She never intended to create a series of quilts dedicated to African-American culture — it just turned out that way. Over the past nine years, Baldwinite Kim Taylor has sewn more than a dozen quilts, ranging from a portrait of President Barack Obama to her interpretation of “Feeling Good,” as performed by African-American singer Nina Simone.
But the subjects are not the only way that she honors her culture; she also does so through the simple act of quilting — an art form popular in Africa that was used by some slaves in the U.S. “I felt like it was a great way of connecting with my ancestors,” said Taylor, 55. “This isn’t just black history. It’s my history.”
She beamed at her creations, explaining the inspiration for each one, as they hung on the wall of the South Nassau Universalist Congregation’s South Ocean Gallery in Freeport, where they will be on display through March 10.
Taylor was introduced to the church’s art committee through her longtime friend Jean Smyth, of Baldwin. “I think they’re gorgeous,” Smyth, vice president of the church’s board of directors, said, later joking, “I really wish we could keep them.”
Smyth said she knew that Taylor quilted, but was surprised by the extent of her work when she saw the pieces. “I thought her work would be a great fit for this space,” she said. The Universalist congregation hosts a new art exhibit every six weeks in its gallery.
This is the second time that Taylor’s work has been on display. In 2013, five of her quilts were exhibited at the African-American Museum in Hempstead.
Her hobby, she said, began in 2010 when she wanted to express the happiness she felt because of Obama’s election two years earlier. “I was just overwhelmed with the enormity of something like that happening,” she said. “I felt like I needed to really express that emotion artistically.”
Taylor said she had tried painting and drawing in the past, but never felt inspired by either. Before 2010, she said, she didn’t know how to quilt, and taught herself by reading about it. “The challenge [of quilting] is wonderful for me,” she said, “I love it so much, and I love what comes out of it.” Each quilt is created by sewing layers of material together through different methods to create various patterns and images.
Taylor spent four months sewing her Obama quilt, titled “Full Circle, A History.” In the center is Obama, surrounded by African warriors. The backdrop is a diamond pattern called Jacob’s Ladder, which is used on Underground Railroad quilts to mark the years that African-Americans spent in slavery.
“And then I just caught the quilting bug,” Taylor said. “It was just a great experience to do that.” Although most of her quilts depict African-American history, some focus on other topics. Her second quilt is an underwater landscape that she created to teach herself different sewing techniques.
One of her most involved pieces details her life in 12 squares, which took her two years to complete.
It was finished just in time for the exhibit, she said. Titled “Life Story (As My Ancestors Would Have Told It),” the quilt follows Taylor from the day her father handed her over to his sister, who raised her, through her childhood in Brooklyn. A yellow ribbon in each square signifies Taylor.
The final one honors her quilting hobby, with a replica of a quilt created by former slave Harriet Powers. The finished product, she said, took two years because she took breaks in between each box. “I had to wait a few months in between each one,” she said, “because I was just so emotionally exhausted. It was a lot of work.”
Taylor said she enjoys creating new quilts and looks forward to creating more, even if she is unsure what she will make next. “I never know what’s going to happen until it’s done,” she said.