Benberry, Cuesta (1923-2007)

Cuesta Benberry, 1923-2007. Cuesta Benberry, 1923-2007.

Cuesta Benberry (1923-2007) was a teacher in St. Louis, Missouri (USA). She began studying quilting after a visit to her husband’s family in a small village in western Kentucky. She was struck by the pride the women showed in their quilts and by the names of the block patterns (for example, flying geese, carpenter’s wheel, schoolhouse, ocean’s waves, etc.).

Benberry, African-American herself, paid particular attention to African-American quilts. She interviewed many black quilters across the USA. She learned, for example, about regional customs of piecing patchwork to decorate coffins, and of renaming traditional quilt patterns after farmyard objects, such as chicken feet or rooster tail. While researching quilt patterns, she interviewed manufacturers of stamped textiles in the St. Louis area, which had been a centre for this trade, and learned that many were exported to Britain.

Benberry was a prolific writer and also curated many quilt exhibitions. In 1992 she published a pioneering book on African-American quilting, Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts, and organized an exhibition of the same name that travelled throughout the USA. In 1983 she was inducted into the Quilter Hall of Fame (USA) and in 2004 she was presented, by artist Faith Ringgold, with the Distinguished Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anyone Can Fly Foundation, an African-American art association. That same year she donated her extensive collection of research papers, original patterns, books, museum catalogues and periodicals to the American Folk Art Museum in New York. She only made one quilt in her lifetime, based on different patterns of earlier African-American quilts.

See also the TRC Needles entries on the Freedom quilting beeand Gee’s Bend quilts.


  • BENBERRY, Cuesta (2000). Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press.
  • BENBERRY, Cuesta (1992). Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Digital source illustration (retrieved 18th June 2016).


Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2017 17:29