African American Quilt Exhibit Opens at MOA

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Quilting is a living tradition passed down through the ages, and a new exhibit is trying to show the creative expression textile artists explore in this art form.

A new exhibit,“From Heart To Hand: African-American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts’ Permanent Collection,”  at the Museum of Art features 31 hand-made quilts created by African-American women of Alabama from 1945 to the present.

[media-credit name=”Quilt photos courtesy of the BYU Museum of Art” align=”alignright” width=”254″][/media-credit]
Quilts by contemporary African-American quilt artist Yvonne Wells are highlighted in a new exhibit at the MOA.
African-American quilts are quite different from traditional American quilting people see in Utah.  The African quilts from Alabama receive a lot of attention because they are free from pattern restrictions and the boundaries they create.

Paul Anderson, curator of the MOA, is fascinated with the African-American quilters’ expression of freedom and how they eliminate the imposed boundaries of traditional quilting.

“That is part of the fascination with African-American quilters, ” Anderson said.  “It’s the naive untrained quality of the art combined with sophisticated stories they are telling. None of them have had formal training in the textile arts.”

The exhibit explores the patterns of African-American quilts and the improvisations distinct to regional quilters.

The  narrative quilts of contemporary quilter Yvonne Wells are the highlight of the exhibit.

A former school teacher, Wells’ creations evolved over time into narrative story quilts that deal with different aspects of civil rights, scripture and life.

“Her ability to convey in her work rests in her ability of teaching,” said Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, MMFA senior curator of art.

Wells depicts in 12 quilts the fight for freedom, civil rights and glory to her God. She includes two water fountains labeled “colored” and “whites” in most of her quilts, as well as a pattern of three diamonds representing the Godhead found somewhere on her pieces. Wells’ work is indicative of many African-American quilters in the way they communicate familiar stories or themes from scripture.

“Scripture is a real motivation and drives the content of a number of these kinds of quilts,” Ausfeld said.

She expressed in a video interview on display at the MOA her passionate feelings about how life emerged into the work of her quilts.

“I was seeing something from the inside that was causing me to see something else,” Wells said in the video.

A few patrons enjoyed an unofficial preview of the exhibit Tuesday.

Senior Jennifer Kironde from Los Angeles, studying public health, was captivated by the stories Wells portrayed in her quilts.

“It’s just a beautiful way of expressing her experiences and sharing with the world what it was like to live in that era,” Kironde said. “It’s good to have some pieces of that time left and to preserve it.”

“From Heart To Hand” will be on view in the Warren & Alice Jones and Paul & Betty Boshard galleries on the lower level of the museum starting today.  The exhibit will run through Nov. 17. Admission is free and free docent-led tours can be scheduled one week in advance. For more information,contact the Museum Education Department at 801-422-1140 or visit moa.byu.edu.