The first work I ever saw by Rosie Lee Tompkins was in an exhibition titled Showing Up , at the Richmond Art Center, in a town just north of Berkeley, California. This guide invites you to look closely at the art of Rosie Lee Tompkins, with prompts for observation and opportunities to describe what you see. Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp Email Print 1480 words. They were crafted objects that transcended quilting, with the power of painting. She was reclusive and fiercely protective of her privacy and the right to privacy of family. Language: English. "[14][1], She was married and divorced twice. While fraught with obligations regarding care, storage, display and access that few museums, large or small, would take on, the bequest automatically transforms the Berkeley museum, and its parent institution, the University of California, Berkeley, into an unparalleled center for the study of African-American quilts. The New York Times called her "one of the great American artists," and her work "one of the century’s major artistic accomplishments. [16], Tompkins was found dead at her home in Richmond, California on Friday December 1, 2006. The show begins by demonstrating Tompkins’s unusual range and versatility, juxtaposing quilts in smoldering velvets with a medley of found denims — a homage to her grandfather and other farmers in her family. 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. [12][13] Drawing from the Eli Leon Collection, BAMPFA organized the exhibit Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective (opened February 19, 2020; closed due to COVID-19 shut-down; re-opens September through December 20, 2020); The New York Times called it "a triumphal retrospective" that "confirms her standing as one of the great American artists–transcending craft, challenging painting and reshaping the canon. (They had met as students at Reed College and married, even though they both knew he was gay. Some feature abutting triangles that suggest desert landscapes and pyramids, perhaps the Flight into Egypt. (Others, like Henry Darger and James Castle, were white.) She was born Effie Mae Martin in rural Gould, Ark., on Sept. 9, 1936. Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work to date, featuring approximately seventy quilts, pieced tops, embroideries, assemblages, and decorated objects. 1936-2006 The African American, California quilt maker, known as Rosie Lee Tompkins, always remained anonymous. Her work is simply further evidence of the towering African-American achievements that permeate the culture of this country. More wall-hanging or even street mural than quilt, this work from around 1996 juxtaposes images of black athletes and political leaders with crosses made of silk men’s ties to evoke the complexities of succeeding while black in America. Ms. Yau provides the foundational account of Tompkins’s life, her working methods and the role of family ties and religion. Previous page. But the “self-taught” or “outsider” labels were inaccurate for quilters. She reminded me of George Ohr, the unparalleled turn-of-the-century potter from Biloxi, Miss., whose work was rediscovered in the early 1970s. [8], Works pieced by Tompkins include Tents of Armageddon Four Patch (1986),[9] Three Sixes (1987), Half-Squares Put-Together (1988), Half-Squares Medallion (1986), Half-squares Four-patch (1986), and Put Together with Letter "F" (1985). Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective marks the first exhibition at BAMPFA of Tompkins’s work since this transformative bequest, and it includes dozens of quilts that have never been exhibited previously. But even they couldn’t prepare me for the visual force of the 62 quilts and five assemblage-like memory jugs, dating from the 1970s to 2004. What else? It has the looseness of a drawing, but the selvage edges give the crosses a hint of solidity and raking light. She was actually Effie Mae Martin Howard, an Arkansas-born mother, grandmother, and practical nurse who loved piecing quilts. The New York Times named the catalog one of the Best Art Books of 2020. They both possessed an extraordinary skill and idiosyncratic abandon that creates a new sense of the possibilities of the hand, visual wit and beauty in any medium. The field of improvisational quilting by African-American women is not small, but beyond the great quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala., and a few others, their work is not widely known. In addition, the fabrics — variously elegant, every day and ersatz — bring a lot with them, not just color and texture, but also manufacturing techniques and social connotations. It seemed like a map of the melting pot of American culture and politics. It reveals Tompkins to be an artist of extraordinary variety, depth, and impact. