The quilt and the symbols in the painting:
Amy V. Lindenberger
Rather than focus on the
possible existence of a quilt code, I chose to use the quilt as a beautiful
“canvas” for recording the road the slaves had traveled thus far:
African “roots” - tree roots
growing down into quilt pattern
Decision to use quilt and “monkey wrench” pattern: The seasonal laying-out
of quilts would have been part of a house slave’s normal work. The
depicted pattern, though known by other names, is a legitimate antebellum
quilt pattern dating back to 1850. Also, though the “quilt code” has not
been proven as fact, I have a great respect for the sharing of oral family
histories, and wish to remain open to the possibility that others will
come forward to corroborate such information.
Red and white as predominant quilt colors: strong preference among West
Africans. Several theories, one is that these colors represent Shango,
the Yoruba god of the storm.
Triangles: some evidence that in both African and Civil War America they
represented prayer, a way of offering prayer or asking for protection.
Flat hand shapes: in Africa, hands are often used as a symbol for
African American "mojo", or hand, as in "helping hand".
Blue and white: for the Mende and Ibo cultures, these colors are thought
to be protective.
patterns and color: like Kente cloth, this creates a visual rhythm and
ensures no straight lines, pertinent to the African belief that evil
travels in straight lines.
Striped fabric: similar to “Men’s Weave” of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
Also, the striped patterns I have employed contain the Nsibidi symbols for
journey or voyage.
Dot patterns on blue: an additional pattern, but also reminiscent of Adire
cloth of the Yoruba people.
Transition to slavery
Background fabrics change to orange with pattern depicting “flames” or
tension: African American culture became a blend of African and Christian
influences. The changing fabric colors go from the blue of water to the
orange of flames, recalling Isaiah 43:2: “When thou passest through the
waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not
overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be
burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
Abolition symbol: this image of a bound slave bearing the words “Free me
from the oppression of man” appeared in “abolition quilts” and also was
incorporated into a wide variety of commercial items during the antebellum
Translucent hands, adult reaching for child: Harriet Beecher Stowe, in
writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had many quarrels with the
concept of slavery, but chief among these was the fact that children were
sold away from their parents. The outstretched pairs of hands represent
Slave images: taken from actual daguerreotypes made in 1850 by J.T. Zealy,
commissioned to document African slaves. The woman’s image is especially
compelling, as female slaves were routinely subjected to humiliation and
stripped of their dignity by being made to strip to the waist as they were
“inventoried” by potential owners.
Slave ship graphics: engraving of a cross section of the slave ship
Brookes, published in England in 1789.
Transition to freedom
15. Flying geese pattern:
flying geese represent migration north.
Deep blue sky, sun coming up behind tree: dawn of a new day,
representative of the future. I made the decision to have the slave’s back
to this part of the image, symbolic of it representing the future she
North Star: Follow the Drinking Gourd, popular slave escape
song, told slaves to look for the “drinking gourd” (Big Dipper) which
pointed to the North Star, a marker for slaves as they made their way
Tree, shown in early leaf, representing Spring: the best time to begin an
escape. Also, represents the present (living tree itself), sending roots
into the past, and growing indefinitely towards the future. And symbolic
of Jeremiah 17:7 - 8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose
trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its
roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves
remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not
cease to bear fruit.”