Obituary of Ruth Clement Bond, A Trailblazing Quilter

© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 11/14/2005.

New York — Ruth Clement Bond, 101, a prominent educator and civic leader who in the mid-1930s, in her first and only foray into quilt design, helped transform the American quilt from a utilitarian bedcovering into a work of avant-garde social commentary, died Oct. 24. Mrs. Bond was noted for a series of quilts known collectively as the TVA quilts.
Designed by her, the quilts were sewn in rural Alabama by the wives of African-American workers building dams there for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Visually arresting and contemporary-looking even today, the TVA quilts are considered pivotal in American quilt making.
While most quilts of the period were based on the traditional geometric and floral designs, the TVA quilts are dynamic works of modern art. Using solid-colored fabrics appliqued onto stark backgrounds, they depict bold, stylized silhouettes of black people. With their jagged yet elegant lines, the figures have been compared to the paper cutouts of Matisse and to the work of the Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas.
Mrs. Bond, who had trained as an academic and did not know how to quilt, embarked on the project after her husband was sent to northern Alabama to supervise the black workers at the dam sites there. The Bonds lived for a time near the Wheeler Dam, in one of the segregated villages built for the workers and their families.
The women completed a half-dozen large quilts, all believed to have been made in 1934. Three are extant, as are several very small quilts, made as samples.
The TVA quilts have been exhibited in New York at the Museum of Arts and Design, and elsewhere around the country. They are featured in several books, among them “Soft Covers for Hard Times: Quiltmaking and the Great Depression” (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990), by Merikay Waldvogel.
In later years, Mrs. Bond, whose husband joined the Foreign Service in 1944, taught at universities in Haiti, Liberia and Malawi and worked with women’s and youth groups in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Sierra Leone. After returning to Washington, she served as president of the African-American Women’s Association.

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