Recently, I was cleaning out my fabric room and found my hoard of quilter "hand me downs". Apparently, when people hear you are a quilter, they automatically will give you leftovers they had inherited. As a young quilter, I just wanted to treasure them and marvel that in my closet sat work from quilters from the last 100 years. Thirty years later, it dawns on me that I should either use them or Tessa will be passing them onto the next random young quilter she meets! With that in mind, I did pull out some for a project for my upcoming September post for National Sewing Month.
This is notable since her work took the art world by storm with her first exhibit "Who'd of Thought It?" in 1988 in the Renwick Museum of the Smithsonian. (If you haven't gone there - you gotta go - honestly, it's amazing!) It was like all of a sudden the world realized that textiles could genuinely be a viable art medium. Her work continued to gain recognition being shown in top museums and galleries throughout the country.
Sorting through it all (and yes there are several shelves!) got me thinking about quilters in days gone by. It strikes me that no matter how different our lives as women we all have one big thing is common...we like to take fabric...cut it up....and sew it into something new.
One of those women was African American folk quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936-2006). Tompkins, whose real name was Effie Mae Martin Howard, was born to a sharecropper family in Arkansas. She was very private and a devoted Christian. She would not give interviews or allow herself to be tape-recorded, photographed, or quoted.
In 2020, Berkley Art Museum gave a retrospective of 70 of her quilts. She had made over 500. In it, you can see how she used improvisational piecing to create her abstract pieces of art. Her work is made of all different fabric types, cut up and put together to make something beautiful.
Just like we do.
I wish I could have seen the exhibit, but I guess I'll just have to settle for seeing a YouTube video of it. 'Cause like I always say...it's not worth knowing if it's not on YouTube!
All quilts on this post were the work of Rosie Lee Tompkins.
That's your five minutes of art history for today....
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