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“Oh, my goodness, I’ve felt that way,” exclaims an onlooker to “Bamboozled: Brothers in Corporate America,” the 51.5-inch by 46.5-inch quilt montage of men’s shirts accented with neckties, depicting images of the old darkie stereotypes of the 1800s. The piece examines the small number of African Americans who have cracked top-level corporate glass ceilings. Fiber artist Tracey Rico is always amazed by such emotional outbursts.
By day, Rico, 36, juggles duties as an attending emergency care physician at Beth Israel Hospital and overseeing pediatric emergencies at Maimonides Medical Center, both in New York City. To unwind, she delves into contemporary quilting–tying past to present, weaving emotions and demands into creations that present a physical reminder of a very rich, yet often troubling, cultural history. “I knew that they would respond to the images if I could put them out there,” says Rico on enthusiasts of her art.
Other creations include: “Aunt Jemima’s Debut,” “Our Glory,” and “A Talisman for the Coffled.” After reading narratives by former slave women, she designed “Mammy’s Cakewalk,” which represents black women in the antebellum South who survived by assuming a socially acceptable persona for white society. These women had to suppress their own personalities, she asserts. This quilted piece (trimmed in geometric patterns, once used as signals for safe passage across the Underground Railroad) “shows the type of woman she may have been, behind the mirror of [the person] she pretended to be,” explains Rico.
As a college student, dabbling with appliquÃ© and stitching banners by hand for her sorority eventually piqued her creative senses. Today, Rico’s quilts range from $5,000 to $16,000. They are stitched together by machine, and made from such rare finds as Nigerian Adire cloth, 19th century black dolls, birthing bloomers, silk, historical slave advertisements, and stripped hides. In November 2003, another quilt, “Boabab Roots,”will be displayed in the “Sacred Thread” exhibition in New York City.
“Just knowing that my work comes from a place of truth, and having people asking questions, is pure joy,” says Rico.
VISIT A WEBSITE: There is how-to, cultural, historic, and fabric information to be found online. Such Websites include www.tflfabrics.com and www.quiltethnic .com. Rico’s Website is www.jaderico.com.
TAKE A CLASS: Many craft shops, sewing notions stores, and some adult education programs offer classes in quilt making. Check the local listings in your area.
READ A BOOK: The Ultimate Quilting Book by Maggi McCormick Gordon (Sterling Publications; $24.95) outlines basic and sophisticated techniques and tools for the novice and advanced quilter. Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts by Carolyn Mazloomi and Cuesta Ray Benberry (Clarkson N. Potter; $40) is a book with 150 color photographs of contemporary black influences in quilt making. To learn more about your African heritage and quilts, read Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, et al. (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing; $27.50).