Inspired by the Work of Harriet Powers Submitted by Mary Catherine Coleman and Sarah Beebe, ILIS Department
Second graders have been learning about the quilt folk art of Harriet Powers. They read the book Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert.
Powers was born into enslavement on a plantation in Georgia. She grew up learning how to sew from her mother and other women. When she, her husband and their children were freed from slavery after the Civil War, they worked on their farm, and Powers continued to make quilts for her family. The family farm fell on hard times, and she made the difficult decision to sell one of her quilts to buy food for her family. She continued to make and sell quilts to support her family.
Powers’ quilt art is considered among the best examples of this art form from the American South. Two of her quilts have survived. One is on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the other is at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
After reading Powers’ story and discussing her life, students examined her work using the See/Think/Wonder thinking routine, which encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. The process helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry. Students explored the quilts and the stories Powers was trying to telling in each square. Discussion explored the inspiration for the quilt squares.
Next, students worked on designing a quilt inspired by Powers’ work. Second graders brainstormed events and activities that had taken place during the year. They thought about a memorable experience they would like to tell in their quilt. Using Google Drawing, students designed quilt pieces that depicted their favorite memories of 2nd grade and told those stories.
The Google Drawing files were then saved and downloaded to the library’s Cricut cutter, which cuts fabric, foam and paper. Students then sewed, sun printed or fabric-paint printed their quilt squares.
The final step was sewing all the quilt squares together to make a collaborative 2nd grade memory quilt. The quilt is on display in the library hallway for the community to see!