A farmer and his wife in England receive a shipment of cat mummies from Egypt in the early 1800s. They are to be pulverized into fertilizer, but before this occurs the farmer’s wife notices the intricate pattern of the wrapping. I doubt she knows that the cats were mummified as a way to ensure their passage to the afterlife or to act as offerings. I doubt she knows that they were seen as manifestations of gods. But maybe she recognizes the tenderness in the way they were wrapped – maybe she senses the sacred. She makes a quilt inspired by the cat mummy pattern and eventually this pattern comes to be known as Log Cabin.
This narrative could be true. It’s an approximation based on striking similarities between the ubiquitous Log Cabin pattern and images of cat mummy wrappings. If true, the pattern is entrenched in a violent history of European conquest. To this day the pattern is seen as being quintessentially American, not African. Like so much of our history, the pattern was appropriated, co-opted, and transformed through time.
Today, American Log Cabin quilts are tied to the home, named after the log cabin dwellings brought from Scandinavia to the United States in the 17th century. The cyclical nature of the making of a log cabin pattern mimics the construction of log cabin homes. Piecing the pattern also references growth in nature, the grid as a unifying plane, the universe, and a perfect order. Perhaps this pattern has persisted because of its Egyptian ties to the divine.
The ubiquity of Log Cabin patterns in the history of quilts is matched by that of bathers in the history of painting. Idealized bodies frolicking near waters emphasize the perfection of nature. The paintings are desperate calls to retreat to the natural. The ones we remember are often problematic and voyeuristic, objectifying women in private spaces. But they are also a nod to the ancient ritual of bathing - one that perhaps connects us to the perfect order that the Log Cabin pattern references - one that dates back to the log cabin bath houses constructed in Northern Europe during the Bronze age.
It is precisely the problematic nature of Log Cabin patterns and bather paintings that intrigues me. Their pervasiveness speaks to the universal, and yet they are profoundly personal. I sleep under a quilt constructed by my great-grandmother with her daughters’ worn out dresses. In my work, I reproduce the Log Cabin pattern using clothing that was similarly once worn by loved ones. I stretch the piecework on a stretcher, freezing one moment to be desperately remembered like an icon. I reproduce bather paintings for the same reason - recounting a dip in a creek with a lover in Sweden, or the suicide of my grandfather under a bridge in Colorado.
There is something foreboding about reproducing. It opens things up, suggesting that there is no end. We question what it means to be human and our connection to nature.
Raised in North Carolina, Anna Buckner received a BFA in painting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012 and a MFA in painting from Indiana University in 2016. In 2014, she completed an apprenticeship in Buddhist Thangka painting in Sikkim, India. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Michigan State University and co-founder of Command Zine.