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A Quilt by Effie Mae Howard

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"In 1997 I walked into the Berkeley Art Museum to be greeted by a staggering sight: an array of some 20 quilts unlike any I had ever seen. Their unbridled colors, irregular shapes and nearly reckless range of textiles telegraphed a tremendous energy and the implacable ambition, and confidence, of great art.

"They were crafted objects that transcended quilting, with the power of painting. This made them canon-busting, and implicitly subversive. They gave off a tangible heat. I left in a state of shock — I knew I had been instantly converted but I didn’t yet know to what.

"In memory the show became a jubilant fugue of small squares of velvet in deep gemstone hues, dancing with not much apparent order yet impeccably arranged for full effect. My first thought was of Paul Klee, that kind of love-at-first-sight allure, seductive hand-madeness and unfiltered accessibility, only bigger and stronger.

"The planets had aligned: I’d happened on the first solo show anywhere of Rosie Lee Tompkins, an exemplar of one of the country’s premier visual traditions: African-American improvisational quilt-making — an especially innovative branch of a medium that reaches back to African textiles and continues to thrive.

"Tompkins’s work, I came to realize, was one of the century’s major artistic accomplishments, giving quilt-making a radical new articulation and emotional urgency. I felt I had been given a new standard against which to measure contemporary art.

"Rosie Lee Tompkins was a pseudonym, I would learn, adopted by a fiercely private, deeply religious woman, who as her work received more and more attention, was almost never photographed or interviewed. She was born Effie Mae Martin in rural Gould, Ark., on Sept. 9, 1936. At the time of the show, she was 61 and living in nearby Richmond, Calif., just north of Berkeley....

"A typical Tompkins quilt [has] an original, irresistible aliveness. One of her narrative works was 14 feet across, the size of small billboard. It appropriated whole dish towels printed with folkloric scenes, parts of a feed sack, and, most prominently, bright bold chunks of the American flag. What else? Bits of embroidery, Mexican textiles, fabrics printed with flamenco dancers and racing cars, hot pink batik and, front and center, a slightly cheesy manufactured tapestry of Jesus Christ. It seemed like a map of the melting pot of American culture and politics."


  1. Copperpenny17:12
  2. YvonneDen29:18
  3. MrsFudd29:34
  4. patw33:13
  5. Bluebonnet34:24
  6. Tincup37:58
  7. iceng1:00:25


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Got it! Thx Pat. (You know I would do the same for you).


Look at Hawaii and then go to 11 o'clock from there. It's red, of course. :-))


Where is Moscow? I'm missing something!


These are so great. Moscow, Hawaii, kittens, and Christ. Oh and the dancers. Of course, you'd put them all together! Why not? I love 'em.


You're welcome Alex! I don't quilt either, but there is something magical about them.


I've never made a quilt.. Been around while they were being made.. Even bought a pricy top of the line non-network sewing machine and wired a nook with lots of lights, outlets and AC for comfort..
But never experienced a transcending emotion like you described..
Thanks for your neat description. Alex.. :-))