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Improvisation in the Deep South: Quilts exhibition in Michigan

Improvisation is a recurrent theme in the arts and culture of America’s Deep South and in particular its African American community. In jazz and folk art, this sense of improvisation and spontaneity is the engine of creation, instincts that have been praised, copied and inspired by people in many different cultures and media. Textiles, of course, are not excluded from this spirit of inventiveness, with the quilts of the Gee’s Bend from Alabama now appreciated as works of art in their own right and now grace the collection of major institutional and private collections.

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Susana Hunter lived in Wilcox County not far from the Gee’s Bend community, but her aesthetic vision is all her own as her lifetime of work proves. Quilts just like many everyday textiles offer a personal view of the life and work of an individual, a theme that is examined in an exhibition at Grand Rapids Art Museum in The Improvisational Quilts of Susana Allen Hunter until 25 August 2013. The quilts made by Susana Allen Hunter (1912-2005) show her flair for using found material to create hundreds of abstract designed quilts through her life. she and her husband worked as farmers of corn, cotton and potatoes but she reused material that she found and used to create her textile works. The exhibition curator Cindy Buckner describes the work; “She repurposed sacks from cornmeal, flour, and mule feed into her quilts—and even though these sacks came with instructions on how to remove the printing, she chose to incorporate the logos and text on the sacks into her design. While Hunter did not necessarily set out to create works of art, she still made the same kinds of choices painters make, for example, when composing a painting.”

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