Exploring the Life & Legacy of Cuesta Benberry: Artifacts from the Archive

Lesson Plan Instructions
Cuesta Benberry was a renowned quilt scholar, writer, researcher, and pattern collector, born in Cincinnati, Ohio and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Benberry is widely acclaimed as one of the seminal originators of African American quilt scholarship. Benberry’s archival collection at the MSU Museum includes over 50 quilts as well as her notebooks, scrapbooks, photos, quilt patterns, guild newsletters, exhibition catalogs, posters, magazines, journals, books on quilt history and art, files related to Benberry’s and other authors’ publications, and other ephemera.

The learning activities in this document guide learners through intentional engagements with artifacts from the archive of Cuesta Benberry. These learning activities can be completed using scanned images on the Quilt Index website, or using a curated collection of duplicate physical artifacts that can be requested from the MSU Museum. Due to limited time and financial resources, these materials are only available to local educators and practitioners who can pick-up and drop off the collection of materials.

Scanned Artifacts Description:
A small sampling of artifacts from Cuesta Benberry’s archive have been digitized and made available to view online. The sampling is not meant to be representative of Cuesta Benberry’s life and scholarship. Instead, this curated collection of artifacts which display a variety of resources connected to the overall aims of the Black Diaspora Quilt History Project. The curated collection of artifacts includes: exhibition catalogs, event flyers, notes, cards, quilt and sewing patterns collected by Benberry throughout her lifetime, etc. All scanned artifacts can be found on the Quilt Index website using this link:

Box Description:
Within the box are duplicates (often called “dupes”) of artifacts from Cuesta Benberry’s archive. Some artifacts in the box include books, quilting newsletters, exhibition catalogs, quilt patterns, and other quilt related ephemera. The contents of the box are not representative of Cuesta Benberry’s entire archive, but rather a small collection/sampling of artifacts that share information about Benberry, as well as her scholarship about quiltmakers and quilt history.

Activity Overview
Below are a list of steps to guide students through engaging the physical &/or digitized artifacts from Cuesta Benberry’s archive. The activities for this engagement are centered around utilizing and developing visual communication skills, via the use of multiple close readings. In conjunction with this, reflection questions are included to generate dialogue and deep thinking about individual pieces in the archival collection.

    • Introduce Cuesta Benberry
        ○ Provide an overview of biographical information about Benberry
        ○ Provide an overview of Benberry’s archive at MSU
    • Handling Archival Documents       
        ○ Note that all students should wash/clean their hands thoroughly before touching any of the items in the box - when in archival spaces, clean cotton gloves are preferred
            ⁃ I strongly recommend wearing face masks as well
        ○ Note that some items in the box may be fragile (old book bindings, tearing pages, thin materials, etc.)
            ⁃ Before having students engage the materials in the box, be sure all students have understood handling instructions and are committed to treating the materials with care.
    • Close Reading of 2 Artifacts
        ○ Teacher-led close reading of Quilter’s Journal No. 23 publication & “Job’s Troubles” Quilt Pattern
    • Student Engagement of Archive Materials
        ○ pairs, small groups, or individual student activity
            ⁃ ask at least 1 person from each group to take notes.
    • Full group Discussion
        ○ discuss reactions and responses to archive materials
        ○ discuss implications for now and the future

Supplementary Materials:
Link to view slides (view-only, on canva):

Teacher-Led, Close Reading of 2 Artifacts:
Lead the class in a close reading of Quilter’s Journal, No. 23.
As you handle the booklet, narrate your practices for treating the document with care (i.e. “As I’m opening this, I’m remembering to be gentle with the spine of the book. I’m also trying my best not to fold, crease, or rip the pages…Now that I’m finished handling the document, I’m putting the booklet back into its protective covering at the end.”)
    • Front Cover:
        ○ What do you see or notice?
        ○ What does this let us know about Cuesta Benberry?
        ○ Why do you think this detail was included?
        ○ What connections does this make you think about?

    • Back Cover: read the acceptance speech, or a portion of it, aloud
        ○ What do you see or notice?
        ○ Why do you think this detail is important?
        ○ What does this artifact let us know about Cuesta Benberry?
        ○ What does this tell us about her beliefs about quilts and quilt makers?
        ○ How does this relate to other things we’ve learned in class?

    • Read Aloud: Ask students to take notes on the following topics as you read the following excerpts from the text: pg. 1 (first column only, in italics) & pg. 4.
Topics for Notes:
        ○ Life & history of Cuesta Benberry
        ○ Quilting and quilt history
        ○ Personal connections or memories that come up for you
            ⁃ After reading the excerpt on pg. 1, make space for students to share a few of their notes/thoughts.
            ⁃ Afterwards, continue reading pg. 4, and share reflections once more at the end.
            ⁃ Once students have shared their observations, return the artifact to the document protector and move to the next item.

Lead the class in a close reading of “Job’s Troubles” also Four-Point Kite,” & “Snowball” - this artifact can be shown while it is still in the protective jacket.
As you handle the artifact, narrate your practices for treating the document with care.

    • Reflection Questions:
        ○ What do you notice about this artifact?
        ○ What is unique about this artifact?
        ○ Why do you think this was included in the archive?
        ○ What does this let you know about quilting and quilt makers?
        ○ What connections does this artifact make you think about?

Introduce Student Engagement Activity:
This portion of the activity can be completed in pairs, small groups (3-5 students), or individually.
    • Invite students to look through the box of materials–or the scanned artifacts on the Quilt Index website–and select 2-3 items to engage more closely, individually or with a group.
    • Ask students to write/journal notes about their selected artifacts concerning the following questions:
        ○ What do you notice about this artifact?
        ○ Why do you think this was included in the archive?
        ○ What does this let you know about quilting and quilt makers?
        ○ What does this artifact let you know about Cuesta Benberry?
        ○ Does this artifact relate to other things we’ve learned or discussed in class?

Final Thoughts: Whole Group Discussion
    • Discuss notes and overall thoughts about the experience with the class. Discussion topics may include:
        ○ archives & archival documents
        ○ Cuesta Benberry
        ○ legacy of quilters, quilt history, quilt scholarship
    • Discussion Questions May include:
        ○ Stories & Legacy:
            ⁃ Whose history &/or stories are embodied within the archival documents we explored? Who is excluded?
            ⁃ Why is it important to know &/or share these stories?
        ○ Implications of this Experience;
            ⁃ What are the implications of these artifacts in the world today?
            ⁃ How can these items inform how we think about and engage with one another and the world, both now and in the future?
            ⁃ How do you collect information about your own legacy? How is this information stored, sorted, &/or shared? Will this change in the future?

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