Kim Taylor, 50, a speech pathologist by trade, began quilting in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president.
“I felt compelled to tell the story,” said the former Baldwin Board of Education trustee. “I thought, we used to be slaves, and we now we have a black president.”
Taylor said she’s not sure why she embraced quilting as her medium, but the link to black history was part of the appeal. “I wanted to connect with something that slaves used to do,” she mused. “Quilting was an art form, but it was also a way for slaves to lead one another out of slavery on the Underground Railroad.”
After the 2008 election, Taylor began researching story quilting. Her passion for the craft grew over the next half decade, and now six of her works are displayed at the African American History Museum in Hempstead.
“Kim came to see one of our quilt exhibits,” said Joysetta Pearse, a retired communications professional who manages the museum. “She said, ‘I’m a quilter, too,’ and that’s how we came together.”
Pearse and her husband, Julius, who, she said, was the first black police officer in Freeport, now work at the museum. Both are genealogists, helping people trace their roots through the African diaspora. They also help select and organize the exhibits.
“We don’t have a large permanent collection,” Joysetta said of the one-story, 6,000-square-foot museum. “Instead we have show exhibits.”
According to Pearse, the museum grew from the small personal collection of Leroy Ramsey, a professor at Nassau Community College. The artifacts, she explained, were displayed at NCC for a time, then in a Hempstead storefront, before their current home was established 1971.
Aside from a few permanent pieces, the collection rotates every two months or so, Pearse explained. The museum welcomes around 10 schools and some 300 visitors per month. Current exhibits include paintings by Ernani Silva of Brazil and sculpture by Vincent Smythe, as well as a grand piano once owned by ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake.