Local Artist Decodes Slave Quilts With Mixed Media



In their search for freedom, slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad sometimes found directions to freedom on clotheslines.

This method of communication, which allowed runaway slaves and their allies to communicate via symbols sewn into quilt patterns, inspired Cordelia Dohse-Peck's series, "The Underground Railroad Quilt Code," on display until Sept. 30 at the Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County.

The exhibit is comprised of 10 mixed-media quilt patterns based on a poem by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, titled "Hidden in Plain View: The Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad."

Each pattern corresponds to a section of the poem. "Fast Feathers," for example, is based on a reference in the poem to flying geese. The author calls it a "compass" piece, in reference to its symbols of flight.

Using mixed media allowed Dohse-Peck to present her interpretations in form that reflect the range between fact and fiction. Through them, she aspires to help stimulate interest and awareness of the slaves' journeys, as well as a new interpretation of pre-Civil War American history.

Dohse-Peck first became interested in the Freedom Trail when she was commissioned to paint a mural on a building located at the corner of Dewitt Street and Potomac Avenue. Because areas like West Ferry and Broderick Park played an important role in the Freedom Trail, and were often a slave's last stop before reaching freedom in Canada, the building's owner, Dave Martin, suggested a theme surrounding the Underground Railroad.

Dohse-Peck received a Decentralization Grant from the Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County to supervise a community mural project on West and Auburn streets. There, 10 West Side residents "painted themselves into" a black and white mural that now hangs on the West Market. The project was completed in June of this year.