An Important African American Folk Art Textile

Probably Southern United States
Circa: 1870
Size: 28 1/4” (h) x 81” (w)
This remarkable African-American Folk Art textile is rich with representational and abstract appliquéd figures, animals, and shapes. The large work comprises numerous blocks of homespun remnants and scraps of domestic and imported cotton, wool and silk fabrics. According to textile expert Jan Whitlock, no remnant is older than 1850, and a couple similar imported silk fabrics have been found on folk art textiles from Baltimore.

On the left, an African-American family is shown with their farm animals. It’s possible that the woman depicted is the very woman who created this textile.

Further to the right, another woman and child stand. The mother is next to a big white house, and both are depicted in fancier patterned cloth—no facial details.

It is my interpretation that the African-American family were sharecroppers or worked for the white family and are depicted with faces, whereas the white family is more broadly defined.

To the right of the house, there is a man in a horse-drawn buggy and further right a very large black cat. Several hearts, stars, and other geometric forms, and layered fabric shapes are interspersed throughout.

One cannot see a textile-like this and not think of the important works by Harriet Powers. Powers, a former slave from Athens, Georgia, created at least two masterpiece Bible quilts, one in The Smithsonian and the other at the M.F.A. Boston from the Karolik collection.

Powers’ work relates to textiles of West Africa, like the Fon and Fante, which historically created similarly constructed appliqué textiles as storytelling devices.

The piece herein holds a loose narrative of domestic life and most certainly held strong personal meaning. And the initials, “M.A.T.,” are those likely of the maker.

Though created from modest materials of scrap cloth and silk fabrics, it was made with pride and is a complex, beautiful and compelling work.

Provenance: Elliott & Grace Snyder; Private collection; Jan Whitlock.

Condition: Excellent with wear commensurate with age.


Price: please inquire