Quilts Can Express Grief
Mourning quilts are a long time American folk art form that can be found in every corner of life.
Quilt makers have been memorializing loved ones who have died for centuries. They often incorporated items of clothing or bedding that belonged to their dearly departed. They also have used mourning ribbons to express their grief as well as to record this final life passage.
It is interesting to note that once photography became more popular there were pictures taken of the deceased wrapped lovingly in a quilt that was intended to keep them safe and warm for eternity as they lay inside a coffin or casket.
Research shows that in the 19th century, as death became more public and funeral homes began to appear, mourning cloths and fabrics used in quilt took on a more uniform and intentional presence. Black, grey and purple were commonly used colors.
One quilt in particular stands out as a classic example.
The Graveyard Quilt made in Kentucky by Elizabeth Rosemary Mitchell features a graveyard as the center against a field of stars. The coffins in the graveyard and lining the borders of the quilts feature the names of family members. The paper coffins were intended to be moved into the graveyard as each person died.
Unlike mourning quilts of her day, some reports indicate that the quilt, which is housed at the Kentucky Historical Museum, used images that were not commonplace, such as angels, and weeping willow trees.
Back in the day, coffins and graveyards were not typical themes.
On a more social level, quilters have and still are making powerful statements with this fabric folk art. Among the better known ones is the AIDS quilt which is intended to honor as well as remember those who died from the deadly auto-immune disease.
We believe that these individual works of folk art not only allow the folk artists to express their individual and/or collective grief, it can also help them find their way beautifully and poignantly through this deep kind of loss.