"Monkey Wrench"—single-block variation

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
c. 1955
81 x 81 inches
Collection of
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Museum purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Patty Ann Williams, the matriarch of one of Wilcox County's most disadvantaged families, created one of the greatest surviving examples of improvisation, a single-block variation of a "Monkey Wrench" (also known as "Shoo Fly" or "Churn Dash"), a popular pattern in the area. The large-scale workings of Williams's quilt hint that improvisation, as aesthetic and technique, was consciously valued and transmitted, even when subsumed into "pattern."