The Artist

Magnificent Art Quilts By African American Quilt Masters

For collectors and admirers, African American inspired art quilts are beautifully crafted textile paintings on display in the finest homes, in public spaces and in museums.

Signifying - Barbara Pietila

I was first introduced to quiltmaking by my grandmother. It was amazing how she turned the need to keep us warm at night into beauty by piecing together family history from grandpa’s old shirt, her apron strings, a baby’s blankets and anything else she chose to give a second life.

Years later while visting a museum I was awestruck by a larger than life quilt that took my breath away.  The quilt was Tar Baby by Faith Ringgold.   I fell in love with quilts all over again and I’ve been a fan of art quilts ever since.

The Origins of Art Quilts …

The tradition of quiltmaking by African Americans dates back to slavery.  It’s been said during slave times some quilts had symbolic designs sewn into them and were hung on the underground railroad trail to help guide runaways to safe houses on the route north.

Art quilts are a contemporary artform that transform traditional quiltmaking into visual storytelling through the use of fabric, embellishment and technique.   Art quilts have become an important element of African American art because they showcase the rich artistry, ingenuity and creativity that is unique to people of African origin in America.

Since quiltmaking is such a rich part of American history, the evolutions of quilting from function to art was inevitable.  The art quilt artists showcased below are masters at bringing the African American experience to life through the Art of Quilting.


Code for Quilts

Harriet Powers is considered to be the mother of African American quiltmaking. Her quilts are considered the finest examples of quiltmaking in the 19th century.  Harriet Powers was born a slave in October 1837.  She used applique techniques to make the images to tell stories in her quilts.


Harriet Powers quilt - Jacob's dreamBible Quilt “Jacob’s Dream” by Harriet Powers, 1886.


Faith Ringgold is one of the worlds preeminent quilt artist. Her painted story quilts recall fond memories of growing up in Harlem and historically significant African Americans.

Faith Ringgold Tar Beach 2Faith Ringgold – Tar Baby 2

Carolyn Mazloomi - Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around quiltCarolyn Mazloomi – Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around quilt

Ed Johnetta Miller quiltEd Johnetta Miller – Quilt


Cuesta Benberry Stars quiltCuesta BenBerry – Stars quilt

Mecklenburg, NC Ode to Romare Bearden  - Michael CummingsMichael Cummings – Mecklenburg, NC quilt ala Romare Bearden

Wildhorses Peggie HartwellPeggie Hartwell – Wild Horses quilt


Denise Campbell - Kenya to Kansas quiltDenise Campbell – Kenya to Kansas quilt

Bisa Butler - Homage to NinaBisa Butler – Homage to Nina Simone quilt

Signifying - Barbara PietilaBarbara Pietila – Signifyin

Yvonne Wells - Me Masked 2Yvonne Wells – Me Masked 2

I hope you have enjoyed this journey.

You may just consider including an art quilt as part of your art collection in the future.

My love of textiles and art has definitely made me a happy collector.

Until next time …

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  • Jamala

    These are truly beautiful quilts.. I have always enjoyed the beauty of quilts and it wasn’t until I went to a quilt museum where I learned they had secret codes … These quilts you’ve shown are truly exquisite….

    • Elle

      Hello Jamala,
      Thanks for sharing how much you love them too. I did this post because I believe these art quilts are fine art worthy to display on any wall, and these artist should be known by everyone. I appreciate your smart eye and agreement.


  • Adanna

    These quilts are beautiful and this is a wonderful tradition to keep and display. I’m really intrigued by the secret codes.

    • Elle


      Yes, an art quilt could be passed down from generation to generation. It would make an excellent wedding gift too. There’s a book “Hidden In Plain Sight” that has documented this theory. Hope that helps.

      Thank You,