virtual exhibit: signs and shibboleths

Visit Goose Creek Studio's virtual exhibit:

shib·​bo·​leth | \ ˈshi-bə-ləth also -ˌleth \: a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning

Bower Center studio artist Dotti Stone and board members Janet Chalker, Desmond Black, and Revelle Hamilton, have pieces in the exhibit Signs and Shibboleths at Goose Creek Studio, now offered virtually. Be sure to check out the whole story and collection here.

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. Introduction by Janet Chalker, Guest Curator

"When we asked Ozella about the drunkard's path, she turned a quilt over and focused on the reverse side.  Running her fingers along the threads, she said, 'Drunkards weave back and forth, never moving in a straight line.'  She believed the Drunkard's Path pattern was a warning to slaves to move in zigzag fashion and to even double back occasionally on their tracks in order to elude any slave catchers pursuing them." Hidden in Plain View, page 114

Drunkard's Path Dotti Stone Drunkard’s Path is a very simple design composed of changing orientations of 16 squares composed of two shapes: a quarter circle, and the surround. Simple shapes at a glance, but a somewhat advanced pattern due to the curved shapes. In this mosaic interpretation of Drunkard’s Path for this Underground Railroad Project, varying the size of the components of the design adds to the complexity of walking a zig zag route to elude pursuers. Read More

"Ozella thought that Shoofly referred to an actual person who might have aided escaping slave, but she had no further information...Perhaps Shoofly, who seems to be directing the action in this part of the code, was a Prince Hall Mason (from an African American Masonic Lodge founded prior to the Revolutionary War) or a free black familiar with a secret language." Hidden in Plain View, pages 104-105

Shoofly Revelle Hamilton I chose to do Shoofly. Not a lot Is known about this symbol. It Is thought that Shoofly may refer to an actual person who might have aided escaping slaves. In the book Hidden in Plain Sight- A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad it says,"Shoofly told them to dress up in cotton and satin bow ties and go to the cathedral church, get married and exchange double wedding rings".

"She said that the Wagon Wheel quilt, the second one to be displayed on the fence, was a sign alerting slaves to pack provisions for their journey as if they were packing a wagon, meaning that they should think about what was essential for survival during their trip."

Hidden in Plain View, page 84

Wagon Wheel- It's Time

Janet Chalker

In every journey there is a moment when you have to commit.  You must make a plan, pack up and decide it is time to leave; decide it’s time to change.  This quilt block, for me, represents that moment.  It is layered with spiritual connections – the Carpenter’s Wheel, referencing Jesus the carpenter and Ezekiel’s wheel which ran on faith and grace.  We are told to “steal away to Jesus”, to find our own freedom, our own path.  Read More

Ozella also addressed the bear's paw trail, explaining that it was really a visual reference reminding the fugitives to follow the actual trail of a bear's footprints.  These footprints would undoubtedly indicate the best path and would also lead to food and/or water." Hidden in Plain View, page 84

Bear's Paw Desmond Black

This challenge intrigued me in all the messaging and the risks all participants undertook, both in escaping but also assisting those people in their flight.  I took the challenge within my artistic domain, which is woodworking, and chose the Bears Paw block, since the message was to “follow the bears tracks through the woods to the cross roads”. Read More

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