‘One American Family’ quilt exhibit to offer unique insights into 19th century slavery, set to open April 22 at URI

Author who inspired exhibit to speak

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862 |
Rachel May. Photo courtesy of Rachel May.

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 4, 2019 — The University of Rhode Island’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design will open the “One American Family: A Tale of North and South” exhibition, Monday, April 22 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The exhibit is inspired by Rachel May’s book, “An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery.” May began research for her book when she was a doctoral student at URI, and enrolled in a graduate class focused on studying material culture using object-based research. May will do readings from her book as part of the opening and reception April 22 in Quinn Hall, 55 Lower College Road, Kingston Campus. The program is open to the public.

After opening night, the exhibit will be open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through December 6, 2019 in the Textile Gallery on the first floor of Quinn Hall.

Two unfinished quilts, donated to URI by Franklin Cushman, great-nephew of Susan Williams and Hasell Wilkinson Crouch, triggered May’s interest in their history and resulted in her writing a book on the subject. The exhibit will feature the two quilts created by the Williams-Crouch family that have been passed down through generations since the 1830s, as well as men’s and women’s clothing from this pre-Civil War era. There will also be a Williams-Crouch family tree on display.  May’s book focuses on the largely unacknowledged history of these three women.

Graduate students of URI’s Textile Marketing and Design Department are creating the exhibit under the guidance of Rebecca Kelly, an adjunct faculty member in the department, and textile historian and conservator. The students will present their research opening night.

“The interesting thing about material culture is that it really tells a story,” said Kelly, the coordinator of the event. “We can learn so much from studying the history of these objects, and in this case, Rachel May and our graduate students have worked hard to understand the inextricable history of the slaves who worked for the Williams-Crouch family, and the family themselves. I think this gallery is really a public forum where we can share our treasures with the entire University community, which we are thrilled to do so.”

Rachel May received her bachelor of arts in English from Davidson College, then her master of fine arts from the University of Montana in 2006. She then earned her doctorate from the University of Rhode Island in 2015. She is the author of The Benedictines, a novel, The Experiments: A Legend in Pictures and Words, sewn images and short fiction, and Quilting with a Modern Slant, which was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal & Amazon.com and favorably reviewed in The Chicago Tribune, Publisher’s Weekly, The Library Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Providence Journal, and MarthaStewartLiving.com. Her writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Volta, LARB, Cream City Review, Word for/Word, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, Meridian, Sleepingfish, and other journals. She’s been a resident and fellow at The Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and The Millay Colony, and is an assistant professor of English at Northern Michigan University.

This story was written by Lauren Poirier, a sophomore English and public relations major and intern at the University’s Department of Marketing and Communications.