APPROXIMATE MEASURE | Improvisation in African-American Quilts
Rosie Lee TompkinsRosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, CA, "Half-Squares Put-Together," 1979
postcard
Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, CA, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, CA, "Half-Squares," 2000

Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, CA, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Richmond, CA, "Three Sixes," 1998

Gladys Henry, Butler, TX, Gladys Henry, Butler, TX, "Strip," 1992

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, "Half-Squares Strip," 2004

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, "Medallion," 2001

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, "Medallion," 1998

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, "Restructed Bars Block with Shift-in-Scale Medallion," 1993

Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, Laverne Brackens, Fairfield, TX, "Medallion (paisley and black)," 1992

Sherry Byrd, Richmond, CA, Sherry Byrd, Richmond, CA, "Strip Medallion," 1989

Bara Byrd, Richmond, CA, Bara Byrd, Richmond, CA, "Medallion," 1993

Willia Ette Graham, Oakland, CA, Willia Ette Graham, Oakland, CA, "Steeplechase Medallion," 1980

Irene Bankhead, Oakland, CA, Irene Bankhead, Oakland, CA, "String," 1999

Irene Bankhead, Oakland, CA, Irene Bankhead, Oakland, CA, "String," 2002

Anonymous, Missouri, Anonymous, Missouri, "Postage Stamp Nine-Patch (detail)," ND



The Shirley-Jones Gallery will present Approximate Measure, Improvisation in African-American Quilts, from January 19-March 10, 2007. It is a show of lyrically abstract geometric quilted compositions.

Monochrome, elaborately stitched quilts were brought from England to America by early colonists. The emergence of the pieced decorative quilt, however, seems to coincide with the arrival of Africans. The designs of quilts by early African-Americans, drew from traditions in African textile making which celebrated innovation, variation and improvisation. These African traditions provided an aesthetic framework that could include eccentric and asymmetric quilt compositions, a genre that continues and which is the subject of this exhibition.

Recently, two exhibitions of quilts from Gee's Bend, Alabama were mounted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas and are currently touring the country. While this body of work has received extensive press, there is another body of improvisational quilts that springs from traditions of African-American quilting in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and, as a result of subsequent migration, California. These quilts are highly rhythmic and could be seen to have a musical equivalent in Jazz while the parallel in Gees Bend quilts could be said to be the Blues.

The quilts appearing at the Shirley-Jones Gallery come from a collection assembled in the San Francisco Bay Area. In all, the work of seven quilt makers (including four generations from one family) living mostly in the greater Oakland area is being presented. Highly complex and nuanced, These quilts tempt comparison with geometric abstraction in contemporary painting. The work of one of the quilt makers, Rosie Lee Tompkins,* has been the subject of solo exhibitions and was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. When the Biennial was reviewed by the New York Times, Tompkins' quilts were cited as "the best painting in the exhibition..." One of these quilts is featured in the current exhibition at the Shirley-Jones Gallery.

* Rosie Lee Tompkins died December 1, 2006 at the age of 70. Her obituary appeared in Time Magazine, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other newspapers.

The gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday 2-6pm and by appointment. For further information call (937) 767-1711.

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