Quilt expert sends gift to PS 31 students

An unexpected package, postmarked Arlington, Va., arrived at PS 31 on March 23 for Emily Ellison, the art and music teacher.

It came from Kyra E. Hicks, an African-American quilt expert and author. Inside the package was a note, and a copy of her book, "Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria," the story of a former slave from Tennessee who made a quilt for Britain's queen. The 32-page picture book, for children ages 9- to 12-years-old, is illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi.

The connection between author and teacher came about because Ms. Hicks read the March 17 story published in the North Shore section about Ms. Ellison's creative work with third- to fifth-graders in a year-long academic exploration of African art, crafts, music and quilting.

"She read the article online, and was fascinated by it, and the kids – and signed the book for them!" reported Ms. Ellison, who lives in West Brighton.

"It's a gift," read the enclosed note from Kyra Hicks. "Hope you and your students enjoy Martha Ann's story – it's a true story. How wonderful to learn of your efforts to teach African-American arts and crafts at PS 31."

Ms. Ellison was thrilled.

"How cool is the power of journalism to inspire someone in Virginia to respond to (the Advance's) story about me and the kids? I can't wait to share the book with my students!" she said.


"Martha Ann is twelve years old when Papa finally saves enough money to purchase her freedom from slavery," begins the book's description on the amazon.com website.

"In 1830, the family leaves east Tennessee to begin a new life in Liberia." On market days, Martha Ann watches the British navy patrolling the Liberian coast to stop slave catchers from kidnapping her family and friends and forcing them back into slavery.

"Martha Ann decides to thank Queen Victoria in person for sending the navy. But first, she must determine how to make the 3,500-mile voyage to England, find a suitable gift for the Queen, and withstand the ridicule of family and friends who learn of her impossible dream." The book "is the true story of Martha Ann Ricks, an ex-slave who spent 50 years saving spare coins to fulfill her dream of meeting the Queen of England."


According to her website, Kyra E. Hicks was mesmerized after seeing Eva Ungar Grudin's 1990 traveling exhibition, "Stitching Memories: African-American Story Quilts." She began to learn their stories – and to teach herself to create her own quilts. "I found my voice that afternoon in the museum," she remembers. This was the beginning of a journey that led Ms. Hicks not only to learn quilting, but also to write her books, "1.6 Million African American Quilters: Survey, Sites, and a Half-Dozen Art Quilt Blocks" (Black Threads Press, 2010),

"This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces" (Black Threads Press, 2009), "Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria" (Brown Books Publishing, 2007), and "Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook" (McFarland & Co., 2003). She co-wrote "Liberia: A Visit Through Books" with Izetta Roberts Cooper (2008).

Self-taught, as were so many of the quilters who inspired her, Ms. Hicks is a skilled crafter whose work has been shown at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., the American Craft Museum in New York, the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C., the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn.

It is included in the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City. In her own quilting, Ms. Hicks uses cotton to explore political, religious, family and romantic themes. Her original story quilts document her experiences as a young, black, single woman. Ms. Hicks holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan, a diploma from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a BBA from Howard University. She is a member of the Women of Color Quilters Network, American Quilt Study Group, and the National Quilting Association.