Kudzu Quilt

Bettye Kimbrell pounded kudzu leaves to make this wall-hanging.

Bettye Kimbrell pounded kudzu leaves to make this wall-hanging. Photo by Alan Govenar, courtesy of Documentary Arts.

Bettye Kimbrell created this wall-hanging for Alan Govenar, president of Documentary Arts, an organization which assisted the National Endowment for the Arts in presenting the 2008 National Heritage fellows on stage at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, MD.  When Govenar visited her in Mt. Olive before the event, he requested that she make a quilt for an upcoming touring exhibit and suggested that it feature kudzu leaves. When she agreed he scrambled down a nearby ravine to gather the kudzu she would need for the project.

Bettye did not fill the background with meandering stitches as intensely as she usually did because of the deadline for the piece, yet it is a fine example of Cherokee leaf pounding and a memorial to the smothering vine which is trying its best to cover the south.

The quilt has been viewed in Paris and five cities in Belgium and now is included in Extraordinary Ordinary People: American Masters of Traditional Art. This exhibit is described as “a journey across America through the lives of individuals whose creativity is rooted in their cultural identity and community.” It features numerous art forms and cultural groups that contribute to the vibrancy of American life, including Byzantine (Greek) icon woodcarving, Peruvian retablos (personal altars), Native American basketry, Eastern European lacemaking, and quiltmaking, as well as musical and performing traditions. It has been displayed at Michigan State University Museum (East Lansing), Castellani Art Museum (Niagra, NY), and other sites across the nation. For more information about the exhibit and specific tour dates visit Documentary Arts.

Bettye Kimbrell's corner of the "Extraordinary Ordinary People" exhibit.

Bettye Kimbrell’s corner of the “Extraordinary Ordinary People” exhibit. Photo by Alan Govenar, courtesy of Documentary Arts

75” L X 58” W (2008)

Mr. Wind

Quilt with Wind-blown leaves

Mr. Wind

The theme and title for this wall-hanging came about when Bettye’s daughter, Cindy Denton, noticed that the leaves on it looked like they were wind-blown.  Bettye had not yet pounded any leaves in the upper right-hand corner, so they decided to give the wind a face and place it as a white-on-white element in that space. This piece is another example of the Cherokee leaf pounding technique in which a leaf is taped to fabric then hammered with a mallet until its chlorophyl creates a stain in the shape of that leaf.. Details such as stems and veins are highlighted by quilting stitches. (Kathy Hinkle, owner. Photos by Don Breland, courtesy of Merrill Stewart)


The face of Mr. Wind, a detail

Detail showing the face of Mr. Wind

Bettye Kimbrell wanted her quilts to be as beautiful on the back as they are on the front. Those who turn her pieces over will see no knots, tangles or holes. Because of this aim she devised a time-consuming method of stuffing her trapunto pieces from the top rather than the back to avoid placing holes in the back that would need to be repaired. Except for the label and rod pocket she put on the back, her whole-cloth quilts look much the same on both sides, as you will see in the detail below.

Detail from the back of Mr. Wind

Detail from the back of Mr. Wind


42″ W x 46″ L (2013)




“Tree-o Ta-li” Quilt

Leaf-pounded quilt with Grecian Urn at center

“Tree-o Ta-li” quilt

When Bettye and her daughters Nina Harvey, a floral designer, and Cindy Denton, a graphic designer, met together to work on a quilt they called themselves a “tree-o,” since their quilts usually involved some pounding of tree leaves. This being the second Cherokee  leaf pounding quilt they designed together, they used the Cherokee word “tali,” meaning “two,” hence the name “Tree-o Ta-li.”  This quilt is different from other leaf-pounding quilts Bettye did because she and her daughters used the leaves to provide different colors for individual pieces of a design they had drawn on the quilt top. Instead of pounding the entire leaf to create its shape, they carefully pounded parts of the leaf to color the small circles that surround the top of the urn, all the zigzags, meanders and border designs on that object. as well as the stems of some of the leaves, grasses and vines that arise from the urn and arch over its sides. This quilt is now part of Merrill Stewart’s collection. (Photos by Don Breland, courtesy of Merrill Stewart).

75″ W x 69″ L (2011)

Detail of urn design on quilt

Detail of “Tree-o Ta-li”

Label on back of quilt

Label on back of “Tree-o Ta-li”


Cherokee Leaf Pounding Quilt (Stewart Perry Campus)

Cherokee Leaf Pounding quilt for Merrill Stewart

Cherokee Leaf Pounding quilt for Merrill Stewart

After Merrill Stewart saw Bettye’s quilt, “Ode to Calvin,” at the Birmingham Museum of Art, he asked her to make a Cherokee leaf pounding quilt for the offices of Stewart Perry, a commercial construction company in Birmingham.  She and her grandson, Brian, spent the day walking in the woods and around the pond gathering leaves and pounding them on a muslin quilt top. A video made that day shows she and Brian pounding the leaves.  Another video was made the day that she presented it to Merrill Stewart. (Photograph by Don Breland, courtesy of Merrill Stewart)

Detail from Cherokee Leaf pounding quilt (Stewart Perry Campus)

Detail from Cherokee Leaf pounding quilt (Stewart Perry Campus)

75” L X 58” W (2009)

Norris, Tennessee Quilt

Quilt of leaves collected in Norris, TN

Quilt of leaves collected in Norris, TN

For many years Bettye Kimbrell was a guest artist at the Museum of Appalachia’s Fall Homecoming Festival near Norris, Tennessee. While there she gathered leaves from trees and plants growing in the museum’s demonstration garden and surrounding grounds and imprinted them to a quilt top. She used a wooden mallet  to transfer the pigment of the leaf  to the fabric, a technique called Cherokee leaf pounding. Her detailed hand-stitching of outlines, stems, and veins brings each leaf to life and the incredible number of stitches in the background gives the quilt a rich texture. An image of this quilt was used as an invitation to the banquet at the Library of Congress sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts to honor Bettye and ten other National Heritage fellows in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Alan Govenar)

41” W X34” L (2004)

Ode to Calvin

Ode to Calvin

Ode to Calvin

Cherokee leaf pounding is a method of making designs on fabric by pounding fresh leaves with a mallet on to a quilt top until the pigment makes a leaf-shaped stain.  After the stain is made permanent by washing the fabric in a vinegar solution, Bettye stitches around the edges of the leaf, its stem and veins, creating a realistic, natural design. When Bettye learned how to do it, her husband Calvin was intrigued.  He brought her four huge leaves from a castor bean bush and told her where they should be placed on the quilt he wanted her to make for him.  He showed her the seeds he would plant next spring to provide more leaves for the design.  Sadly, he died of a heart attack before he could plant them.  Bettye and her son-in-law, Jerry Denton, planted them and grew the leaves that surround the interior four.  This is a huge quilt, 110 inches square, covered with millions of tiny stitches, that amazes all who look at it closely. Three years in the making, it is a beautiful tribute to a beloved husband. (Photos courtesy of Jimmy Martin)

110” W X 110”L (1998)

Ode to Calvin Quilt

Castor Bean Leaf detail