Author: Kyra E.
Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest, Kyra E. Hicks author of This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces.
Kyra has also authored Black Thread: An African American Quilting Book Sourcebook and the children's book Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria. In addition, she has co-authored Liberia: A Visit Through Books.
Good day Kyra and thanks for participating in our interview
Why and how did you become interested in Harriet Powers? Why
did you feel compelled to write This I Accomplish: Harriet
Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces?
Norm, Good morning to you! I am a quilter and have been familiar with the Bible-themed quilts of Harriet Powers (1837-1910) for many years. Her quilts are likely the most referenced quilts in American quilt history. About two years ago, I started to compile an annotative bibliography of references to Mrs. Powers and her quilts. I started to notice that some historians would make statements about Mrs. Powers and her quilts and not cite any primary resources. For example, some have written that Mrs. Powers, who had been a slave in the Athens, Georgia area, was illiterate. I became very curious about these statements and started to investigate to see if I could find primary references from the nineteenth century. Little did I know where my curiosity would lead!
In the course of my research, a copy of an 1896 letter FROM Mrs. Powers was located. Can you imagine – finding a copy of a letter from a former slave about her artwork?
Does your book have a broader mission than simply telling a story? If so, can you tell us more about that mission and what you hope readers will take away from the book?
I am also very interested in capturing and rediscovering the history of African American quiltmaking. I wonder how does the work of a quilt survive more than one hundred years. How does one learn about the patchwork artistry decades after one has made a quilt? Who documents the quilts and quilter’s story?
I remember when I was compiling the bibliography on Mrs. Powers a couple peopled asked why I would spend the time researching one of the most famous American quilters. The thought was that she was well researched and no new information would be available. I didn’t start with the concept of writing a book about Mrs. Powers. I started with trying to compile information and then just followed my curiosity and tried to learn about the people who may have touched or owned the quilt.
What an adventure! I met a gracious granddaughter of the first owner, after Mrs. Powers, of the Pictorial Quilt now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She took me to the Synton House (http://syntonhouse.com), where the quilt actually hung with simple tacks on the wall. I learned about a little boy who drew very distinctive imagery on the Pictorial Quilt. No previous historian had ever uncovered this information. I learned in greater depth about those whose life later touched the Pictorial Quilt such as Boston socialite Martha Catharine Codman (1858-1848) and her husband Russian art collector Maxim Karolik (1893-1963). For the Bible Quilt by Mrs. Powers now at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, I was amazed to learn that there was a potential for the Bible Quilt to have gone at one point to the University of Georgia, Athens as a gift! I wish I could have spoken to Harold M. Heckman, Anne Wallis Brumby, or William Porter Kellam – all now passed away and formerly associated with the University of Georgia. Each had a unique role in the Bible Quilt story.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part was the adventure – the following of leads and threads of information. For example, it was a wonderful gift to speak to Adolph S. Cavallo, the textile curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who first examined the quilt for the museum in 1960. He was generous in sharing his first-person impressions of what would become one of the most famous quilts in the US.
Where did you get your information and ideas for the book? Can you tell us something about your research techniques?
I love the PBS show History Detectives. I read lots of mystery novels. For the research on Harriet Powers and her quilts, I tried to not automatically believe what was written, but to find primary references or speak to people who may have had first hand knowledge. Starting with the annotative bibliography was the key for me. I simply followed “clues.”
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
One of the challenges of writing non-fiction is that there is always more information to find. I was literally days from going to press on the book, and was on Google doing some search and came across a references to a bit of information I could not find for love nor money! I wanted to see proof of how much the Pictorial Quilt at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was purchased for in 1960. The museum did not have the record. The family that sold the quilt did not have conclusive records. The executor of the estate for Maxim Karolik had passed away, so I could not ask him. Then there was this Google search result from the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). Of course, I had searched Google in the past. It seems that Google had finally indexed a record from the MHS about the Karolik estate. The MHS staff was heroic and found the specific record with the amount the quilt was purchased for. I had to re-write a couple passages in the manuscript to incorporate this new information. What a race that was!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?
I learned so many new facts about Harriet Powers and her quilt
while writing this book. I self published this book. What was
most surprising was how accessible the process was. Essentially, I
used Microsoft WORD to write the manuscript, jpegs for the photos in
the book. I hired a copywriter and book cover designer. The
best resource for the self-publishing process, for me, was Aaron
Shepherd’s book “Aiming at Amazon.”
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything
in your latest book?
There is nothing I would change. I wish I had more money to travel to other places to do more extensive research. Mrs. Powers stitched at least five quilts. Given that two of her quilts have survived independently more than one hundred years each, I believe there can still be a Powers quilt in a private collection today. I believe there is a mystery to be solved about Harriet Powers and her quilts in Alabama and in Iowa, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why!
Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers’ Bible Quilt and Other Pieces is available at most major online bookstores. I invite your readers to visit www.BlackThreads.blogspot.com, my blog on African American quilting news and history. Or, email me at Black.Threads@yahoo.com if you’re interested in how to obtain an autographed copy of the book.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavours.
Kyra: Thank you!