Monday, January 25, 2010

This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers’ Bible Quilt and Other Pieces

Kyra E. Hicks
Black Threads Press (2009)
ISBN 9780982479650
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views

"This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces" by Kyra E. Hicks is an incredibly engaging and detailed history of two quilts stitched more than a century ago by a former Georgia slave, Harriet Powers. I am not a quilter, have little interest in this type of art, and I am not African-American, so at first glance this book was not something that should have piqued my interest, let alone hold it. In spite of the aforementioned, I found myself spellbound very quickly.

First and foremost there was the subject - a former female slave, presumably not educated at all, who crafted at least two outstanding pictorial quilts that have been exhibited several times and owned by several very interesting individuals. Their history presented several very interesting questions, and Ms. Hicks set out on a quest to answer them. What she found was nothing short of astonishing, and without revealing too much - since this book really reads like an intriguing mystery - I will only say that some of her finds were nothing short of miraculous. My two favorites: some incredible information on Harriet Powers' life and accomplishments, as well as the identity of the person who added some "embellishments" to the Pictorial Quilt. 

If the story itself would not have been enough to hold my interest, I could not have resisted the allure of Ms. Hicks' writing. Yes, the book is incredibly well researched, with roughly 200 bibliographic references, of which most of them are annotative and which cover some 50 pages; and that in itself is fascinating. But what made this book truly special is the incredible joy that shines throughout it, the joy of discovery of new facts and the joy of being able to share that with the world. Ms. Hicks found the perfect balance of authoritative, yet not overly scholarly writing and deeply personal revelations which made me feel like I was sharing a pleasant afternoon chatting with a good friend over a cup of some excellent coffee. 

The only thing that would have made this book even more perfect would have been some good color photographs of both quilts, since the black-and-white photographs as well as the sketches and descriptions made me really curious about them. In the absence of that, I can only hope that the Pictorial Quilt will really be on exhibit next year in Boston, and that the Bible Quilt is going to be exhibited again at some point in time as well.

I believe that anybody who enjoys well-researched historical narrative, as well as anybody curious about quilting, would find "This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces" by Kyra E. Hicks to be a wonderfully enlightening and enjoyable book.