Talking Quilts with Eli Leon

As part of my research for my forthcoming book on improvisational patchwork I’ve been reviewing the many amazing show catalogues based on Eli Leon’s collection of over 1000 African-American improvisational quilts.

During a recent visit he generously gave me a stack of his catalogues and we spent an afternoon looking at them and talking about our favorite quilts. In particular I’ve been grooving on Accidentally on Purpose, a catalogue that includes two extensive essays by Eli, from the exhibition at the Figge Art Museum in 2006.

The essays written by Eli, incorporate over a 100 hours of interviews of African-American quilt makers. They speak about their process in their own words and Eli brilliantly pieces together their narratives into a comprehensive view of their approaches, tactics, and methods of improvisation. If you want to really learn about improvisational patchwork then study these quilts and read Eli’s essays.

The quilt-making successors of these early African-Americans often express a high regard for scraps. “Scraps,” Odessa Dolby told me, “make the best quilts.” “I’d rather have the scraps,” Frances Johnson agreed. “I like the different materials.” “When you use scraps,” Kate Brown reported, “you always get a surprise.” –excerpt from Accidentally On Purpose by Eli Leon

Announcing a fabulous EXCLUSIVE blog series!

We had so much fun talking quilts while looking at the catalogues, we decided to “talk quilts” on a regular basis.

Now each time I visit, Eli chooses a different quilt from his African-American collection that he particularly likes.  I’m always surprised. We hang it in his living room, sit back, bask in the quilt’s magnificent glory, and then discuss the aspects of its design that contribute to its shine.

Eli has a keen aesthetic sense and a wealth of information about African-American improvisational quilts and their makers. I am happy to say he has given me permission to share images of the quilts and notes from our conversations. Stay tuned — join the conversation — grab an archive button for your blog if you like.

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24 Responses to Talking Quilts with Eli Leon

  1. Lynda M O says:

    I put the button on my blog and look forward to these upcoming informational conversations. The quilts will be icing on the cakes. Love it.

  2. Alison Schmidt says:

    Very excited to keep on reading these! If they were recorded, that would be even more fantastic. What a cool contribution to American quilt history…..

    • sherrilynn says:

      Actually I did audio record my second session of Talking Quilts with Eli so I may use a bit of the recording in the post. Not sure yet – but I am planning on audio recording all the rest of our sessions for reference.

  3. I will be joining the conversation! thanks for sharing!

  4. Marianne says:

    This sounds fabulous…I’m looking forward to it.

  5. I look forward to this Sherri! Thank you so much for sharing and please thank Eli as well!

  6. Stacey says:

    Excellent! I can’t wait!

  7. roccagal says:

    just cannot wait!
    thanks for sharing this!!!!!!

  8. Glad you are doing this. Let me know if you would like me to video one of them . . .

    enclosing one of my Siddi inspired improvisational quilts. Eli hasn’t seen this one yet.

  9. tubularsock says:

    This is a wonderful opportunity and I am looking forward to this fascinating adventure that you are leading all of us on. Quilts have never really been my “thing” but the improvisational nature of this process and the use of scrap is most interesting. Thank you for sharing your quest.

  10. This is super great, Sherri Linn, I am eager and anticipating every morsel….Thanks for sharing…Sherry Ann

  11. LeeAnn says:

    Yea! I’m looking forward to seeing more about your conversations with Eli Leon. Thanks so much for sharing with us! My copy of “Accidentally on Purpose” has been so used, that I had to get it rebound. Buffy’s too.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Yes LeeAnn, Patty, Debby, Mandy, Sherry Ann, and everyone else – I can affirm that both Eli and I are so happy about sharing these talks with everyone. We can’t wait either!

  12. patty says:

    This is fabulous! It is so wonderful for you to share this experience with all of us! I own several of Eli’s books and I know they have influenced the way I now work. Thank you so much and thanks to Eli too!

  13. debby says:

    I am so excited about this! I am so very impressed by the work process behind the African American quilters that I am aware of, and I want to learn more from them. Thank you for sharing this!

  14. Thank you, both, very much. I cannot wait!

  15. john wiercioch says:

    This is just a fabulous and so appropriate idea! There’s a wise Sufi saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” So generous of Eli to share with you, and of YOU to pay it forward to us! Thank you! I’m eager to share in the adventure of “listening in” on great conversation between two warm people with glowing creative minds.

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