Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Warrenton, Warren County, NC
Skills: Demonstrating Artist, Public Presentations
Portia Harris Hawes’ roots in Warren County run deep. She lives in the same house in which she was raised. Her mother, Portia Jenkins Harris, was a seamstress and homemaker, and her father, Richard Harris, was a mechanic and one of the first African Americans in North Carolina to own a used car dealership. One of Hawes’ great-grandfathers on her mother’s side was John A. Hyman, a Warren County native who had been born in slavery and rose to be a United States Congressman.
Hawes says that, as a child, she was an oddball. Though she learned dressmaking skills from her mother, she was more interested in the tailoring of men’s clothes—an art that was then largely off-limits for women. After graduating from the Hampton Institute, she attended St. Paul’s College, earning a degree in industrial education; however, says Hawes, “They didn’t hire women in that field at that time.” Though qualified to teach industrial education, an advisor suggested that she also receive training in teaching home economics and reading. She became a home economics teacher and enjoyed many years of teaching in Virginia and New York.
One school year, during a unit for a combined home economics and industrial education class, Hawes developed a unit on quilting. Though she had not previously made quilts as an adult, she had learned the art from her mother as a child. “I used to make little quilts for my doll babies when I was a little girl growing up,” she remembers, drawing easily on those lessons from childhood. That teaching unit, which captivated her male students in particular, also reignited her own interest in quilting.
Upon retirement, Hawes and her husband Nathan, a Virginian, moved home to her native Warrenton. She is an active member of Warren County’s Heritage Quilters, and was also involved for a number of years in costume-design for theater productions in Virginia. Now, she concentrates on making quilts, and prefers to piece and quilt them entirely by hand. Her quilts, which have been shown in exhibitions in the region, include both traditional and original patterns and motifs, and she still draws inspiration from the quilts that her mother made many years ago.
Portia Hawes will consider requests to make educational presentations about quilts. She is also a valuable source of knowledge about the heritage of Warrenton and Warren County.