Aolar Mosely (1912–1999), Blocks (detail), c. 1955
Cotton (even weave, twill, dotted swiss), 75 x 83 in.; The Phillips Collection, Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Like most girls in Gee’s Bend, Aolar Mosely was taught to quilt by her mother, but unlike many of her neighbors, she used a machine that had been purchased by her father. "I ain't never learned to sew with my hand. Most everything I make with a machine." From a young age, she observed her mother going from house to house to participate in quilting groups; she even helped construct the frames used in quilting. She would go with others to the woods, find four long poles, trim them and let them dry. Her father would then nail them together to form the frame. She was married to Wisdom Mosely in 1929, and they eventually had seventeen children, including Mary Lee Bendolph, their seventh child.
It was as a girl that Aolar Carson Mosely, a founding member of the Freedom Quilting Bee, first observed the phenomenon of the quilting bee. Her mother would move from one house to another to join groups of quilters. “They didn’t have something to buy a blanket,” she recalls. “They had to quilt to cover up.” She helped to supply her mother with quilting frames by going with the others into the woods, where they would find four long poles, trim them, and let them dry. Her father would bore holes in the ends of the poles and attach them together with nails.
She started making her own quilts when she was twelve.
I’m going to tell you the truth; we couldn’t get cloth back then like I can now. When an old shirt would wear out, we’d tear them up and sew ’em on. I’d just tear up the shirts and the overalls and make me a quilt. I sewed just as much as I could get me some rags.
Mosely’s quilts display considerable improvisation and originality yet are meticulously assembled. According to her daughter, Mary Lee Bendolph, "She was slow and careful more than me." Unlike many of her neighbors, Mosely used a machine purchased by her father. "I ain't never learned to sew with my hand. Most everything I make with a machine." She lived her final years with her daughter after her home burned in 1984 and destroyed nearly all of her quilts.
Aolar Mosely’s work is in the permanent collections of the Studio Museum in Harlem, Tate Modern, and the Phillips Collection.
Learn more about Aolar Mosely here.
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