Honors: Sandra Scott-Revelle

Sandra Scott-Revelle, artist-in-residence for the 2023 Tallgrass Artist Residency, photographed in Tonganoxie with her quilt titled “Air” (photo by Jim Barcus)

The Kansas City textile artist reveals “the lesser-known lights in the vast heavens of Black history

Sandra Scott-Revelle finds threads of inspiration in words for her textile artwork. Slaves’ words form scenes in her mind. As an art quilter, she stitches this inspiration into visual stories. Scott-Revelle’s work exploring Black history and culture led to her selection as an artist-in-residence for the 2023 Tallgrass Artist Residency. Her work was featured June 6-16 as part of the residency in Matfield Green, Kansas.

Her Tallgrass Artist Residency was a callback to 2012, when Scott-Revelle “passed through the rolling Flint Hills and was stunned by their beauty.” The residency provided an opportunity for her to learn about the footprint of Black Exodusters through the area. “I have a picture in my head of a former slave woman,” she said, “looking over the Flint Hills with both awe at the beauty, and fear of the unknown.”

Scott-Revelle was born in Sedalia, Missouri, and moved in early childhood with her adoptive mother, Emma, to Salina, Kansas. They relocated to Arizona, where Scott-Revelle studied nursing and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She worked as a nurse, teacher at a private Christian school, and journalist for the Arizona Informant, a Phoenix-based, Black-owned newspaper.

Her articles explore the lives of people. “When teaching, I drew my students into Black history with stories and by covering the walls with scenes made from construction paper,” said Scott-Revelle, who never considered herself an artist.

When Emma passed away in 2006, Scott-Revelle wanted to write her mother’s life story. That goal led her to pursue writing as a form of storytelling.

“I went to a writers’ conference, where it was put into my heart to write Black history devotions,” she said.

Devotions are usually brief stories the reader can identify with. They end with scriptures or spiritual principles for personal application.

A co-worker told Scott-Revelle about “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938,” part of a literary genre recording the autobiographical accounts of enslaved Africans. Scott-Revelle was “dumbfounded and sparked” to visually share their stories.

After moving to Texas, Scott-Revelle learned that a neighbor was donating seven bins filled with fabric. As a Christian, Scott-Revelle determined this was a sign. Fabric would be her medium.

In her youth, Scott-Revelle learned basic sewing skills on Emma’s antique Singer sewing machine and then found appeal in the detail and quiet rhythm of hand-stitching. Armed with these skills, Scott-Revelle envisioned transforming her windfall of fabric from imagined scenes into quilted stories based on slave narratives.

Scott-Revelle created her first art piece in 2017 without any formal training. “I had an interest in telling stories, but I don’t know how to paint.”

“Ties that Bind – Emma Brown – 1855,” from Scott-Revelle’s “The Black History Collection,” conveys the story of Mary Epps, who escaped slavery but suffered tremendous loss when most of her 15 children died or were sold at auction. (from the artist)

She organized fabric by color and type. Before beginning a project, Scott-Revelle prays over her fabric to find guidance in what material to use. Creating textile artwork has been a journey of experimentation.

“I learned by trial and error, making my own paper patterns for figures and scenes. I laid out the patterns on fabric and stitched by hand and machine,” she said.

Her “Black History Collection” is primarily inspired by real-life tales found in abolitionist William Still’s 1872 book “The Underground Railroad.”

Scott-Revelle’s art reveals “the lesser-known lights in the vast heavens of Black history. There’s so much history to draw from. I’ve just cracked open the door.”

“Ties that Bind – Emma Brown – 1855” conveys the story of Mary Epps, who escaped slavery but suffered tremendous loss. Most of her 15 children died or were sold at auction with only one surviving, to her knowledge. Mary’s trauma caused her to convulse and go mute for more than a month. With her husband’s aid, she fled via the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania and chose Emma Brown as her new identity. Her sole thread of hope was to be reunited with her husband and surviving son one day.

This knowledge provides gut-wrenching context to the gray fabric with holes that Scott-Revelle used in the work. She purchased the fabric, stored it for more than a year, and discerned it was meant for Brown’s story. The heads of faceless children fill many of the holes as a haunting reminder of a mother’s loss.

Not all stories endure. Some are recorded, others destroyed, hidden or manipulated. Most stories are lost over time. Scott-Revelle’s work serves a higher purpose — to share Black history. Her work ignites curiosity and spreads awareness. Viewers become vessels to bear these stories so that they may not be wholly forgotten.

Scott-Revelle’s textile artwork has been displayed at the African American Museum of Dallas, George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. In 2021, Scott-Revelle relocated to Kansas City to live with her 93-year-old birth mother. Her work continues to be exhibited in museums, galleries and spaces across the U.S.

For more information about the artist, visit remnantsarise.com

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is the author of “Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri,” “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” and two other books. His reporting has appeared in “AFAR Magazine,” “Feast,” “Kansas City Magazine,” KCUR, Zócalo Public Square, “The Kansas City Star,” “The Boston Globe,” and other publications.

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