30 x 40″
Acrylic on canvas
This painting, created in 2015, is based on the concepts of personal freedom and limited government. It utilizes the symbolism of the Shoofly Quilt Pattern developed by the Underground Railroad (see description below) and the Statue of Liberty. Quotes by Reverend C.L. Bryant and Bob Marley are also included in the painting to further define the concepts of perseverance and personal struggle involved in the quest for freedom.
The Statue of Liberty is a recurring theme in much of my art, designed to inspire action on behalf of the universal theme of freedom. It has been one of the most enduring symbols in my political and conceptual art. As seen here, I have developed my own stylized icon of Liberty to build recognition and brand the concept as part of my overall mission as an artist.
More recently, the concept of freedom has become a symbol in my work on social issues; most predominantly on the subject of human trafficking. I plan to utilize both the Shoofly Pattern and Statue of Liberty more extensively in future work advocating against this horrible industry.
Though there are many quilt patterns that were designed for use as communication for the Underground Railroad, it is the Shoofly pattern that is of particular interest to me. It is believed to have been the symbol for the presence of a person who was responsible for and capable of providing assistance to slaves seeking safe passage. I use it in my work as a reminder that we are our own keepers, and the first in line of responsibility for defending our own liberty.
Quilt patterns of this kind had roots in African traditions and were shared orally through the tradition of passing on stories that had been committed to memory. If members of the railroad were careful, this system could be used without detection. There is much debate as to whether or not there was any symbolism in quilt patterns, but it is an inspiring idea nonetheless. It is certainly intriguing enough to be used intentionally through my art as a means for communicating an idea that should be quite simple but often becomes muddled by human weakness and political agendas.
The Shoofly Quilt Pattern
A network of abolitionists and safe havens known as the Underground Railroad were integral to the escape of slaves in America between the Revolution and Civil War. Because slaves were not permitted to learn to read, it is believed they developed and shared symbols for communicating through quilts.
These quilts were presumably hung out to air, but served the dual purpose of communicating messages. There is much debate about the validity of this practice, but it is conceivable that such a system would go unnoticed by anyone outside of the Underground network.
Imagine the time and planning required to develop and learn patterns, construct quilts, and schedule their display for communication purposes. It is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of the human spirit in pursuit of liberty, its cultivation and its defense.
References for additional information:
Frances Byrd is a stay-at-home mom, community volunteer, and artist. She loves all things old, living in the country and keeping chickens.
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