Beverly Smith’s quilt series “Last Seen Wearing,” acknowledges her ancestors, by calling out their names. This body of work was inspired by more than 900 “Information Wanted” notices placed by African-Americans during the 1860s Civil War.
Last Seen Wearing tells the story of immense heartbreak from family separation due to the enslaved sold to the highest bidder at the auction blocks.
Beverly states: “The pain felt was so profound, I inherited it in my spirit. My ancestors continue to call from the grave to be united, and to find answers of missing family members.” Her quilts are made of patchwork 1930s repurposed flour sacks.
In America’s South during the Great Depression in the 1930s, families wore flour sacks for clothing. She also uses vintage quilt patterns containing secret coded symbols used during the Underground Railroad to help slaves escaping to Northern cities.
Beverly’s quilt surface is layered with machine and hand stitching, paint, indigo dyes, transferred images, and found objects. She uses the Southern tradition of layering clothing on quilt tops to sometimes cover or hide completely the layers below. Her grandmother taught her how a simple piece of fabric can hold family truths from generations back. Her grandmother’s quilts consisted of leftover scraps from her aunt’s discarded dresses, her uncle’s ripped jeans, and calico, faded and stained floral tablecloths used during many Thanksgiving dinners.
Her signature graphite portrait drawings are rendered on unprimed canvas using various gradations of pencils. “For me, the joy in this process of quilting, and drawing is the satisfaction I get harmonising these different techniques together. I like the thought of merging the old with the new.”
The women depicted in Beverly’s works are all family members that lived during the mid 1700s until present day. They are her grandparents, aunts, cousins, sisters, nieces, and her mother. Underneath each personality is a collective story, a life, a soul. Her faces and figures are not about capturing an exactness of the person. It is about capturing their essence.