This is a follow up to my November 2021 post Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West (upcoming exhibit).
The Women of Color Quilting Network (WCQN) show at the The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art does not open until September 2022 but the museum had a recent fundraising event for the exhibition and Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi the head of the WCQN attended and took photos.
Included in the photos she shared on her Facebook page was an image of my quilt Langston Hughes, Pioneer Poet.
Since the quilt has officially been shown to the public, plus it is the featured quilt on the museum’s website advertisement for the show (see thejamesmuseum.org/special-exhibitions/, and scroll down to “Upcoming”), I figure I can share a full image of the quilt and my Artist Statement:
LANGSTON HUGHES, PIONEER POET
This quilt is part of the Women of Color Quilting Network’s Traveling Show – “Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West”
52″ W x 52″ L cotton, cotton flannel, image transfer fabric
THE STORY OF THIS PIECE:
Decades before the political rhetoric of “Make America Great Again”, American poet, novelist, activist and playwright Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) challenged us to “Let America Be America Again” in his poem named the same .
Langston Hughes was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s (Smithsonian.com) and his writings focused on the African American experience. He wrote the poem that inspired this quilt, Let America Be America Again, in 1935. It was first published by Esquire magazine in 1936 (classicesquire.com). Langston Hughes has a special significance to my family: he is the namesake of the first grandchild born into our family, Langston, named after his late grandmother Gina’s favorite poet.
This quilt shares the opening four lines of the poem’s first stanza which challenges “let America be the dream it used to be (for)…the pioneer”. These four lines are followed by a powerful statement in parenthesis: “(America was never America to me)”, summarizing the plight of African Americans historically not having access to the “American American . The entire poem is powerful and worth a full reading (poem resource: Poets.org).
Using a B&W public archive image from the Smithsonian taken by photographer Carl Van Vechten in 1939, I recreated in cotton fabrics and image transfer fabric, a section of the scene from that photo, creatively reimagining his shirt to contain words representing he was a writer. In the backdrop of the image of Langston Hughes is the American Flag merged with African fabric to represent his African American heritage. The quilt is also bound with African fabric. Across the top of his hat I placed the word from the poem “pioneer” as I see Langston Hughes as a “Pioneer Poet”. He was the “pioneer on the plain” of writing relevant to the African American experience.
“Let America Be America Again” was written in 1935, however it remains quite relevant in 2021.
In addition to sharing on this blog post, I’ve also added the image of the quilt and the Artist Statement to my Portfolio page on my website, under the “Special Stories” section; as well as update to my News page (updates on my “textile art adventures”).
After the show Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West opens at The James Museum (show runs September 3, 2022 – January 8, 2023), it will begin a national tour through 2025.
According to Collections Manager at The James Museum, my piece Langston Hughes, Pioneer Poet will travel with the show to the following locations:
- Booth Western Art Museum – January 28th – May 21st 2023
- California Museum – June 17th – October 1st 2023
- Stark Museum of Art – March 2nd – June 23rd 2024
Additional venues into 2025 are currently being explored.
If you’d like to read Langston Hughes’ poem that inspired this quilt – Let America Be America Again – you can read the entire poem at this website: poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again