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African American inventors celebrated on handmade quilt made by students

Quilt (265676)

The Attleboro Area Industrial Museum in Massachusetts has a new attraction: a handmade quilt depicting the accomplishments of African-American inventors, reports the Sun Chronicle. Members of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee of Greater Attleboro presented the quilt to the Union Street museum last weekend. “We are honored to be entrusted with such a beautiful piece,” said Scott Killough, president of the museum’s board of directors. “It continues the tradition in the city of innovation and community,” museum director Carleton Legg added.

The origins of the quilt date to 2010, when the MLK committee decided to fund a project to mark Black History Month. According to chairwoman Ethel Garvin, the committee did some brainstorming and decided to reach out to Attleboro area art teachers to create a quilt to celebrate African-American inventors. Committee member Mary Whelan said that at the time there had been a wave of local STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities, and the committee felt that saluting inventors would complement that trend. And why a quilt? “It’s something tangible for the kids to work with,” she said. “Quilts are forever and they bring people together.” The panels on the “Quilt of African American Inventors” were made by fifth graders in Janice Newman’s visual arts class at Coelho Middle School in South Attleboro.

The committee reached out to Newman, who chose and purchased the materials for the quilt and was later reimbursed with funds from the Attleboro Cultural Council. This project also doubled as a history lesson for the students. As part of the project, they had to research their assigned inventor and study their accomplishments. After completing their research, students sketched out rough drafts of their panels before tracing the sketch onto the final canvas. The finished product was a 12-inch fabric square depicting the portrait of an inventor with his/her invention. In total, the quilt depicts 23 inventors with patents dating from the early 1800s to 1989. Among the inventors and inventions are George “Crum” Speck, the potato chip; Osbourn Dorsey, the doorknob; George T. Sampson, the clothes dryer; and Lonnie G. Johnson, the Super Soaker water toy.

The quilt also features Thomas Jennings, the first African American to receive a patent, and Dr. Patricia E. Bath, the first African-American woman to receive a patent for a medical invention. “It shows the dedication of teachers to teach accurate history,” said Melissa Martin, a member of the MLK committee. The students’ panels were sent to Lyda Garvin and the Dorcas sewing circle at the Pentecostal Church of God In Christ in Providence, which pieced the quilt together. “It was a delight,” said Garvin, a retired teacher. “It meant a lot to them and it helped the seniors, too. It kept them busy.” A sister quilt hangs in the halls of Coelho School to celebrate the hard work of the students. The quilt has been displayed at many different locations, but the committee wanted it to have an official home. About eight months ago, the group decided to approach the Attleboro Area Industrial Museum, which members felt was a fitting place for a piece that celebrates invention. “We are most appreciative of the donation of this wonderful quilt,” Legg said.