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Mini-episode: Story quilts

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Denise Walters with blue crab story quilt
Pamela D'Angelo
Denise Walters with blue crab story quilt

This episode was recorded at the 2022 Chanco on the James Matoaka Covenant Celebration.

My name is Dr. Denise Walters from the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia. We’re at Camp Chanco and we’re sharing our Indigenous culture with the folks from the Episcopal Church here and anyone in the community who wants to join.

I create story quilts and the story quilts are about our Tribe, our history, my personal life. It all kind of started with me having a bad day, one day and I decided to express my frustration by making a little quilt. And I did it in a day but it was me reaching out to God and I called it, “Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord.” And I shared it with the chief and she said, “That’s a story quilt. You have to do more of those.”

I make them and then figure out where they’re supposed to be. Sometimes someone will buy them. Sometimes they’ll end up in a show. Sometimes I’ll have them in an exhibit like this. Sometimes they’ll just sit at my house.

And we do a lot of educational events, as this one here. We’re small but we’re mighty and we do a lot of presentations, lectures, talks at different schools, programs at our tribal center.

A beaded blue crab
Denise Walters
A beaded blue crab

So, I started doing more of them, which you see some examples here. And the one that I’m working on now is called, sosune. And sosune is our word for crab. And this one speaks to my passion for the Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and the loss of those crabs as we continue to overfish, as the environment is hard on them, runoff. People don’t realize it takes three years for a crab to go from it’s born to spawning ability. And so, it’s not a fast process to try and restore. So, this quilt is representing my love of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab.

I have three, hand-beaded, Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. Each one with multiple colors and then attached to the quilt. One crab takes about eight hours. I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to add some other embellishment and I’m also adding some beads to represent the seeding stage of the eel grass.

I’d add some shells as well to this because I like to do this a little bit more multi-media. So, if you look at the other quilt that I have you’ll see that I have beads and I have feathers and leather. So, I try to incorporate a lot of the different things that we would use in our regalia. Things that you would find in nature so that it’s not just fabric but it’s really embellished and embellished with things that are natural.

It also has the eel grass and the eel grass is so important. This is where the crabs are spawning. This is also helping to put oxygen into the water and keeping the bay healthy. So this quilt is representing a healthy environment, which I hope that one day we have again.

This episode was made possible by a grant from Virginia Humanities.