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Pieced and Appliqué Quilt

Early 20th century
Made by Marie Hensley (American, c. 1870–1932)
This African American quilt is a rare documented example from the early twentieth century. It was created by Marie Hensley, a domestic servant and seamstress in the mountainous western region of North Carolina. By piecing together countless small sections of solid and patterned fabrics and adding appliqués, Hensley produced a remarkably complex, rhythmic composition. Her techniques and asymmetric, kaleidoscopic design, while characteristic of late-nineteenth-century crazy quilts, may also reflect aesthetics associated with her African heritage. For example, various areas of this quilt feature staggered blocks of color created by vertical strips; this method, frequently used in West African strip-woven cloths, produces a seemingly improvised pattern characteristic of many African textiles. These intricate variations of pattern may derive from the older African American belief that such complexities protected the owner, since evil spirits would need to decode all of them before doing harm. While meticulous stitching was not an aesthetic concern to Marie Hensley, she paid close attention to the details of her design. Accented with appliqués of bold shapes, a silhouetted figure, eyes, snakes, a cross, lizards, and fish, this quilt is a highly expressive interpretation of a traditional needle craft.

Object Details

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