The exhibit “Signs and Shibboleths” was inspired by the book “Hidden in Plain View – A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad” by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond C. Dobard, PhD. This book chronicles Tobin and Dobard’s quest to understand how quilts may have been used to assist runaway slaves. As importantly, the authors connect this coded narrative to the African artistic traditions they brought with them to America. This research took hold when Tobin was befriended by an African-American quilter in a market in Charleston, SC, Mrs. Ozella McDaniel Williams. After several visits, Ozella told her to “write this down” and entrusted Tobin with the long-guarded mnemonic that was used to explain and remember the quilt code.
A group of local artists and artisans, working in a variety of media, have come together to embody this story of audacity and ingenuity. Each of the artist’s work hints at the possible meaning of the block pattern, while also giving testament to the courage, intellect and resourcefulness of those who left and those who stayed to help. It is also intentional that this project has been done by a community of creative folks – since it took a community to reach freedom.
This exhibit was orignially displayed at Goose Creek Studio here in Bedford last April, with covid causing issues we have partnered to display the exhibit here at the Bower Center in our Art Around the Corner Gallery on the Second Floor of the Bower Center.