Artist showcases black history through quilting

Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner
Local artist Jackie Hill standing beside one quilt in her Black Church Butterfly series. Listed on the quilt are South Carolinian churches Hill has visited.
Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Local artist Jackie Hill standing beside one quilt in her Black Church Butterfly series. Listed on the quilt are South Carolinian churches Hill has visited.

She's a teacher by trade and a historian by leisure.

When Aiken resident Jackie Hill lived in Illinois, she developed a craftier passion – quilting.

“My eyes were opened to the world of quilting as an expression of women's voices and art,” she wrote in her artist's statement.

Raising three children, quilting was an art form she could easily incorporate into her bustling lifestyle.

“It's not instead of my life; it is in the middle of it,” she explained via recent interview.

Two exhibits of her quilts are on display until the end of this month. One is at the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum, the other at the Aiken County Public Library.

Both honor black history.

Hill graduated with a law degree from Georgetown University.

She has also worked on Capitol Hill.

During this time of her life, she studied the U.S. Constitution more extensively.

These studies, fused with her knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, create the foundation of her artwork.

“I love that our governing documents officially demand dignity and human rights to all people. I use my art as a vehicle to help the process of making this ideal a reality for all Americans,” she wrote in her statement.

It took a few more “eye-opening” moments to draw black history into her quilts.

One of her earlier quilts is her 1986 “Statue of Liberty” creation.

Years later, after living in the South for a while, she revisited this piece.

Alone, the “Statue of Liberty” quilt reflects how only certain groups immigrated to America.

“The quilt fails to address the way African-Americans were brought to this country,” Hill wrote in 1998.

In 1999, the artist stitched together her “Blood on the Magnolia” quilt.

The quilt's sections show a timeline – starting from the slaves coming to America to their attempts at freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Hill sewed a list of names on both sides. One side is a list of black abolitionists, the other a list of white abolitionists.

Placing words among her quilts' images is not uncommon for Hill.

She adds this quality not only for her viewers but for herself.

“This is my vehicle to get the message to a bearable form to leave behind,” she said.

Hill writes essays, songs and poems.

Black history has not been her only focus.

This artist has touched on the Native American culture, the Civil and Vietnam Wars, gender issues and more.

“I (was) working through the prejudice and the feeling of 'Got it, got it, got it all together,” Hill remembered on her earlier efforts.

She admits today that she still has “barely scratched the surface.”

“Every single one of these I got re-thoughts on,” Hill added while glancing over her portfolio.

As her perspective and research deepens, she discovers repeating, connecting themes throughout history.

A way she represents this revelation is through recycling imagery. For example, the blood on the magnolia image from her 1999 quilt appears on her 2004 “Triptych Together Healing” quilt.

There is one symbol that has transformed into her central metaphor – the butterfly.

“African-American history is a powerful story of struggle and success much like that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly,” Hill wrote in a recent statement.

The butterfly is a central image of her Black Church Butterfly collection, a series that also addresses black history.

On one of the collection's quilts, a written list of South Carolinian churches Hill has visited is sewn on each side. These include Aiken's Mount Anna Baptist Church, Orangeburg's Greater Faith Baptist Church and Salley's Sardis Missionary Baptist Church.

Hill's poem “Black Church Butterfly” is inscribed onto each of the series' quilts.

A quilt from this series can be viewed at the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum and Aiken County Public Library.

Hill was born in New Mexico but raised in New York.

She has three children and has been married for over 40 years.

Her family and she moved to Aiken in 1985.

One of Hill's next shows will be part of the Juneteenth celebration at Perry Memorial Park, 720 Abbeville Ave. N.E.

The celebration is scheduled on June 21, according to Hill.

For more information, call 803-642-7636.

The Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum is at 406 Park Ave. S.E.

For more information on the exhibit, call 803-293-7846.

The Aiken County Public Library is at 314 Chesterfield St. S.W.

For more information on the exhibit, call 803-642-2020.

Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012.

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