Black Threads Presentation at
Olbrich Gardens
Powerful Quilted Narratives
Clockwise from upper left: Fabu Carter (l) and her niece
Mauricia Lyn Crutchfield in front of Auntie Fabu Loves
Mauricia Forever; Black Thread members Edith Hilliard (l-r),
Kay Simmons, Wanda Tapp, Cynthia Woodland, Katrina
Sparkman and Fabu Carter; “Generations from 1965 to 2015
in Wisconsin;” “Southern Memories;” “Engrafted;”
“Rewind;” Emcee Freda High; “Firse Date”
By Jonathan Gramling

It was a beautiful and appropriate way to end Black History Month. During the
past year, six African American women came together to form Black
Threads, a quilting collective. During the year, they shared their stories as
they weaved their own personal stories or influences into the quilts they
were making. And in so doing, each of their quilts became part of the larger
patchworks of narratives of Black History.

On February 28, members of Black Threads gathered at Olbrich Gardens and
presented their quilts as they revealed part of the narrative of their lives,
each of them beautiful and unique, yet quilted together to form a reflection of
the Black Experience. And at the end of each member’s comments, she
revealed her lineage and then stated, ‘And that is the stock that I come from.”

Edith Hilliard led it out. She presented “Generations from 1965 to 2015 in Wisconsin.” Hilliard used her quilt to tell about eight generations of
her family, from slavery to the space program. And by telling that story, Hilliard showed how far African Americans have come in the 150 years
of history.  
Another member of my family who is very noteworthy and also noted on my
quilt is Robert H. Lawrence,” Hilliard said. “He was born in 1935 and the
shuttle that he was in is on my quilt also. At 31, he served two roles in the
air force, one as a pilot and one as a research scientist. At age 32, a senior
pilot with over 2,500 flying hours and 2,000 of those in a jet plane, Robert
successfully completed the Air Force Test Pilot Training School in June
1967 and was selected to become an astronaut. He was the first African
American astronaut in this nation. Four men were chosen in this program.
Robert was the youngest and the only one with a Ph.D. Unfortunately, that
same year, in 1967, he was killed in a F-104 jet fighter plane at Edwards
Air Force Base in California. Thirty years later, in 1997, I was privileged to
attend a ceremony at Kennedy Air Force Base when they recognized him as
being the first African American astronaut in the nation.”

Kay Simmons’ quilt, “Rewind,” told the story of one of her uncles being
shot by an off-duty policeman in Beloit and how that impacted the family
and the community. Her uncle survived the shooting and became a shining
example who blazed the way for the rest of the family.
“It’s a story of the injustice
and it’s the same injustice
repeated like a broken
record despite public outcry,
petitions and calls for
change,” Simmons said. “It’
s a reminder that some
people force on some
people an unjust act that
can affect them regardless
of what they are doing or not
doing. It can be
unpredictable, but very
familiar. It’s a rewind, a
rewind like a tape, like a
tape on a tape recorder or a
DVD player. It’s like a
second time seeing a
movie. The rewind is what it
feels like being Black in
America.”
Wanda Tapp’s quilt is titled “Southern Memories.” While Tapp’s parents
were part of the Great Migration coming north, the family never lost their
southern roots. Every summer, Tapp, her sister and mother would visit
relatives in Georgia. She continues to look upon those days with fondness.

“But the memory of going south on the train was the picnic basket as well,”
Tapp said. “I do love cold fried chicken to this day. I will eat good cold fried
chicken, Cracker Jack, coke — it’s my favorite when I do get a soda — and
peaches. There was a vendor in a field area behind my grandmother’s road
house. There was a really big field and an older Black man who used to
come by with his vending cart. And he would have those red-hot hot dogs. They were really good. And I looked forward to getting my 10 cents
to buy me a red-hot hot dog and a coke. And if you had an extra nickel or a couple off cents, you get you a big green dill pickle. Those were
the days. Those were the days.”

Cynthia Marie Woodland named her quilt ‘Engrafted,” which describes taking part of a plant and grafting it onto another plant so that it
becomes one plant. Woodland told a powerful story of the joys and tribulations of being adopted and how her life has come full circle through
adoption.

“I am married to a wonderful man who always wanted to be a father,” Woodland said. “We were unable to conceive, but we believed God for
a miracle. During this time, people would say, ‘Have you considered adoption?’ And I would always say, ‘God would have to heal me first.’ I
knew first hand the kind of identity and rejection issues that can go along with being adopted. And I wasn’t sure I was up for the task. Well, in
many different ways, God did heal me. My husband Brian and I said yes to adoption with our whole hearts. And in December 2012, we
adopted our daughter Solana from Macon, Georgia.” Katrina Sparkman’s quilt is titled “First Date.” She told the story of her parents’ first date
amidst a family feud between the Lewis and Johnson families. Her parents arrived back home to find Sparkman’s grandmother holding a rifle
and saying, “I’ve got you covered.”

“Now I am happy to report that no one was harmed either that evening or in the making of this quilt because my grandmother and her rifle put
down the threat,” Sparkman said. “My grandmother died my last year in college. And every living member of the Johnson family showed up
to pay their respects. This is one of the stories that was told to me often as a child growing up, a story about mother love. And it is a story that
I don’t let the children in my family to soon forget.”

Fabu Carter finished the narratives with her quilt “Auntie Fabu Loves Mauricia Forever.” Mauricia is Carter’s only niece. And in the telling of
how important quilts are to her and her family, Carter also revealed the deep love that family members have for each other.

“I hope I gave my niece mostly what she wanted,” Carter said about the quilt. “Every photograph on here has such memories. Each piece of
cloth, every butterfly that’s on it, again is for Mauricia and yet, it isn’t just for her. It’s for her children and her children’s children. I think again
that this has been such a wonderful experience to be able to create something with my hands out of love that will cover my niece forever.”

Every quilt has a story to tell.