Lavern Brackens

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Brackens Bio

Texas, 2011
African American
Artisan, Quilter

Biography section

Laverne Brackens was born April 12, 1927, in Fairfield, Texas. She began learning to quilt as a child, when she helped her mother, Gladys Henry in her quilting, but had no interest in learning the craft. Years later, Brackens married, raised eight children and five grandchildren and worked, mostly as a cook, so she had little time for quilting. After an accident forced her to retire in 1987, however, she developed an interest in making her own quilts. “The whole time I was on crutches … I was piecing quilts because I could use my left foot [for the sewing machine],” she told an interviewer. “Nothing else I can do. So I just set down and quilt.” Working with factory scraps supplied by a friend, she found a creative outlet in quilting. “I don’t go by patterns,” she said. “I made it up out of my head. When you pick up the material and start working with it, that’s when you know what [the quilt] will be.”

Brackens’ art represents a tradition of improvisational quilt making that has been recognized as a unique part of the African American heritage, a counterpart of blues and jazz. Her quilts are distinguished by an off-center centerpiece, rotating printed stripes and both vertical and horizontal striping. “If you piece them all where they hit right together, every quilt you piece is going to look just alike, and if you twist it up a little bit, it’ll make the quilt look different,” she said. “I just like to take a simple quilt and give it a different look. That’s what I be trying to do.” The unusually prolific artist enjoys placing letters and numbers in her designs. A granddaughter’s eighth birthday inspired her to create a pattern that employed the number 8 in interesting and creative ways. The letters may have a meaning, as when she used “W” and “H” in a quilt for her father, Willie Henry, but in other instances, words and letters are used simply as graphic elements.

In 1996, Brackens’ work was displayed with that of her mother, her daughter Sherry Byrd and her granddaughter Bara Byrd in “Four Generations of African-American Quilters” at the High Museum in Atlanta. This evolved into the 2006 exhibit and catalog “Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilters” at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. The show coincided with a filmed interview with Brackens by the museum’s exhibition manager, Karin Nelson, and was followed by an article, “One Family’s Quilted Legacy,” in the October 2006 issue of Quilters Newsletter magazine.

Brackens’ art has been recognized in Texas as well, in a 1999 Texas Folklife Resources exhibition, “Quilts of Color: Three Generations of Quilters in an Afro-American Family”; in a 2001-2002 exhibit, “Storytelling: One Stitch at a Time,” at the Texas Memorial Museum of Science and History in Austin; and in a documentary, Family Quilts, broadcast by the television show Texas Country Reporter on October 28, 2006 (show No. 1,000). The Texas Memorial Museum owns two of her quilts, and Chicago’s Bessie Coleman Library features her work, along with that of another African American quilter and NEA heritage fellow, Arbie Williams of Oakland, California.

Photographs Section

Laverne Brackens represents a long tradition of improvisational quilt making among African American women. She uses bright, bold colors and wildly creative designs that often incorporate words, letters and numbers. Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens represents a long tradition of improvisational quilt making among African American women. She uses bright, bold colors and wildly creative designs that often incorporate words, letters and numbers. Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens' house, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens' house, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens sewing pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens sewing pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Quilt pieces by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Quilt pieces by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Rolled quilts by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Rolled quilts by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens's sewing desk, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens's sewing desk, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens quilting, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens quilting, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Black and Green Velvet Strip Quilt," 1990-91 Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Black and Green Velvet Strip Quilt," 1990-91 Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Dark Medallion, Light Borders Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Dark Medallion, Light Borders Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Floral Bars Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Floral Bars Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Peace Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Peace Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Silk Medallion Quilt," 2004, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Silk Medallion Quilt," 2004, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Put-together Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Put-together Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Restructed Block Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Restructed Block Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Roman Stripe Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Roman Stripe Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Scrappy Put-together Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "Scrappy Put-together Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "String Strip Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, "String Strip Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

  • Laverne Brackens represents a long tradition of improvisational quilt making among African American women. She uses bright, bold colors and wildly creative designs that often incorporate words, letters and numbers. Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens' house, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens at work cutting pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens sewing pieces for a strip quilt, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Quilt pieces by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Rolled quilts by Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens's sewing desk, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens quilting, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens checking her quilts hanging on a clothes line in her backyard, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Black and Green Velvet Strip Quilt," 1990-91 Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Dark Medallion, Light Borders Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Floral Bars Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Improved Bow Tie Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Medallion Quilt," 1993, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Peace Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Silk Medallion Quilt," 2004, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Put-together Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Restructed Block Quilt," 1992, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Roman Stripe Medallion Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "Scrappy Put-together Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, "String Strip Quilt," Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Quilt, Photograph by Eli Leon, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
  • Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar
  • Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011, Photograph by Alan Govenar

Film and Video section

Voice and Music section

Laverne Brackens answers the question: 'When were you first exposed to handmade quilts?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011

Laverne Brackens answers the question: 'What did you think of quilting growing up?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2008

Laverne Brackens answers the question: 'What made you decide to start quilting?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2011

Laverne Brackens answers the questions: 'How do you create the patterns for your quilts and how do they differ from your mother's and grandmother's quilts?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2008

Laverne Brackens answers the question: 'In what ways have you been able to pass this tradition on?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2008

Laverne Brackens talks about what the tradition of quilting means to her. Interview by Alan Govenar, Fairfield, Texas, July 6, 2008

 

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