Nora Lee Condra grew up in an old two room log cabin in Mississippi and her father farmed land he didn't own, but rented. Nora's mother and aunts were all quilters, typically using feedsacks since fabric cost more than they could afford. At the age of 14 Nora first learned to sew, mending her brothers' socks, and made her first quilt two years later at 16. Her mother was part of a quilting group, sharing her life and her passion for quilting with other quilters, black and white.
"Mother is gone now, but whenever I look at her quilts I have happy thoughts and memories."
"The more you do it, the more you want to-kind of like praying."
Nora Lee Condra was born in Grenada, Mississippi in 1919. She was raised in the Pentecostal faith in a small farming community of Mississippi and was schooled through the 10th grade. Surrounded by the activity of her mother's quilting groups, Nora Lee learned to sew as a young girl. The quilts she has created throughout her life were influenced by the quilts she saw her mother make from dyed flour sacks.
She moved to Sausalito, California during World War II. As her husband worked in the shipyards, Nora Lee raised four children and passed on the quilting skills that were taught from generation to generation in her family. Members of Nora Lee's church in Sausalito benefited from her refined skills as she taught quilt making to the senior citizen group. Nora Lee was honored as a Distinguished Grandmother by the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 1998. After a recent stroke, Nora Lee has regained much of her physical abilities and continues making quilts today.
Books on African American quilters:
The Freedom Quilting Bee by Nancy Callahan, University of Alabama Press, 1987. "An engaging story. It blends the repression of black people, their struggle for dignity and equality, and the commercial marketing of their folk art. An excellent job making black people a part of their own story." (James C. Cobb, Historian, The University of Alabama)
A communion of the Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories by Roland L. Freeman, Rutledge Hill Press, 1996. "A Communion of the Spirits represents the first national survey of African-American quiltmakers. It is also a personal record of how Roland L. Freeman's life has intertwined with the world of quiltmaking for almost sixty years-"as an African-American male, as a child who was deeply influenced by the cultural traditions and magical powers of quilts; and, for more than three decades, as a photographer and folklorist."
My Quilts and Me: The Diary of an American Quilter by Nora Ezell, Black Belt Press, 1999. "My Quilts and Me is an intensely personal account of an artist's thoughts as she works on her much sought-after pictorial quilts, as she puts together challenging patchwork patterns, and as she struggles to find the best ways of marketing her work."
Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts by Carolyn Mazloomi with preface by Faith Ringgold and foreword by Cuesta Benberry, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1998. "Along with jazz, quilting is the uniquely American contribution to world art that bears the legacy of our African heritage and carries it into our common future. Created by some of the most remarkable artists alive today, the collection of quilts showcased in this book is a testament to the virtuosity of African American art in one of its greatest, and most heartfelt, forms." (Faith Ringgold, from the preface)
Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South by Gladys-Marie Fry, University of North Carolina Press, 1990/2002. "This richly illustrated book offers a glimpse into the lives and creativity of African American quilters during the era of slavery. This is the first book to examine the history of quilting in the enslaved community and to place slave-made quilts into historical and cultural context - a beautiful and moving tribute to an African American tradition."
A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans by Cuesta Benberry, University of Arkansas Press, 2000. "Over seventy-five individual pieces of patchwork art are presented in this publication in full-color plates, each with a commentary by the exhibit's guest curator, Cuesta Benberry. The book details the importance of quilting to black Arkansana; the quilt's uses, materials, and construction; and what each piece says about the artist and her beliefs."
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