Journal of the National Quilting Association
The Power of a Series: Gwen Magee Finds Inspiration in an Anthem
Volume 30, Number 3 (#115) by Eleanor Dugan
The 1900 song, with words by James Weldon Johnson and music by his brother Rosamond, was written for students to sing during a Lincoln's birthday program at the Jacksonville, Florida, high school where Johnson served as principal.
"It's a very powerful and moving song," says Gwen. "Many years ago, it became known as the 'Negro National Anthem' - now sometimes referred to as the 'Black' or 'African American National Anthem.' I well remember singing it at the beginning of almost every elementary and high school assembly program and at community activities. It speaks to our heritage of slavery and oppression, as well as of our hope for equality, freedom, and justice. To the day, the anthem remains a stirring tribute to those women, children and men who were forced to endure unspeakable horrors, both during an din the aftermath of slavery. As a testimony to their hopes for deliverance, it also reflects our pride in their incredible resilience an unshakeable determination to survive. The song is very much alive today and still resonates within African American communities."
Gwen began quilting only ten years ago. "I decided to make quilts for my two daughters to take to college as an expression of my love and a reminder of their home. However, I knew absolutely nothing about quilting. My mother's passion was arts and crafts, and I grew up immersed in them, but she had no interest in sewing. So I signed up for a 'how to quilt' class, intending to make just the two quilts. I never anticipated that quilting would quickly become my primary outlet for creative expression."
"By the time I'd finished the first quilt, I was hooked. After making several more quilts for family members, I felt a need to do something that was my own.' I adapted a traditional block pattern, Rebecca's Fan, making it 'mine'." That was when I completely let go of the light-medium-dark edict. This quilt was created as a special gift for my husband, but he refused to let me put it on the bed. He just shook his head and said, 'No, this is art.' It was that quilt, 'Infinity,' that was exhibited in the 1995 quilt show in Paducah.
"Since childhood, I've been fascinated by color - any color, as long as it is intense, intriguing and/or vibrant. However, it was not until I started quilting that I found a medium where I can manipulate color in ways that entirely please and excite me."
Gwen has complete five of nine project quilts for the "Lift Every Voice and Sing" series. "Each is designed to portray visually the depth and intensity of the feelings evoked by the stanza or line it represents."
"This last quilt was so emotionally draining," Gwen says, "that I've had to suspend working on the series for a short while. But I do already have ides for the pieces that will follow." The five quilts will be on exhibit at the National History Museum of Los Angeles county until September 3, 2001.
Originally from High Point, North Carolina, Gwen Jones Magee has been living in Jackson, Mississippi, for almost thirty years with her ophthalmologist husband D.E. Magee Jr. Her two grown daughters, Kamili and Aliya, live in New Orleans and Atlanta, respectively. Kamili is about to marry, and Gwen is planning a wall quilt as a wedding gift. "It will be either abstract or have a dance theme."
Gwen's quilts have been exhibited extensively, including the 1997-2000 tour, "A Communion of the Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories"; "In the Spirit of the Cloth: Contemporary African American quilts," 1998 at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta; the 1999 - 2001 tour of "Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary Quilts by African American Artists"; and the 2000-2001 tour, "Threads Unraveled - Stories Revealed." Her quilts have appeared in numerous magazines and in Roland Freeman's A Communion of the spirits: African-American Quilters, Preservers and Their Stories (1996); Carolyn Mazloomi's Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts (1998); and Joen Wolfrom's Color Play (2000). One of her quilts will represent December 2002 in a Canadian calendar, "Weaving New Rhythms".
Her early work was based on traditional patterns and hand quilted. Her current work is machine quilted and uses her own designs, ranging from geometric to free flowing to figurative. She uses a variety of fabrics and materials, including hand-dyes, braids, netting, tulle, organza, and metallic threads. Recently, the art of this extraordinary colorist has taken on another dimension, She has begun to experiment with a pallet limited to black and white!
What started as a gift of love to her children has become a serious profession. Yet, the extension of love is still there. "I am adopted," Gwen explains, "and part of my interest in being creative has to do with making something tangible, a legacy for my descendents. Since I have no way of connecting with my past, I look to the future."
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