Tag Archives: social issues

Ida B Wells portrait in fabric on the quilt Women's Work. Ida is wearing orange dress typical of 1940's. Her hair is in a know on top of her head. She is arm in arm with Gloria Steinem

Ida B. Wells on Women’s Work

Ida B. Wells (1862–1931appears on Women’s Work on the main level of the quilt, walking arm in arm with Gloria Steinem.  She is included because of her contributions as a journalist, and is notable for her investigative reporting on lynching in America.

Ida was born to slave patents in Holly Springs, Mississippi on July 16, 1862.  However, at the age of 6 months, she and her family were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.  Following the civil war, her parents were active in Reconstruction.  Her father joined the Freedman’s Aid Society and helped star

head and shoulders sketch of Ida B Wells, circa 1940.

Journalist, Ida B Wells. Circa 1940.

t Shaw University.  This school for newly freed slaves is where Ida received her early schooling.

At age of 16, Ida lost both parents and an infant brother in a Yellow Fever outbreak.  As the oldest, she had to care for younger brothers and sisters. So, she convinced a local school administrator that she was 18 and was hired as a teacher. Over the next few years, Ida arranged for her brothers to work as carpenter apprentices, and moved her sisters to live with an aunt in Memphis, Tennessee.  Ida returned to college and honed her journalistic skills at Fisk University and continued to work as a teacher.

Injustice in the South

In 1884, Ida bought a first class train ticket in Memphis. She boarded the train, but was denied a seat in first class.  The conductor told to sit in the car reserved for blacks.  Ida refused and an argument ensued.  The conductor and fellow passengers forcibly removed her from the train.  Ida sued the train company and won a $500 settlement in a circuit court.  On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the ruling, and charged Ida for court fees.  Outraged, she channeled her energy into several editorial articles published in black newspapers.  Using the pseudonym “Iona,” she criticized Jim Crow laws and treatment of blacks in the south.  Eventually, Ida owned and published her own newspaper, Free Speech, in Memphis.

In 1892, three balck men opened a grocery store in Memphis.  Their success drew customers from the white owned store across the street. One night, a group of white men gathered to vandalize the store.  In defending the shop, several white men were shot and injured.  Officials arrested the black store owners.  Later that evening, a white mob took them from their cells and hung them.

Investigation of Lynching

Outraged by the death of her friends, Ida carried out her own investigation of

Cover of book The Red Record by Ida B Wells, showing image of a lynching party.

The Red Record, documents lynching in America

lynching in the South. First, she published her findings in a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors. Later, she traveled to give lectures and wrote a book, A Red Record, detailing the treatment of blacks in the south.   She documented the practice of lynching black men who challenged the authority of whites, or dared to be successful in politics, or business. Using her words, she effectively painted a picture of conditions for blacks in the South.  In a speech she delivered in Boston on February 13, 1893, Ida reported, 

…since invested with citizenship, the race has been indicted for ignorance, immorality and general worthlessness declared guilty and executed by its self constituted judges. The operations of law do not dispose of negroes fast enough, and lynching bees have become the favorite pastime of the South.

The brutal honesty of her reporting angered whites who descended on her newspaper office, destroyed the presses,   The mob proved her words correct when they threatened to kill her if she returned to Memphis.  Ida escaped to England where she continued her anit-lynching campaign, and brought international attention to racial injustice in America.

In 1895, Ida returned to the US, settled in Chicago, and married Ferdinand Barnett, a lawyer and newspaper editor. Together, they raised 4 children and continued to fight social injustice on many fronts. Ida was active in several social justice issues, including women’s suffrage, and equal education for blacks.  She was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Ida continued to write and lecture in the US, and abroad, until her death in 1931.

The False Characterization

Ida’s investigative reporting  uncovered a common justification for lynching. Whites  justified the murder of black men with the assertion that those men would sexually assault white women. Essentially, whites believed that lynching was necessary to protect the virtue of their wives and daughters. 

It is important to note here, that multiple sources, over many decades, consistently show that sexual violence data, disaggregated by race, shows that perpetrators are most likely to be white. In fact, sexual violence by whites occurs at a level of more than double that of blacks. For current statistics visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website: RAINN.org.