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, "The Radical Quilting of Rosie Lee Tompkins", "Rosie Lee Tompkins, 70; Quilter Dazzled, Mystified the Art World", "Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936–2006) - Encyclopedia of Arkansas", "Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts | Oakland Museum of California", "Fractal Geometry in African American Quilt Traditions", "Rosie Lee Tompkins, African-American Quiltmaker, Dies at 70", "BAMPFA Receives Historic Bequest of Nearly Three Thousand Quilts by African American Artists", "African-American Art Quilts Find a Museum Home in California", https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rosie_Lee_Tompkins&oldid=989472356, Short description is different from Wikidata, Wikipedia articles with RKDartists identifiers, Wikipedia articles with SNAC-ID identifiers, Wikipedia articles with WORLDCATID identifiers, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, This page was last edited on 19 November 2020, at 04:55. “Drawing on the rich history of quilting in the African American community, Tompkins’s formally and technically innovative work also defies conventions and expectations. Mr. Rinder’s Rosie Lee Tompkins conversion took place in a show of black and white quilts by African-Americans that Eli organized in 1996 at the Richmond Art Center. They bow to an ancient craft and, at the quilt’s center, a spare image of the risen Christ blessing. [10], Tompkins's quilts were not made from old clothes or other scraps but from fabrics she purchased for their textures and light-reflecting qualities, including velvet, fake fur, wool, silk and Lurex. A new awareness of her creations as true pieces of art, encompassing mast ‘Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective’ — By Elaine Y. Yau, Lawrence Rinder and Horace Ballard (University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive): The catalog to the first retrospective of the quilt artist Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936-2006) is essential to familiarity with the achievements of superlative 20th-century artists who never set foot in the art world. Occasionally she stitched the addresses of the places she had lived, and Eli’s home. 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. 19 pages. During this time she married and divorced Ellis Howard, raised five children and stepchildren and started to make quilts to sell at the area’s many flea markets, along with other wares. Eli had also worked as a graphic designer and sometime in the late 1970s, after years of haunting the area’s flea markets and yard sales for whatever appealed, he zeroed in on the visual vibrancy of quilts, evolving into a self-taught scholar. Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936–2006) is the art pseudonym of Effie Mae Martin Howard, a widely-acclaimed African-American quiltmaker and fiber artist of Richmond, California. Tompkins was intensely private. 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. Rosie Lee Tompkins is the pseudonym of quilter Effie Mae Howard, who carefully guarded her privacy after her rise to national prominence in the late 1990s. 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 web site. Rosie Lee Tompkins Julia Bryan-Wilson. The final count of the Eli Leon Bequest was 3,100 quilts by over 400 artists. 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. Cotton flannel and beaded and sequined silk crepe might not be a winning combination? He lived frugally in a small bungalow in Oakland that was eventually packed to its rafters with quilts, except for his dining room and kitchen. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Eli Leon Bequest; Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times. In her “Three Sixes” quilts — inspired by the sixes in the birth dates of three family members — she acknowledged them by limiting her palette to three colors: orange, yellow and purple. The sheer joy of her best quilts cannot be overstated. I saw Eli once more, in 2016, when I went to Berkeley to review the inauguration of the museum’s new building. "[11], In 2019, as a bequest, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) acquired the Eli Leon Collection of almost 3,000 works by African-American quilt makers, including more than 500 works by Tompkins, which will find a permanent home at the museum. [17], Rinder, Lawrence (1997). But she was also adept with denim, faux furs, distressed T-shirts and fabrics printed with the faces of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Magic Johnson. Interest and support are coming forth: The museum has already received a $500,000 grant from the Luce Foundation for a follow-up survey of Eli’s entire gift in 2022, which should be every bit as surprising as this one. Cotton, cotton flannel and silk crepe with beads and sequins are among the fabrics that turn this small quilt from 2002 into an almost Cubist landscape of standing and floating crosses accompanied by the embroidered names of the Four Evangelists. With this visit, I joined a scattered group of individuals who had been seduced by Eli’s dedication but mainly by his collection, and were now concerned for its fate. 