The Improvisational Quilts of Susana Allen Hunter

May 10, 2013 – August 25, 2013

Using her innate flair for abstract design, Susana Allen Hunter (1912–2005) created hundreds of colorful improvisational quilts throughout her lifetime. From the 1930s to the 1970s she lived in Wilcox County, Alabama, and created brightly patterned quilts that reflected her life in that rural community as well as her experiences as an African-American woman. Hunter turned the fabric of everyday life into eye-catching quilts with an abstract, asymmetrical and often modern aesthetic.

Hunter’s quilts were created from the fabric of everyday life—worn clothing, leftover fabric, empty grain sacks, and more.

Hunter and her husband Julius made their living farming, growing crops such as cotton, corn, and potatoes. Wilcox County, also home to the quilting community of Gee’s Bend, was among the poorest counties in the United States. Like everyone else in their community, the Hunters worked hard and resources were few. Hunter’s genius lay in creating beautiful, functional objects from what little material was available.

Though she was working with preexisting formats such as strip and medallion quilts, she was not following a set pattern and made design decisions as she went. Quilts were fashioned from whatever fabrics were at hand, and she incorporated worn clothing, leftover fabric scraps, and empty grain sacks as design elements. While the size and shape of the scraps were one determining factor of the design, it was the overall visual impact and balance that mattered most.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum presents a spectacular selection of Hunter’s colorful quilts, on loan from The Henry Ford.

Made possible by:
Grand Rapids Kent County Convention Area Authority
Bill and Kate Scarbrough
Varnum LLP

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