'All That We Carry: The Epic Stitchers and Friends' at Sumter County Gallery of Art beginning Nov. 3


"All That We Carry: The Epic Stitchers and Friends," an earth-based art exhibition of quilts, indigo, sweetgrass baskets and ceramics curated by and featuring the art of renowned quilt artist Torreah "Cookie" Washington, is being presented by the Sumter County Gallery of Art and the Deane and Roger Ackerman Family Fund from Nov. 3 to Jan. 13, 2023, at the gallery, 200 Hasel St.

According to a news release from the gallery, this large-scale exhibition celebrates the joys, the sorrows, the life stuff: physical, mental, spiritual and familial of Black people. The exhibition title is inspired by the National Book Award winner "All That She Carried" by Tiya Miles. The book is about a sack that was handed from mother to daughter beginning in 1850 in South Carolina, since slavery. In this exhibition, artists are asked, "What are you carrying in your sack?" This exhibition of traditional art forms will include pieces that speak to the journey that Black women (and men) are on. What is in the invisible emotional sack that they carry every day? Washington observes, "Black folks talk about walking out of their houses and putting on 'armor' in anticipation of microaggressions and racial discrimination. Black artisans are not a monolith. We come from different walks of life and are profoundly diverse as a people. We all carry different things from our different journeys. We also have our own individual journeys to happiness and healing.

"Acknowledging and talking about our feelings is not something a lot of Black women have been taught to do or have seen modeled. When I tried to talk about my feelings as a child, my mother would say things like 'You're fine' or 'You need to get over it.' We deal with things by pushing our feelings aside, keeping our eye on the prize and getting the task at hand done. Some of us have so much in our invisible sacks. After many years, I eventually came to terms with the fact that this is the world that we live in. I knew that I had a choice to spend the rest of my life in misery or to heal and keep choosing happiness. What do I want to carry forward? When we heal, it unlocks all the joy that's held captive inside of us. So, can we carry joy alongside our pain? Joy in these times requires radical self-care. In the end, I am choosing to carry Joy in my sack… So how will you show the public through your art what's in your sack?"

The exhibition will be in both gallery spaces, and besides the work of award-winning master art quilter Washington, 19 other fiber, indigo, clay and sweetgrass artists will be included.

SCGA Executive Director Karen Watson notes, "The exhibition is also a Black history lesson. Works such as Washington's quilt 'Henrietta Lacks' and Patricia Montgomery's 'Septima Clark' (often called the Mother of the Movement) Civil Rights Coat, Tony Williams' indigo 'The Fabric of Our Lives' chronicling cotton and enslavement and Sylvia Hernandez's 'A Glimpse of Racism.' There are also pieces celebrating Black life and joy - Arianne King-Comer's indigo 'When Sistahs Sing the Gospel,' Angela and Darryl Stoneworth's sweetgrass 'Diamond African Wedding Basket,' Bunny Rodrigues' 'Gullah Women' and Antwon Ford's sculptural sweetgrass baskets."

Washington and the SCGA will combine forces through the educational and outreach component required by the $3,000 SouthArts grant the SCGA that was awarded for this project. Washington will go off site to five of the most rural Sumter County community centers, one center a day (the closest is 8 miles from the gallery, and the farthest center is 16 miles away) to make quilt squares with 100 senior citizens. On Friday evening, Nov. 18, Washington will teach a Quilting Bee for Social Justice for the public from 6-9 p.m. at the gallery. For the Friday night event, SCGA is partnering with Morris College to have 12 to 15 students participate in the activity and dialogue.

The closing event will be a panel discussion "All That We Still Carry - Where Do We Go From Here?" of artists and community leaders.

This exhibition is a community effort. The presenting sponsor is The Deane and Roger Ackerman Family Fund. SCGA was awarded a prestigious SouthArts Traditional Arts Presentation grant. The Sumter County Cultural Commission with support from the John & Susan Bennett Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of S.C., the S.C. Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, Ralph and Toye Canty, Dr. Deanne and Elielson Messais, Ben Griffith and Tammy Kelly of State Farm, the Carson Family, Swan Lake Quilt Guild and Trapp Construction and Remodeling are also sponsors. Flowers are courtesy of Azalea Garden Club and the Council of Garden Clubs of Sumter.