Eli Leon has a collection of approximately 30 signature quilts. Many of them are Anglo-American in origin but this quilt, most likely made by an African-American, is his favorite, and he pulled it out for me to see.
Eli took some time figuring out the names on this quilt, and he pulled out his detailed notes. One of the first things we noticed was that the script of the quilt maker has some unusual features. It’s difficult to distinguish between letters, such as c & e, e & l, d & l, 5 & 6. One of the key names, perhaps the husband of the quilt maker, is not clear… perhaps its Samuel K? There are no last names just an initial K, and we don’t know the maker’s first name.
The quilt seems to document the family. How are these people related? Eli and I discussed at length the position of the names. At the top of the quilt you see STK – M to – KAK – JAN 9 1905 (or 6?). Are the names –Ernest K, Lawrence, Leroy K –sons? Or could Ernest K be the father or brother of STK, or the oldest son? Could Lawrence and Leroy be twins? Are Violet, Catherine and Ethel daughters? Below the girls names is the name Arthur C K followed by Mildred K and then in the far right column, Alice. Could this be a father, mother and sister or perhaps an uncle, aunt and cousin to the maker or the maker’s husband? Notice Mothers day in the same row as Mildred K. How is this significant?
Eli thought the family must have resided in or was from Florida. This is where the quilt was purchased and the abreviation FlA surrounded by palm trees can be found twice in the quilt.
Besides the marriage date. There is also the date 1942 – Samuel K – died 27 of Dec. Below that is the probable signature of the maker KAK flanked on each side by the dates Feb 14. 1942 and 1940. What is the significance of the year 1940? Was that the year the quilt was started? Did it mark the beginning of an illness? Did Valentines Day in 1942 represent a last happy memory for KAK of her husband, before his death in December of the same year?
When Eli first received this quilt into his collection he did some genealogy research but came up empty-handed.
The more Eli and I figured out about this quilt, the more questions we were left with.
As a family tree and signature quilt it is certainly stunning, but what strikes me the most about this quilt is that it must have been made during a time of loss. Was it made after K’s death? Or was it made during an extended illness and his subsequent death?
After sitting a while with this quilt I felt a deep and profound sadness resonating within me. I imagined the person stitching these names and images on black velvet, and of all the thoughts and memories, worries and joys she may have felt while making it. I wondered about the life of this family. How did they fare? How did the daily relationships between them unfold? Where and who are their descendants?
With its visual field of deep black velvet and twinkling white stitches this quilt is as powerful and mysterious as the universe. It’s as mysterious as death and the feelings of mourning. It’s as powerful as the soul that binds family relations together in complex ways.
Wow! Nice first quilt for the Talking Quilts with Eli Leon series?
Eli and I are curious to hear your thoughts and questions. What do you see in this quilt? How does it strike you? What catches your eye, or resonates from within?