intricate sewing awe-inspiring … I’ve been zooming in on the various images, trying to decipher them, admiring her creative skill. Wow! What a life and I bet she never imagined her quilts would be on display in such prestigious museums. A great post. Wishing you a lovely weekend. Xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you Bernadette for introducing this strong and creative woman. Harriet Powers
    was born with such a gift and in spite of her circumstance whe let her art flourish.
    I am so taken with what you tell and with her quilts.
    I sort of smile whilst thinking she might have made one for herself and her husband and used as an everyday thing. Little knowing the fame they would reach.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for featuring Harriet Powers-I love her quilts! My grandmother was a wonderful hand quilter, and I may be the only person I know who can’t seem to view a quilt exhibition without being moved to tears💓.



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