My personal take away…

The research for Ida B Wells on Women’s Work led me to a startling realization.  The false notion that black men are inherently “dangerous” exists in my own consciousness. Growing up in a white suburb of Kansas City, I had very few interactions with blacks, so how did I learn this? Upon reflection, I realized that the lessons were part of my growing up. For example, when my family drove into the city, through predominantly black sections of town, my parents instructed us to lock our doors. Now, in my 50’s, I’m adamant that I’m not racist.  However, driving through Denver, the thought that I should lock my car door sometimes pops into my mind.  Those irrational ideas still echo in my head.  Because I’m aware, I will stop it, and I’ll speak up when others perpetuate that idea.

See the Women’s Work Quilt

See Ida B Wells on Women’s Work in person. This quilt will  debut as a featured work in the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights, at the Clinton Presidential Library, in September 2021.  Look for more details on the Events page of this website. Follow this blog for more stories of amazing women. Follow this link to see more of Lea’s Portrait Quilts.

Learn more about Ida B. Wells…

Biography.com Editors (2020, June 24). Ida B. Wells Biography. A&E Television Networks and the Biography.com website. https://www.biography.com/activist/ida-b-wells

Norwood, Arlisha (2017). Ida B. Wells-Barnett. National Women’s History Museum.  www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ida-wells-barnett.

Steptoe, T. (2007, January 19) Ida Wells-Barnett (1862-1931). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/barnett-ida-wells-1862-1931/ 

Editors of BlackPast.org (2007, January 29). Ida B. Wells, “Lynch Law In All Its Phases” transcript of speech delivered at Boston’s Tremont Temple on February 13, 1893,as published in Our Day magazine, May 1893.  BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/uncategorized/1893-ida-b-wells-lynch-law-all-its-phases/ 

Ida B Wells, The Red Record Lynching in the United States. Available free through pdfbooksworld.com. https://www.pdfbooksworld.com/The-Red-Record-by-Ida-B-Wells-Barnett

Wells-Barnett, Ida B., “Southern horrors : lynch law in all its phases,” Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/item/3f4d5d3a67f8ce16f1b00b3cb01dc143

Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. , None. [Between 1940 and 1960?] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2009633545/.


Reduce and Recycle: Mittens From Felted Sweaters

1 seam w/ Blanket Stitch

I recently got together with several women to make something useful out of those old wool sweaters that shrink in the wash.  They aren’t ruined. They are raw material for some pretty fancy mittens.  In my felted mittens class, we learned to make patterns to fit our hands and then cut the pieces from old shrunken sweaters.  This technique is great because it can easily be adjusted for various sizes, it uses the ribbing of the sweater to create a ribbed cuff on the mittens, it has only one seam for each mitt, and an opposable thumb.

 The design options are endless.  If using a floral or striped sweater, that can be worked into the design.  If it’s a plain sweater, buttons, sequins, other yarns can be used to add pizzazz.  Take a look at the wonderful creations that we made.



and more mittens!!




Material Girl

Material Girl: Surrounded with luxury, buried in debt, and still looing for the next shiny thing.  My latest piece is finally finished.  My final step was to add the crumpled papers along the bottom.  They are notices of overdraft, delayed payments, repossession, and foreclosure.  After searching the web for days, I was able to reproduce the series of documents on fabric and then use stiffener to give the appearance of paper.

This is, what I consider, my first deliberate foray into contemporary fine art.  It all started last spring when 2 of my husband’s paintings were included in Au Natural, the Nude in the 21st Century. This was an exhibit in Astoria, OR.  We went for the opening reception and had a fabulous time—love that town, and love those people.  I went as arm candy, but was inspired and challenged to come back next year in my own right.

It was from this that Material Girl was born.  The title actually came before the visual concept.  Knowing that I would be working with fabric, it was a no-brainer.  I also knew that I wanted to depart from the historical photos from which I had been working.  I wanted to create a piece that was contemporary in theme, as well as design.

Thirteen years ago, when I returned to the US from living overseas for a decade, I was struck by the massive amounts of stuff that we, as Americans, buy, own, and throw away every day.  I’ve learned to live with it, but it still disturbs me how, as a culture, we get so caught up in the latest fashion, or gadget. 

I’ve submitted Material Girl for the next Au Naturel exhibit and now I’m waiting for a response.


Art Imitates LIfe Validates Art

peace and grace

Today I’m going to revisit the censorship of my artwork that occurred a few weeks ago.  My piece, The Thin Veneer, was on display at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival as part of a special exhibit.  It was meant to be approached from the back where one would see a group of Geishas involved in calligraphy, flower arranging, etc.  Boughs of cherry blossoms grace the shoulders of the kimono.  It is all meant to evoke a feeling of grace and calm, peace and beauty.


