Mozell Benson

 

BENSON, MOZELL
(1934–)
was taught to quilt by her mother but did not become interested in sewing until later in life. Raised on a farm in Alabama with nine brothers and sisters, her quiltingreflects the thrift and industry of her rural Southern life. She creates about twenty quilts a year, piecing them during the spring, summer, and fall, and in the winter quiltingthe quilt tops and linings together. Although she sometimes gives them away, she makes quilts mostly for her family’s use.Benson allows a quilt top design to evolve while she is piecing, rarely using patterns. She selects, cuts, and sews her scraps to make something new and original. Her wide strips, wider than typical African American quilt strips, and her bright colors show off her quilt top designs. Her multicolored patterns often look like modern artand her quilts often come across as paintings in cloth. Her quilts are the visual equivalent of jazz or blues, because she often takes a basic pattern idea and then createsvariations on it, just as a musician will do with a jazz piece. Many people give her scraps of cloth because they admire her quilts.Benson’s quilts also reflect the African aesthetic of multiple patterning, and the African traditions of small, square, red protective charms, called
mojos
in AfricanAmerican culture. Benson comments: “Black families inherited this tradition. We forget where it came from because nobody continues to teach us. I think we hold to that even though we’re not aware of it.”In 1985 the United States State Department sent an exhibition of African American quilts to Africa, and Benson traveled with it, speaking about and demonstratingher quiltmaking skills in Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa. In June 2001, Mozell Benson was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National HeritageFellowship.
See also
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Quilts; Quilts, African American; Vodou
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Benberry, Cuesta.
Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts.
Louisville, Ky., 1992.Leon, Eli.
Models in the Mind: African Prototypes in American Patchwork.
Winston-Salem, N.C., 1992.Mazloomi, Carol.
Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilt.
New York, 1998.Wahlman, Maude.
Signs and Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts.
Atlanta, Ga., 2001