African American artist immortalises Nat Turner’s slave rebellion using quilt

Nduta Waweru May 05, 2018
The Baptism of Ethelred T. Brantley 2018 Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, acrylic paint, acrylic fiber medium, resin buttons 29.5" x 40". Photo: Stephen Towns

Quilting is one of the skills that date back to slavery in America. African American women, most who worked in the homes of wealthy slave owners, would quilt for their masters and for their personal use.

Over the years, quilting has been used for different things and purposes, one of which is to create art.

Baltimore-based artist Stephen Towns has used quilting to tell the story of Nat Turner. In 10 quilts, he captures Turner’s upbringing and the slave rebellion he led.

Turner was a black American slave who led a slave rebellion in 1831. The rebellion is considered the most effective and sustained revolt by slaves in the United States history. His actions, however, caused a serious backlash, which included legislation that limited the movement, education and assembly of slaves.

In the exhibition called Ruminations and a Reckoning at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Towns captures the various stages of Turner’s life.

On why he chose quilting, Towns said was the only way to tell the story.

“Quilting was the only way to get it done because it’s an old tradition; it’s a tradition that African-Americans have used for many years; it’s a way of preserving memory through fabric,” he said in an interview with Hyperallergic.

The work was not without challenges. Towns says that he had wanted to buy the huge first American flag but he could not afford it. He was forced to use the resources he had.

He also had to deal with messing up the quilts in the process of self-teaching himself.


The Ruminations and a Reckoning exhibition is Towns’ first exhibition and continues until September 2, 2018.

Last Edited by:Nduta Waweru Updated: May 5, 2018


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