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Conversations with Marla Jackson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marla Jackson.

Hi Marla, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was born to create but have always liked to make my own rules. I’m known all over for quilting but to be honest, I was kicked out of sewing classes at two different high schools.

In 1968, I was sent out of tailoring class at Cooley High School in Detroit and also kicked out of sewing class at Oak Park High School, in Oak Park, Michigan. I’ve never used patterns to create story quilts, I use my imagination and inspiration from my research instead.

One of my proudest moments was in 2017 I hosted the first National African American Quilt Convention with attendees from 35 different states. It was amazing to gather so many talented quilters here in Lawrence and get to exhibit all the beautiful works.

We took a break due to Covid but are currently planning the 4th annual convention to be held in 2024, and I’m also working on a capital campaign to build a National African American Quilt Museum here in Douglas County. I’d love for you to visit our website and find out how you can help.

I’ve been working away for so many years, it really is amazing to step back and look at everything I’ve done. But if you know me at all then you know I’m not done yet!

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There have been lots of challenges but you can’t let them get you down. As an African American woman who moved to a Kansas town with only 4% African American population, I’ve faced more than my share of prejudice.

I never let it stop me though, I’ve always worked to find common ground with people from all types of backgrounds – I say wherever you come from, be proud of it and bring the best of it to the table.

During Covid, we had to close our gallery that we’d poured so much work into, and move into a smaller space making it less accessible to the public. We were also forced to pause the quilt convention and much of our programming.

During that time, my Beyond the Book students & I pivoted from our lesson plans and were able to create hundreds of to give away in our community.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m a narrative quilter, self-taught fiber artist, painter, doll maker, indigo dyer, shibori dyer, portrait artist, seamstress, community educator, and now an author.

In 2020 when I published my first book Sankofa: Lessons Learned which features color prints of my quilts along with written pieces of my history. My works have been exhibited in more than 35 national and international venues. One of my pieces is part of the permanent collection at The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

Here in Lawrence, I am the executive director of Marla Quilts Inc. African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy, a nonprofit whose mission is developing artistic skills, enhancing individual + communal expression, and furthering intellectual awareness through visual literacy.

Our Beyond the Book youth outreach program teaches students from disadvantaged populations to value life + entrepreneurial skills, with an emphasis on learning to express themselves through art based on historical research of their heritage.

We will be opening an online shop soon at where you can view my works and purchase my book, 8×10 prints, and mugs featuring my quilts.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
Believe in yourself, always keep your chin up and your eyes and feet forward. There’s always a way, sometimes you just have to get extra creative.


  • “Sankofa: Lessons Learned” — Hardcover Coffee Table Book — $75.99
  • Portrait Quilt 8×10 Print — $50
  • Portrait Quilt Coffee + Tea Mug — $25

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Diane Guthrie

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