The Hollywood film “Hidden Figures” inspired a Dover woman's quilt in a Black History Month exhibit at the Delaware Agriculture Museum.
The Hollywood film “Hidden Figures” inspired a Dover woman’s quilt in a Black History Month exhibit at the Delaware Agriculture Museum.
Quilt guild Stitch in Time’s show opens Saturday. It ends April 19 and features 60 quilts in an array of colors. This year’s theme is “black women telling her story.”
Based on a true story, “Hidden Figures,” now in theaters, is the untold tale of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)— brilliant African-American women working at NASA.
The trio served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.
Stitch in Time co-founder Ann Martin of Dover hadn’t heard of Vaughan, Johnson or Jackson until learning about “Hidden Figures.” Martin, a history buff, decided to pay homage with a quilt.
“They’re great visionaries and they helped to help NASA progress,” Martin said. “I think they call it ‘Hidden Figures’ because the history was not out there. And someone did the research and now we all know about it.”
In another, Martin pays tribute to Althea Gibson, the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. Gibson became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam in 1956.
Fellow quilter Myra Nevius, of Townsend, also honored a tennis star. She chose Serena Williams. Nevius’ quilt features a collage of photos of Williams. The tennis legend won her seventh Australian Open in January.
“She’s a tennis champion phenomenon. There’s nobody else like her,” said Nevius, a big tennis fan.
She began quilting in 1997 when a friend from a Pennsylvania quilt guild was looking for new members. At the time, Nevius’ father wasn’t doing well.
“It really helped me during the time my father was ill, because he never got better, and died,” she said. “But my sanity was my quilting at that time, and it really kept me calm. And I kept it up with it because I really enjoy doing it.”
Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester will be at the opening reception Saturday. She is the first black person elected to Congress from the First State. Also there will be retired magistrate judge Marcealeate Stephens Ruffin of Georgetown, Milton vice mayor Estehelda Parker Selby and community advocate and educator Ruth Shelton.
Quilts in black history
In addition to keeping people warm, quilts were used to lead slaves in search of freedom to the Underground Railroad.
Stitch in Time president Ellen Harmon – grandmother of New England Patriots player Duron Harmon, who's going to the Super Bowl this Sunday – said some quilts had symbolic patterns stitched into them. These patterns were used communicate various messages to runaways.
Typically maids would hang quilts on clotheslines or bushes for scouts to see. Some of the coded patterns included a bear paw. It was a sign that slaves were near water, which meant they could fish there for food, Harmon said.
There was also the bow-tie pattern, a code telling slaves to dress up, form a circle and pretend to have a church service. This was intended to keep the master from suspecting slaves were planning to run away.
Over the last 10 years, Stitch in Time has held their annual quilt exhibit at the Ag Museum.
Museum Director Di Rafter said it’s important to host this show.
“The road to get to where we’re at today [as a country] has been a long road,” Rafter said. “The Underground Railroad was a huge step into freedom and they used their quilts to communicate. Quilting and black history have a lot in common.”