On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law, constructing 160 acres of the West as “public land” for settlement. By 1900, eighty million acres of that land had become private property.
This project brings terra nullius and materialities of ground together to construct quilts made from dirt-dyed fabric. The patterns follow those created by settlers moving West. Quilts brought specific expectations of a lifestyle that did not exist in the West—the symbols of common quilt motifs reflect increased resources and an altered landscape that communicated ideals of “progress.” Pioneer quilt patterns were a visual language and embodied practice that promoted, and recorded, settler colonialism.
Quilts, like Land Art, sought to conquer, but at an unremarkable scale compared to earthworks. Quilting was a commonplace skill taught at home and through assimilation education. Nevertheless, it had the power to alter an individual and change cultures. The practice is an embodied knowledge: terra nullius as craft.