Then, when one walks to the other side of the piece, they view a panel tucked inside the kimono that display pictures of Japanese soldiers committing acts of brutality.  I will admit that some of the images are unpleasant to look at.  That’s why they were chosen.  I feel that, all too often, we simply choose to look away or ignore those things that make us uncomfortable.  It is that treatment of brutality that allows it to continue.  My message was about uncovering those acts of brutality.  Bring them into the light and see them for what they are.  If we don’t like seeing evidence of such violence, we should act to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,  not pretend it never happened in the past.

Being out of the country at the time of the exhibit, I received delayed information through email, but here is what, to the best of my knowledge happened:  Someone associated with the vendors at the show was offended and complained to the person in charge of the vendors.  That person took it upon themselves to pin closed the front of my kimono.  I received the piece back a few days ago and it still had safety pins and a post-it note attached.


Of course, I am a proponent of freedom of expression and I also recognize the rights of the festival promoters to control what is displayed at their show.  I am very offended that they felt they had the right to change my art and leave it on display with my name and title.      I’m mean really, if you are offended by the nakedness of Michealangelo’s David, would you display him wearing a bathing suit?  I think not.

If you object to an artist’s work, then choose not to display it, but to alter it to your own sensibilities and present it to the public is dishonest.  In this case, it proves the very point that I was trying to make with my art. I’m guessing that the irony of their actions never occurred to C.D. Judy.  Even today, does he, or she, understand how their attempts to diminish my work actually validated it?


A Tale of 2 Quilt Shows

The lovely facade

I’d like to start with something like, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,”  but in actuality, it was bad and then it got even worse.


I began last Saturday in the English countryside, where I was staying with a dear friend.  I did a quick check of email before loading into the car a driving to the Fetsival of Quilts in Birmingham, England.  I discovered that one of my art pieces, on display in the US, was being censored.  Really? My work??


The ugly truth.

I’m part of a group called Boundless Fiber Artists.  Our latest group challenge was to use a kimono as the base for our work.  We had created an exhibit called “Kimono Kakushin” which means:  the kimono repurposed or reinvented.  It was on display in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival.  I created a piece titled “The Thin Veneer”  On the back were images of geishas being beautiful and graceful, and, inside the front was a panel with images of Japanese soldiers committing acts of violence against captives.  It was meant to be a statement about how cultures often present as one thing when they are really something very different at the  core of it.  It is human nature to want to show our best selves, but it is not necessarily who we truly are.  This piece was about bringing to light unpleasant truths. 

It seems that someone took exception to my work and had the front closed so that the unpleasantness could not be viewed.  Of course, the artwork now becomes pointless, or perhaps just a victim of the same mentality it was meant to expose.  I was very much displeased with being censored and did not want my artwork to be exhibited in the altered state, but, what can you do half a world away?  I requested that the kimono be removed and the empty stand left on exhibit to speak of the assault on freedom of expression. 


Lea without the Bread Boys, holding back tears

Meanwhile, back in the UK, we arrived to the Festival of Quilts.  Once inside the hall, I acquired a program and set off to find my “Turkish Bread Boys”.  It was entered in the pictorial competition and I had high hopes of winning a prize.  It was quilt # 919. Walking down the aisle, I saw 916, 917, 918, 920… What? It wasn’t there, A quick look around and there was no sign of it. We hurried to the information desk to seek and explanation.  A lovely woman led us back to the correct area, where we retraced our steps.  No, it still wasn’t there.  A panic was rising from my core. After checking with people in the admin office, it was revealed that my piece had never arrived.  They attempted to chase it down through the day, while we walked around and tried to enjoy the rest of the exhibits.  In the end, there was still no sign of the quilt.


Sweet Song from an Old Fiddle is a crowd pleaser

 Another of my works, “Sweet Song from and Old Fiddle,” was being shown as part of a special exhibit titled Metaphors on Aging.  This was well received and people were so complimentary about the piece that it did help take some of the sting out of  losing the Bread Boys.  Those boys, when they finally do get home, they will be in so much trouble.


This weekend that was to be the big finish to a great summer, has suddenly fallen flat.  I’d like to end with a cheerful note, but I can’t.  I write this at 2:00 AM sitting up in a strange hotel room, unable to sleep, wondering what fresh hell tomorrow will bring.