“Narrative quilt-making is the time-machine that allows me to revisit my childhood in rural South Carolina and bring to life the traditions and customs of the many generations of farmers and folk artists from whom I am descended.” Peggie Hartwell of Summerville traces her work to her grandfather’s stories, which became a lexicon of bright colors and haunting imagery—her own voice on cloth. Hartwell’s creative and personal evolution was also nurtured by the quilts made by the women in her family. Those living threads were made from scraps of fabric left over from family sewing work or bits and pieces salvaged from clothes no longer wearable. In her childhood, snuggling up at night beneath a favorite quilt, she felt the comfort of her entire family: fragments of her grandmother’s apron, her grandfather’s shirt, and her mother’s favorite but worn-out dress, all interlocked in the quilt that embraced her and kept her warm.
A vehicle for her own memory’s journey, Hartwell’s quilts are also a means of engaging with her community and in contemporary issues. As founder and instructor for the Voices on Cloth Program, which promotes the art of quilt-making among the general public, with a special focus on work with K-12 students via classroom programs. Voices on Cloth preserves the story quilt and quilt-making traditions, fostering creative thinking and the concept of art as a visual language. Hartwell’s students learn new avenues for self-expression through making story banners, fabric murals, and biographical story-quilt blocks, which are often assembled into fabric books. Hartwell holds a Certificate of Completion: Artists in the Classroom (Developing Strategies for Working with Students with Disability) from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind and is an Artist in the Classroom for the State of South Carolina. She is also the Artistic Advisor for The Quilted Conscience, a national arts-based learning experience that cultivates intergenerational and cross-cultural bonds through story quilt workshops for young people who are new to the U.S. The workshops elicit students’ most precious memories of life in their home country, and their dreams for their future in America.
Hartwell’s own quilts of conscience are inspired by current events: the plight of children walking from Central America to the U.S., for example, or closer to home, hunger and gang violence. Hartwell is a founding member of the national Women of Color Quilters Network. Her fabric artwork is in the collections of major museums across the U.S. and has been exhibited throughout the country. She has been featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow and several documentaries about quilting. Hartwell received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2017.