Harriet Powers learned to sew and quilt as a young slave girl on a Georgia plantation. She lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and eventually owned a cotton farm with her family, all the while relying on her skills with the needle to clothe and feed her children. Later she began making pictorial quilts, using each square to illustrate Bible stories and local legends. She exhibited her quilts at local cotton fairs, and though she never traveled outside of Georgia, her quilts are now priceless examples of African American folk art.
The story of a little-known historical figure whose life was sewn together with quilts. Harriet Powers, born a slave near Athens, Georgia, grew up surrounded by textile arts: carding, dyeing, and weaving cloth and sewing and stuffing batting into quilts. The women and girls in her family taught her these arts at an early age, and she promised one day to "sew a magic world." After she married and had children, the Civil War came and went, leaving her large family with no livelihood. Harriet picked up her needle and began to turn nothing into something...something that she loved but sold to feed her family. Though Harriet sewed only two story quilts in her lifetime, their uniqueness and intricacy have made them museum-worthy; the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston now house these works of art. Each of the 11 panels in the "Bible" quilts and the 15 in the "Pictorial" quilt contain a story from the Bible or from history. Punctuating Herkert's narrative of Powers' life are informative historical tidbits impressed onto small, frayed swatches of fabric. Brantley-Newton's airy, colorful mixed-media illustrations include a wonderful array of fabrics with different designs and textures, and the skin tones of the black characters depict a realistically diverse range. Unsourced dialogue makes the book problematic as nonfiction, but as a picture-book introduction to an unsung artist, it inspires. Harriet Powers: an artist worth knowing. (author's notes, bibliography, quilt explanations) (Picture book. 5-8) Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2015)
This picture book biography introduces readers to Harriet Powers, an African American artist who grew up as a slave and was freed by the end of the Civil War. As a young girl on a Georgia plantation, she learned how to make cloth, dye it using natural colorings, and make quilts with appliqué designs stitched on fabric. Powers married and became a wife and mother of five, using her skills as a quilter to help support her family. The story is told in a folksy, conversational tone. Multiple text boxes provide additional information in a clear, distinct style, supporting the main text. Upbeat and cheerful, the mixed-media illustrations (a combination of digital art and gouache) present Powers in a positive light and provide details of her daily life. The endpapers feature reproductions of Powers's two existing quilts, and back matter includes an author's note, a photograph of the artist, and an explanation of each of the story quilts. Overall, this is an illuminating introduction to a largely unknown arts. K-Gr 3. School Library Journal Reviews (August 2015)
Harriet Powers was born a slave, lived in poverty, and probably died without knowing what a tremendous contribution she and her story quilts made to history, culture, and art. Sewing Stories brings contemporary readers the old tradition of quilt making and appliqué. Powers' earliest days were spent in the cotton fields where her family was enslaved, picking, weaving, and dyeing the cotton that eventually made its way into the fabric of her quilts. Pieced into the narrative of quilting traditions is the story of Powers' own life: marriage, children, work, and endurance in the Jim Crow South. Just as seamlessly integrated are the book's tender multimedia illustrations in collage, appliqué, and paint that render history, craft, and personal narrative inextricable from each other. Superimposed quilt squares of informational text supplement the biography like much-needed patches. Both of her quilts are displayed and explained in the back matter. Powers' story is sure to inspire curiosity about quilting and its significance in African American history. Booklist (September 1, 2015)