Precious Scraps: Toni Morrison and the African American Quilting Experience

Dr. Riche Richardson, "Love Always: Timeless Toni Morrison"

“As she healed, the women changed tactics and stopped their berating. Now they brought their embroidery and crocheting, and finally they used Ethel Fordham’s house as their quilting center. Ignoring those who preferred new, soft blankets, they practiced what they had been taught by their mothers during the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life. Surrounded by their comings and goings, listening to their talk, their songs, following their instructions, Cee had nothing to do but pay them the attention she had never given them before." - Toni Morrison, Home

In 2021, a time of social distance, Cornell University Library honored the work of Cornell Alumnus, Toni Morrison and the 50th Anniversary of her novel, The Bluest Eye, by engaging Cornellians and Ithaca community members in a hands-on quilting project that they could do at home while connecting in a series of online lectures and workshops organized by Cornell University Library, Tompkins County Public Library, and the Community Quilting Resource Center. It also invited quilt makers from across the country to submit work inspired by Morrison’s legacy.

“Toni Morrison is one of the preeminent chroniclers of the African American experience and, much like quilt-making, she created beautiful, useful, and communal art out of the multiplicity and everyday experiences of her characters,” said project co-organizer Camille Andrews, former Emerging Literacies Librarian at Mann Library of Cornell University Library. “We hoped that our community today, in these difficult times, would find inspiration in her works and legacy as they participated in the quilting project.”

Precious Scraps: Toni Morrison and the African American Quilting Experience showcases the work created as part of the 2021 Toni Morrison Quilting Project, honoring Morrison’s exploration of the African American diaspora experience and paying tribute to the contributions to the art form by African Americans. In novels such as Beloved, Home, The Bluest Eye, and Sula, Morrison uses quilts and quilt making both as metaphor that imbue these everyday objects with a sense of identity, community, refuge, and healing, and as a storytelling device that takes the often-fractured lives of her characters and finds the whole. Morrison earned her master’s degree in American literature in 1955 from Cornell, and she received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. She died on August 5, 2019.

The image above is a detail of Dr. Riché Richardson's piece, Love Always: Timeless Toni Morrison