Important African American "TVA" Quilt, designed by Ruth Clement Bond and made by an unknown quilter working in the TVA dam sites at the juncture of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, circa 1937. The hand-stitched cotton quilt with cotton batting depicts a young black man with government-uniformed white arm on his right shoulder and a fiddle or guitar in his left hand, held by a woman whose face appears in partial profile upper right foreground and whose form is suggested by two partial curves in the foreground, right edge. The man's head is turned toward his right with his knees bent, against a background of sinking sun and light green foliage. Pale brown border with quilted vine and bud stitching and solid light orange backing. Unsigned. 81" H x 62" W. Note: This is one of five known surviving quilts in this pattern, named one of the top 100 quilts of the 20th century by judges elected from the Alliance for American Quilts, the American Quilt Study Group, the International Quilt Association, and the National Quilt Association. This lot includes a 1978 photograph of the quilt taken at "Seay-Me-Home," the vacation home of its then-owner, Maurice Seay, along with a copy of a typewritten document dated 1976 found with the quilt, describing Seay's connection to the quilt. It states this quilt was given as an expression of gratitude by workers at the Pickwick Dam Village to Maurice Seay, director of the educational program at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam sites during the Depression era. It was designed by Ruth Clement Bond (1904-2005), an African American educator, civic leader, and designer who "helped transform the American quilt from a utilitarian bedcovering into a work of avant-garde social commentary" (Source: The New York Times obituary of Mrs. Bond, Nov. 13, 2005 – https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/obituaries/ruth-clement-bond-101-quilter-and-civic-leader-is-dead.html ). Bond accompanied her husband, Dr. J. Max Bond, to the TVA dam construction sites where he had been hired in 1934 as a personnel manager to work with the black construction workers. He was, at the time, the company's highest ranking African American official. Mrs. Bond supplied wives of the workers living at the various sites with quilt designs, many rich with symbolism, including this one, which exhibits elements reminiscent of paintings by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas (particularly his mural series, "Aspects of Negro Life," 1934). This is one of five quilts in this particular pattern known to exist along with one smaller related textile. The smaller textile is in the collection of the Museum of Art and Design in New York, one quilt is in the Michigan State University African American quilt collection, and a second quilt is in the private collection at TVA Headquarters. The whereabouts of the other two, both documented prior to 1990 by author and quilt researcher Merikay Waldvogel, are unknown. A detailed discussion of these so-called "TVA Quilts" can be found in Waldvogel's book, "Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression" (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990). It contains information from interviews with Bond and two of the quilters, Rose Marie Thomas and Grace Tyler. All offered slightly differing titles and meanings for the quilt. Bond herself stated "The man with his banjo is full of frivolity. He is between the hand of the government [TVA] and the hand of a woman. He must choose between the government job and the life he has known…we wanted to show that he chose the TVA job. It has a hopeful message…things were getting better and the black worker had a part in it." (p. 80). Note: The Seay paperwork dated 1976 (which appears to have been compiled for an exhibit at Western Michigan University the same year) indicates this quilt was made in Northeastern Mississippi, however, the other surviving quilts all have strong ties to the Wheeler Dam construction site in North Alabama. CONDITION: Central image in very good structural condition with even fading and a 3" area of tiny scattered stains lower left; a couple of tiny areas of separation in stitching at lowermost edge of guitar and on subject's left lower leg at edge. Border with overall fading in addition to discoloration and significant color loss along lower section. Scattered smaller areas of border have barely noticeable discoloration (largest is 1"L, positioned along right edge). Documentation with this lot includes a note from this quilt's original owner, Maurice Seay, dated 1988, stating that the bottom of the quilt "was stained and faded as it hung on the north wall in the cabin."
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