Stitching Ideas Into Patterns:
Methodology in the Writing of Hidden in Plain View

Raymond G. Dobard, Ph. D
From HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, copyright © 1998 by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard.   Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
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     When Jacqueline Tobin first contacted me and told me about Ozella McDaniel William's story, I was awestruck. Jacki's words were as bright as the sunlight streaming into my apartment on a Sunday morning in May of 1996. She spoke almost in a whisper on the phone as if she were a continent away. She recited the "story" and cautiously asked if I had heard anything like it before. I assured her that I hadn't, and that in my opinion she had found what I and other quilt history researchers had been seeking for years. She'd found an Underground Railroad Code. The quilt pattern names combined with traveling instructions made sense to me. As an art historian, my years of studying the iconography (the meaning of images) of various cultures ranging from the art of early Christianity, to subject matter in the art of both the German artist Käthe Kollwitz and the African American painter Romare Bearden, to my research into African American quilts and the Underground Railroad, enabled me to recognize that what Jacki was reciting was some form of code. Excited as I was by the prospect of conducting research on this new find, as an art historian and quilt history investigator, I knew how difficult it would be to substantiate the code as one used on the Underground Railroad. When Jacki asked me to join her in writing about Ozella's Underground Railroad Quilt Code, I realized the challenge that we faced.

     Since the field of African American quilt history is relatively new, Jacki and I acknowledge that ideas and theories might not always be conclusively proven as much as presented for serious consideration. Our methodology and interpretation will open the field to further exploration and to the piecing together of ideas and the making of connections. Because the Quilt Code was recited in story form, we began our research by considering the relevance of storytelling in the African American community, and by examining well-known stories about quilts and the Underground Railroad to determine what clues they might contain. We observed that quilt patterns were often essential components of the stories, just as they are in Ozella's story code. We saw quilt patterns as visual keys with the potential to open the code. As we delved further, we confirmed our knowledge that quilt patterns had their own individual stories to tell. Together, the stories and the patterns made it possible for us to interpret the meaning of Ozella's Underground Railroad Quilt Code. In this book we place stories and patterns side by side so that they might illuminate each other to the benefit of our understanding the code.


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August 2000