December 31, 1862, was a very special evening for the enslaved Africans. It was the night before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all the slaves in the Confederate states. I then realized she was carrying her child, wrapped in a quilt, to the Praise House; small places of worship built on plantations during slavery.
On the quilt I was inspired to paint many patterns. Patterns and symbols associated with the Underground Railroad Secret Quilt Code such as;
North Star: A signal with two messages--one to prepare to escape and the other to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. North was the direction of traffic on the Underground Railroad. This signal was often used in conjunction with the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which contains a reference to the Big Dipper constellation. Two of the Big Dipper’s points lead to the North Star.
Log Cabin: A symbol in a quilt or that could be drawn on the ground indicating it was necessary to seek shelter or that a person is safe to speak with. Some sources say it indicated a safe house along the Underground Railroad.
Flying Geese: A signal to follow the direction of the flying geese as they migrated north in the spring. Most slaves escaped during the spring; along the way, the flying geese could be used as a guide to find water, food and places to rest. The quilt maker had flexibility with this pattern as it could be used in any quilt. It could also be used as a compass where several patterns are used together.
Also sewn in the quilt is a piece of the Confederate Flag, representing her soon to be past and the blood, sweat and tears shed; which she and others endured during slavery and oppression. Also, spilling over the edge of the old steel drum top is the United States Flag representing freedom for all. One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The quilt futher represents her hopes, dreams and prayers, not only for her child and herself, but for generations to come.
The look in her eyes is one of hopefulness yet sorrow, joy and pain. Most of all, her eyes reflect her desires to be free and for the freedom of all of her future generations.
I remember the overwhelming emotions that filled my eyes as the Confederate Flag was removed after the murder of nine innocent African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Although not nearly as emotionally moving as it may have been for her on New Year's Eve in 1862, after being enslaved most of her life and witnessing and experiencing the suffering, torture and killing of so many, I understood and experienced just a glimpse of her emotions.
Suddenly it dawned on me, that this New Year's Eve will be the first time in my generation that, that same flag; which represented slavery and oppression to her, will not be flown over the Capitol of South Carolina. It was put up 54 years ago to protest the Civil Rights Movement and was never removed until 2015. Her prayers of FREEDOM were answered. So, I named this piece, 'Amazing Grace.'
"South Carolina taking down the confederate flag - a signal of good will and healing, and a meaningful step towards a better future." - President Barack Obama
I'm a strong believer that every piece of art that God inspires me to create, He already has someone predestined for it. It's just a matter of the person finding their piece. I created this piece entitled, 'Rejoicing' on an old piece of tin I found here in South Carolina. As I was leaving for Washington D.C., this piece of tin spoke to me and was ready to reveal the story which was within it. She emerged after my visit to Georgetown in D.C. She was rejoicing because she made it North to freedom! In the late 18th century and 19th century African Americans comprised a substantial portion of Georgetown's population. She was now a testament of freedom along with the African-American history that remains today at the Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Georgetown, which is the oldest African-American congregation in Washington.
Months later a lady saw an ad in a newspaper in Columbia showcasing my art exhibit. She and a friend came to my exhibit a few days before it opened and I just happened to be there delivering my work. She came in with striking red hair and green eyes; the same charateristics as another painting in the exhibit, which I call 'Cotton'. So, immediately that became her nickname. In hand was the image she had clipped out of the paper. She said when she saw it in the paper, she had to find me. She and her friend started observing my art. Then suddenly she saw 'Praising' and right away she said, "She speaks to me and I want her." Her friend also found a piece that spoke to her as well.
It was not until recently that Chris, whom I call Cotton, discovered and read more about the piece'Praising' finding her way to freedom. Chris then wrote these words to me.
"I found Praising , never knew that it also meant she made it North. Maybe I felt such a connection because I also made it back to freedom without getting killed during World War II and free from German occupation where we were treated like slaves or worse." - Chris
She not only felt the connection to this piece spiritually, but also the understanding of her struggle. 'Rejoicing' found her home with Chris and everyday she is a reminder of gratefulness and joy in her home. She symbolizes what they both understand, 'Freedom.'
Artist Sonja Griffin Evans
"Art Speaks." Travel Blog