Rocky Mountain Wa Shonaji Quilt Guild (RMWSQG) was founded in 1994 by Helen Kearney and four other charter members. This group of dedicated fiber artists and quilters represented their heritage and set out to teach their art from an African American perspective. The name references their geographic and cultural heritage; Wa Shonaji is Swahili for “people who sew.” The predominantly African American guild celebrates and shares its heritage with its community and welcomes others to join. Often, but not always, quilts feature an African American aesthetic through the use of color, cultural patterns, and/or design. RMWSQG’s 67 members span culture, gender, and age with twenty-somethings, octogenarians, and nonagenarians.
The RMWSQG mantra, “Each One, Teach One” is woven into its nearly 30-year history. This mantra, along with a warm and inviting atmosphere, and their free quilting lessons help them attract younger quilters and male quilters to their ranks. The teaching is not unidirectional; Joanne Walton, a member, said the younger quilters have helped them keep up with technology.
At their Trunk Shows, they display quilts in a unique way: rather than hanging them, they show quilts with storytelling and song, from an African American perspective, incorporating historical events, people, and ideas. I believe they are the only quilt guild with a chorus and a music director. The idea came from Joanne as a way to honor her late mother. Joanne called the chorus “the binding on the quilt.” Chorus members are scattered in the audience, and they begin the trunk show by singing “This Little Quilt of Mine” as they carry small quilts and come forward. The music, script, and quilt display vary and each is a “show” in terms of production. The songs may be hymns, spirituals, and/or “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often called the Black National Anthem. Some songs are new and written for a specific trunk show; one member contributes poetry. They have hosted an outdoor quilt exhibit at a member’s home, where members could invite guests to enjoy the displayed quilts, food, and fellowship.
In addition to performing these Trunk Shows throughout the state, the guild has exhibited twice at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, one of only nine museums of this caliber in the U.S. In turn, members are asked to support the museum. Like Joanne, many of the RMWSQG members relocated to Colorado from another state, and their 2018 My Road to Denver exhibit at the museum chronicled their individual journeys to Denver. An upcoming exhibit, Perfect Patchwork, will be on display at the Denver International Airport this October through February 2024.
Marcia Walker with her quilt Tied Together (2022). The ties used in this quilt are from Marcia’s late husband Winston Walker, who was an avid hiker. Because of his height, it was hard to shop for him. When he needed a change in wardrobe, he would buy another tie. Sadly, he passed away in 2019. A park trail has been named in Winston’s honor. It is located in O’Fallon Park, near Kittridge, CO.
Community service is also a part of the guild’s commitment to their community. They have worked with Meals on Wheels to provide placemats, created comfort quilts for those in need, and constructed fidget quilts for Alzheimer’s patients. They have partnered with eQuilter on some community service projects. They also make quilts that celebrate members or their milestones, like a new addition to the family or the passing of a family member. Members have also volunteered with Colorado Quilting Council, Inc., which is a non-profit, statewide organization whose objective is to assist in preserving the heritage of quilting, and guild members have helped with the documentation of quilts.
A retreat in the mountains, with prepared meals where the focus is quilting, is an annual highlight for members, and as you finish a project, a bell is rung. Every five years, they celebrate their creative circle. A theme is selected, a quilt is made, and a luncheon or other event is held. In addition to the anniversary quilts, members created a cookbook containing their recipes as well as quilts. For their 30th anniversary in 2024, the RMWSQG is creating a pictorial book of quilts, summarizing the guild’s rich 30-year history. The theme is “30 Years: This is What We Do Best.”
Rocky Mountain Wa Shonaji Quilt Guild meets at CrossPurpose, 3050 Richard Allen Court, Denver, CO 80205, at 10:30 AM on the first Saturday of the month, except if the first Saturday falls on a holiday weekend. You can find the guild’s website, including links to other African American guilds and a wonderful gallery, at https://www.washonaji.org.
About the Author
Aleeda Crawley joined the Quiltfolk team in 2023 as a contributing writer. Learn more about her and her work on her website.