Well this quilt will shine – thanks to the sequined butterfly in the center. I am patiently waiting for my embroidery needles so I can finish quilting this and get it on my bed. I’ve been using the same quilt for 3 or 4 years and it’s time for a change.
Being all set up in my new sewing studio, I’ve been working on another piece with squares. When I got the squares together and put on a border, which I usually don’t do, I found it was boring. Super boring. Too much pink, purple and red. Not enough contrast with blues or yellows or something. I started putting beads on it and totally hated the way it looked. So today, with the quilt cut out in the center where I removed the beaded parts, I start again. It will be better.
In 1996 I discovered Ebay. It was relatively new then and it was also a safe place to buy things and sell them. I had a couple of bad experiences in the beginning, like someone offering to buy something if I stopped the auction and then finding out he just wanted the item taken down. And someone returning a quilt with no advance warning or conversation. Luckily I met the UPS driver and refused the package. I then spelled it out in bold print that nothing was returnable. I had tried selling in an antique weekly newspaper and everything I sold was returned. They were just “shopping” to see if their customers wanted it.
I did find someone who was selling a huge portion of her African American quilt collection. These quilts are different from traditional quilts, as you know if you’ve seen one. They are cut by eye, not to patterns kept for over 100 years. The colors are brighter, more contrast, the quilt is graphic and looks more like art than a quilt. I love these quilts beyond all others.
I collected African American quilts from 1996 until 2001. I sold them all during my stay on PEI. After all I was a quilt dealer, not a quilt hoarder. Now I wish I’d hoarded them all.
One of the most prolific and beautiful African American quilters was Rosie Lee Tompkins. I was first introduced to her work through a brochure about a showing by Eli Leon. I would have been thrilled to own one of her quilts.
Ms. Tompkins, who had helped her mother make quilts as a child, began to quilt seriously about 1980, while making a living as a practical nurse. She said she believed God directed her hand and her art. Her abstract, improvisational compositions often had a personal significance: one of her more well-known works, “Three Sixes,” involves three relatives whose birthdays include the number 6. Despite the fact that she was a deeply private person and rarely sold her quilts, her work was discovered by Eli Leon, an Oakland-based collector specializing in African-American quilts, and he featured it on the cover of the catalog for an exhibition he organized, Who’d A Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking, which debuted at the San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum in 1987 and traveled for several years. Tompkins’ quilts were featured in a solo exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum (1997), at Peter Blum Gallery in New York City (2003), and at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont (2007). They were also included in the 2002 Biennial of the Whitney Museum of American Art and have been shown at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC; one image is available on their website.
The curator of the Berkeley show, Lawrence Rinder, wrote: ‘In front of Tompkins’s work I feel that certain Modernist ambitions may in fact be achievable. Here are feelings of awe, elation, and sublimity; here is an absolute mastery of color, texture and composition; here is inventiveness and originality so palpable and intense that each work seems like a new and total risk, a risk so extreme that only utter faith in the power of the creative spirit could have engendered it.’ Critics were equal in their praise: ‘Tompkins’ textile art work … demolish the category’ ‘These quilts are works of such distinction and devotion that they supersede established art-historical categories, forcing reviewers to retreat to that dumbfounded admiration that attracted us to art in the first place’.
Just a taste of a few of her quilts shows her mastery of the art.
These quilts are more than quilts. You do not need to appreciate art in order to feel the energy, the inspiration and the devotion present in these works. I would be honored to be able to create works half as powerful as these. She left us in 2006 but her work shines on ……. I think she’s having a wonderful time talking to God. He’s probably asking her how she ever made these quilts so beautiful …….. and she’d say, I did it the way you told me to.