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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

A book review by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD

This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and other Pieces
by Kyra E. Hicks

This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces is the new book by Kyra E. Hicks. In it we learn facts never revealed about Harriet Powers, the former slave, born in 1837, who became the recognized quilt maker known today for her primitive style appliqué quilts depicting tales from the Bible and American history.

Kyra’s intimate style of revealing her research findings, step by step, feels like a Nancy Drew mystery unfolding before me. It is a page turner. “This I Accomplish” is intended for adults, but certainly would be enjoyed by younger history buffs, too.

What little has been known, until now, of Harriet Power’s life has been documented in several publications and exhibits. The workmanship displayed in her quilts have always been heralded as joyous, remarkable for their colorfulness and creativity. Yet, often Harriet’s illiteracy was used to justify or explain the primitive quality of her symbolism of Bible stories in appliqué figures and shapes. As Kyra’s research findings prove, Harriet was reading the Bible herself from a young age.  

Mary Lyons, author of “Stitching Stars, the Story of Quilts of Harriet Powers,” shows a corollary between her animal shapes and those of appliqué clothworkers in Abomey, Dahomey, (now Benin) in West Africa.

The intimate quality of this delightful book about a wonderful African-American 19th century woman is Kyra’s passion and joy exclaimed at each successful juncture in her discovery process. Reading her portrayal of the process of researching quilt history is like watching a reality show. Her highs, lows, questions, assumptions, hopes, surprises, searching and deciphering are all included in this informal yet packed with details book. The genealogy of all persons involved, a little to alot, is a large part of the book. The impact covers a broad range of people in America’s history.

Kyra establishes beyond a doubt that Harriet made more than two quilts. She delves deep into the history of the Pictorial quilt, which features blocks depicting both Bible stories and weather events in America’s past. Kyra’s deep respect and admiration for Harriet is easily sensed throughout the book, making Harriet become a real person and furthering my appreciation of her life.

Synchronicity reared its lovely head many times in Harriet’s life. For example, without giving anything away, if a particular man from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had not been sent to visit Doris Bowman at The Smithsonian Institute at a particular time, the awareness of there being two similar quilts would not have taken place as early as it did. No one else but he and the curator had seen the Powers’ quilt in the Boston museum’s collection at that time.

About half of the book is a long version of the tale of discovery of Harriet Powers, her quilts and their owners and it contains photos. The last half of the book is broken into sections with detailed additional information to document Harriet Powers fully and to aid future researchers.

There is a complete (currently) annotated bibliography, including books, articles, exhibitions, reproduction and homage quilts, plays and poems, newspaper articles, videos, art and mixed media and so on. What a gift!

There is a timeline. It is inclusive of the first half’s main findings and adds many historical events, exhibits and inventions to help readers see Harriet and her quilts from a contextual and life-cycle perspective.

It would have been wonderful if more questions could have been answered as certain as others, but Kyra offers many opportunities for future researchers and poses them as research questions in the concluding pages of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I hope more information will rise to the top to answer unresolved questions now that the book is in the public’s hand. Kyra Hicks has proven that digging deeper dismantles long held assumptions, raises new questions and alters history forever. Harriet is no doubt smiling down from above. Maybe she can give someone a nudge.

Kyra Hicks, with her book, will be my guest interviewee in October on Women On Quilts. The lines will be open for
Q & A.

This I Accomplish
is available on Amazon.com now.


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© 2009 - 2015 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted. Phone: 805-649-182

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