Quilts & Coverlets
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  • Nora McKeown Ezell (1917–2007)
  • Eutaw, Alabama
  • 1977
  • Cotton and synthetics
  • 94 x 79 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum purchase made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with matching funds from the Great American Quilt Festival 3, 1991.13.1
  • Nora McKeown Ezell was a virtuosic quiltmaker whose work suggests the persistence of African aesthetics in African American folk art. Ezell was born in Brooksfield, Mississippi, in 1917, but grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. Needlework was always a part of her life. As a young girl, she particularly enjoyed home economics courses, where she learned to sew by hand and to make her own clothes by machine. She learned to quilt by watching her mother and aunt but took pride in the originality of the designs that she adapted from traditional patterns. Ezell rarely bought material for her quilts because she felt that using scraps was part of the artistry of quiltmaking. She fondly recalled the thrift of her childhood, when women made quilts and clothes from printed feed and fertilizer bags and also unraveled bags for thread.

    Ezell’s vibrating Star Quilt is a remarkable adaptation—informed by African aesthetic principles—of the traditional eight-pointed Star of Bethlehem pattern. Improvising freely, Ezell replaced the traditional central star with an asymmetrical composition that combines stars of different sizes with incomplete stars. Smaller sections made of small-scaled geometric prints contrast with larger areas of bold color, and an unexpected floral border frames the entire quilt. At the lower right, a band of blue and white diamonds and green triangles recalls African textiles made in strips. This design is the result of both careful planning and trial and error. A perfectionist, Ezell ripped out areas and reworked her quilts until she has achieved the effect she wanted. In addition to “puzzle” quilts like Star Quilt, Ezell also made history and Bible story quilts.
  • Photo by Scott Bowron