Quilts in Nott exhibit offer hope for Liberian women

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Beautiful, hand-stitched quilts from West Africa will be on display in the Nott Memorial as part of the “Liberia’s Hope Quilting Initiative.”

The quilts, which touch on a variety of American and African themes, were crafted by a group of women who call themselves Quageh, which comes from the Kpelle language and means “we can make it.” The women, who had fled the civil war in Liberia in 2004, began making the quilts to help support their families when they returned to their native country, where nearly 80 percent of the people are unemployed.

Liberian quilt

An opening reception featuring Kyra Hicks, an expert on the history of African-American quilts, will be held Feb. 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Nott. Hicks is the author of a children’s book, “Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria,” the story of a freed slave from Tennessee living in Liberia in the late 1800s who makes a quilt for the queen.

The show, which runs through March 11, is one of several programs focusing on women and their unique contributions to society during the College’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of co-education at Union.

“These quilts express important cultural and spiritual values of the women who make them, said Karen Ferrer-Muñiz, director of Multicultural Affairs and one of the show’s coordinators. “They also document the important social and cultural connections between quilting and preserving traditions such as women's groups organizing themselves to stand up and provoke social change.”

The project was brought to Union by Joseph James III ’69, president and founder of the Corporation for Economic Opportunity (CEO), which assists disadvantaged communities in the U.S. and West Africa.

Besides Ferrer-Muñiz, others who helped with the exhibit include Gretchel Hathaway, senior director of Campus Diversity and Affirmative Action; Matt Milless, director of Student Activities; and Sarah Iacobacci, senior administrative assistant to the President’s Office.

“We are so grateful to Union for once again spotlighting Liberia,” said Gradia Melrose Gbarbea, co-founder and past president of the Liberian-American Association of the Capital District. In 2007, the College featured two child soldiers from Liberia who discussed their experiences in the civil war.

“In our tough economic and political times, it’s encouraging that an institution like Union reminds us of our special relationship with Liberia.”