Drawing on a group of quilts created by African American women who lived in the construction villages associated with the Tennessee Valley Authority during the New Deal era, this essay asserts that these quiltmakers created modernist quilts as "home beautification," as a potential source of empowerment to the Black TVA staff and their families, and as a signal to white TVA administrators that Black workers had much to offer the community and nation, deserving better treatment than the federal program was providing. These women attempted to disrupt the customs and traditions of the rural South by crafting quilts with equally radical aesthetics and messages, in contrast to the typical quilts of this era, which reflect the colonial revival and popular consumer culture. By giving these quilts to white TVA higher-ups, African Americans associated with the TVA claimed their power and potential in the face of a segregated system funded by the federal government.
John Lusk Hathaway's photographic project One Foot in Eden takes as its subject the Cherokee National Forest and its visitors, who use this place extensively for day tripping and recreation. Largely a rural, undeveloped place, the waterways that appear time and again in Hathaway's explorations are part of a system of reservoirs built by the Tennessee Valley Authority for flood control and hydroelectricity generation a century ago. Built and unbuilt environments in One Foot in Eden speak to bigger questions about our existence as organic beings in a world increasingly given over to the high-modern ideology that drives mammoth undertakings like the TVA. Hathaway's images are suggestive of a deep-seated human need to connect with the world around us, evoking ideas like E. O. Wilson's biophilia.