Dorothy Straughter is Leaving a Legacy in the Art Quilting World

Conversations with exhibit attendees give Dorothy the opportunity to discuss the history behind her quilts. Here she discusses “The Great Migration” with a patron at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative in Chicago. Photos by Antonio Dickey.

It’s that time of year again – when we take stock of our accomplishments and goals as artists. Like many of my art quilting colleagues, I have my own personal list of goals for 2019. But the big picture of a life spent immersed in creativity may sometimes find itself pushed aside as short term goals are met. Baby quilt finished? Check. Masterful art quilt bound and sent to Houston? Not yet . . .

ABOVE: Conversations with exhibit attendees give Dorothy Straughter the opportunity to discuss the history behind her quilts. Here she discusses “The Great Migration” with a patron at the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative in Chicago. Photos by Antonio Dickey.

What about those bigger goals–maybe the ultimate goal–of creating a body of work that reflects a lifetime of accomplishment. In other words, have you thought about your quilting legacy?

Detail of “Massa Gone” showing an enslaved man mourning the death of his master. “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground” is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1852, the lyrics of which declare the grief of the enslaved after the death of their owner.

Detail of “Massa Gone” showing an enslaved man mourning the death of his master. “Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground” is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1852, the lyrics of which declare the grief of the enslaved after the death of their owner.

The December 2018/January 2019 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine explores the concept of legacy in many ways. From the 18-year-long series of artist Jill Jensen to the tenth – and final – curated exhibition of Dinner @ 8 artists, art quilters can make a strong impact impact with their work. What about collecting a history of the art quilt? Sandra Sider did just that, and is sharing her research with our readers in a three-part series. Our Spotlight essay highlights Leotie Richards’ quilts based on American folk heroes.

And then there’s the work of Dorothy Straughter. Read on for an excerpt from Rosemarie DeBoer’s profile of this inspiring artist whose legacy highlights the African American experience in her quilts.

Dorothy Straughter

Dorothy Straughter

Artist Profile: Dorothy Straughter, Chicago, Illinois

Dorothy’s quilts tell the stories of a history that is often neglected. In addition to creating her own quilts on the topics of the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration, Dorothy has also made quilts after researching negrobilia, collectibles and artifacts that expose some of the painful stereotypes of black people, particularly in advertising in the 20th century.

With a need to first understand the history, Dorothy’s quilts begin with research—much of which is done at the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago. This hybrid gallery, media archive, library, and community center is housed in the restored Williams Gibbons Uffendell-designed bank that had been built in 1923. After being vacant for over 30 years, it was refurbished and reopened in 2015 and is now a destination for artists and scholars alike.

Of particular interest to Dorothy is the Edward J. Williams Collection with over 4,000 objects and artifacts of the plight of African Americans throughout the years. Edward Williams initially began buying racist ephemera from antique and secondhand stores to remove it from circulation. The collection grew and when he retired, at the request of his wife Ana, the items were moved to the Stony Island Arts Bank where they are in the process of being catalogued and preserved.

A detail from “Sweetheart”.

A detail from “Sweetheart”.

Knowing of her interests in black history, people also recommend or give her books that at times support her direction, but also might challenge her to pursue additional information. The study and research is ongoing, and accuracy of the times and the events is critical to her artistic interpretation.

Expressing the Unspoken

While the imagery that Dorothy explores in her quilting portrays a painful period of history, she feels that art quilts are a good medium express difficult and often unspoken topics. Quilts feel less intrusive, yet at the same time, can illuminate intrusive messages. She is captivated by this duality.

Students from Clissold School in Chicago attended an exhibit as a history lesson. The quilt shown here is the front of “Sweetheart”.

Students from Clissold School in Chicago attended an exhibit as a history lesson. The quilt shown here is the front of “Sweetheart”.

While her quilts are grounded in history, the imagery is very emotional. She begins with the visuals that she has found or looks for references to the time period. After she is satisfied that she has an accurate historical perspective, she collects her fabrics. With her son away at university, Dorothy uses his room as a workspace.

Dorothy explained that she works from the facts of the time period, and then moves to the feelings. She states, “As I sew, I feel the passions of the individuals and reflect on how their lives must have been. The images give me strength to pursue even more research even after the quilt is complete.”

With a subject matter that is both painful and at times provocative, Dorothy’s work has received a wide range of reactions. The words “Awesome. Profound. Disgusting. Unbelievable. Thought provoking.” are among the comments that she has heard. She has often been asked, “Is this real history?” Because one of the goals from making the quilts is to promote discussion, she is always open to conversation and engaging in meaningful conversations. She acknowledges that there will be a wide range of reactions.

–Vivika

Learn More About Dorothy and Art Quilting in Quilting Arts

For more on Dorothy’s path to becoming an art quilter, read the full article in the Quilting Arts December 2018/January 2019 issue.

Want to learn more about Dorothy’s legacy quilts, and maybe consider the legacy you are creating with your art quilts? Download the December 2018/January 2019 issue now, or better yet, subscribe to Quilting Arts and never miss a copy. Your legacy is built one stitch at a time.

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