Stand Up, Speak Out was created for the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights which is on display at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas from September 2022 to April 2023. This quilt honors sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke who were active members of the abolition movement and became some of the first women to write and speak publicly in support of women’s rights.
As coordinator for the art quilts which would be in this exhibit, I let the invited artists work with the exhibit curator, Allida Black, to choose the subjects of their quilts. When Allida and I looked at the timeline of the history of women’s votes and women’s rights, it was clear that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were foundational to this history. I read Lift Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd to learn more about these two remarkable sisters. What struck me most was how bold their thinking was for the mid 1800s. I decided I wanted to set the quilt about them in the era when they were alive. I was speaking with my friend Mary Kerr, who does amazing work with antique blocks, and she generously offered a set of Shoofly blocks from the 1860s. I was on my way!
Because signature quilts were a widely used fund raising tool in this time, I embroidered a quote from Sarah Grimke on the white spaces in the quilt, in signature quilt style. I wanted the words to feel like they were handwritten over 150 years ago. “I surrender not our claim for equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”
The shoofly blocks form the top and bottom sections of the quilt which is actually made in three parts. I hand quilted the blocks, all the while thinking of the contrast between how most women in the 1800s spent their time attending to domestic tasks, and the courageous actions and words of these two amazing sisters.
I next began work on the center panel, which features Angelina. I drew a simple outline of a woman in quaker dress. I chose not to use images from two wood block prints made during the sisters lifetime as to me it seemed like they intentionally were made to look masculine, one of the common tactics for belittling women who called for the right for women’s suffrage. The blue ink is water erasable and so washed out once the stitching was complete.
The rest of the center panel is a collage of many elements including a painting of the Massachusetts Statehouse where Angelina became the first woman to speak before a legislative body. I also included quote from Angelina, bits of antique lace and buttons and other elements to help place them in the 1800s.
The quilt is now assembled and has been hanging in the exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center since September. On December 2 there will be a 1 day summit with women leaders from around the globe. The summit will be live streamed and you can watch the proceeding online. www.clintonfoundation.org/womensvoices
Attending the reception and summit will be amazing. One of the great joys of coordinating the art quilts for the exhibit was being able to choose quilt artists I have followed and admired for years and who have dedicated their art and voices to making the world a better place. The exhibit will be on display until April 2023, I hope you get a chance to see it.