A Subversive Aesthetic



Ada Cook Owens

Daisy Adams Stroud

"The African American quilt is a cultural hybrid that expresses special codes through geometric patterns, improvised designs, strip-piecing, bold colors, and distinctive stitches." (Raymond Dobard, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad)) Patricia Hill Collins asserts that African American women can draw on traditional Afrocentric aesthetics that potentially free women from standards of ornamental beauty. Although such aesthetics are present in music, dance, and language, quiltmaking offers the best model for an Afrocentric feminist aesthetic.

Ada Cook Owens (1891-1975) and Daisy Adams Stroud (1891-1981) learned to quilt from their mothers. Quilting provided inter-generational sharing between mothers and daughters. The women created a quilting tradition that empowered them with a sense of accomplishment and value. The quilt provided African American women with a connection to a cultural tradition found both in the South and in West Africa.

Ada Owens, the daughter of Martha Arnold Cook, grew up in the juncture of Oconee, Jackson, and Walton Counties, Georgia. She was the youngest of nine children, of which three were girls. Ada Owens, the mother of six girls and one boy, taught her daughters to sew and quilt. Quilting was one of many domestic responsibilities that women did around the house. A quilting frame hung from pegs in the ceiling of the bedroom, and it could be pulled up at night. Piecing quilts was necessary to provide covers to keep the family warm, but it was not considered important because it was women’s work.

Daisy Stroud, the daughter of Fannie Middlebrooks Adams, was born in Salem, Oconee County, Georgia. The oldest of seventeen children, she began cooking and quilting before the age of 10. Daisy taught all six of her children to be responsible in the home and family life. Not only could all of the girls sew and quilt, but one son made a living as a tailor. Daisy Stroud quilted with the community club of her church. Many of the women’s social activities revolved around quilting. A mid-wife in her community for forty years, Daisy Stroud wove personal expression and empathy into an ethic of caring and quilting.

- Floris Cash