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. I listened as Eli spoke about Tompkins, her life and work, and also his. It would be gratifying to learn that she did not act alone. Effie Mae Martin had grown up as her mother’s apprentice in a kind of atelier: a small town full of female friends and relatives who quilted, the older ones showing and telling the younger ones how it was done. To raise money for his care, Ms. Hurth oversaw multiple yard sales for the contents of his house — except the quilts. Our quilts of today are stand-alone pieces of art, but should not detract from the work of an artist such as Rosie Lee Thompkins. In photographs, Rosie Lee looks tall, of regal posture. One of her signature velvets might be described as a “failed checkerboard.” Its little squares of black and dark green, lime and blue, slide continuously in and out of register, creating the illusion of ceaseless motion, like a fractal model of rippling water. One of her narrative works was 14 feet across, the size of small billboard. Rosie Lee Tompkins, 1936–2006. Rows of crosses made from men’s ties evoke the pressures of succeeding while black in America. Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective Where : Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley When : 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; closes July 19 "[1] More than 500 works by Tompkins reside at the Berkeley Art Museum. Ohr’s precariously thin-walled vessels, unlikely shapes and inspired glazing shared a kind of bravura with Tompkins’s works. Plus, we’ve included some related hands-on art activities! I felt I had been given a new standard against which to measure contemporary art. They were the jewels in the crown of a collection of African-American quilts that would eventually number in the thousands. “If people like my work,” she once told Eli, “that means the love of Jesus Christ is still shining through what I’m doing.”. There are many museum exhibitions on lockdown in the United States right now. A rugged appliquéd quilt begun in 1968, completed in 1996, celebrates California, Tompkins’s adopted state, with tourist trinkets, starlet-worthy rhinestone trim, beaded embroideries and in the lower right corner, what seems to be the back of a jacket embroidered with an image of Native Americans. The scraps of silk crepe, worthy of a flapper’s party dress, provide rhinestone angels above and the Mount of Olives below. In this masterpiece of velvet, velveteen, faux fur and panne velvet, Rosie Lee Tompkins conjures a night sky as the center of an altarpiece devoted to heaven itself. The area was also paradise for quilt collectors, one of whom was Eli, born in the Bronx in 1935 and trained as a psychologist, whose collecting instincts verged on hoarding. Tompkins — represented by more than 680 quilts, quilt tops, appliqués, clothing and objects — is undoubtedly the star. (It was written about in the Home Section of The New York Times, but significantly not in the Art pages.). 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. (Eli was not shy about his considerable brilliance.) (In the catalog, Mr. Ballard resonantly likens the field of blues to the vault of a cathedral and the borders to clerestory windows.). Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective, now on display at BAMPFA in Berkeley, marks the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever presented of … ), Eli believed Rosie Lee was a great artist and at one point made notes about illustrating an essay about her with works by Michelangelo, Mondrian and Picasso. Rosie Lee Tompkins grew up the eldest of 15 half-siblings, picking cotton and piecing quilts for her mother. The opposite corner features a distinctive Tompkins device: a small framed area composed of tiny squares that creates a quilt-within-a-quilt — which reads as a witty self-reference to the quilting process, and pulls us into the intimacy of making. One day he asked a woman selling kitchen utensils — Effie Mae Howard. And Horace D. Ballard, a former divinity student who is now a curator and art historian at Williams College and its museum, writes that Tompkins “lived in service of a higher calling,” tying her efforts to sacred music, texts and architecture. This made them canon-busting, and implicitly subversive. More and more I saw her as a great American artist, no qualifier needed. Or perhaps not. At the time of the show, she was 61 and living in nearby Richmond, Calif., just north of Berkeley. The museum’s website currently offers a robust online display and 70-minute virtual tour. By Elaine Y. Yau, Lawrence Rinder and Horace Ballard, Williams College curator of American art. As with Ohr, Tompkins’s work triggered a kind of joy on first encounter. Then, in 2013, Eli began to leave me urgent phone messages: “You have to come out here. Some people thought she might not exist, that Eli had made the quilts himself. I need help,” his thin reedy voice said. Perhaps, but the main point is that her work is open to the viewer’s response and interpretation. In this medley of blue denims, Tompkins pays homage to her grandfather, a farmer, and her sons, with scraps of worn overalls and the pockets and labels of jeans of more recent vintage. Rosie Lee Tompkins at BAMPFA. In a gallery in “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective” at the Berkeley Art Museum, a quilt made mostly of double knit polyester (far left) holds its own against a quilt with a similar “house” motif in various kinds of velvet. Tompkins elicits emotion by stripping away casual relationships in favor of intensity. Likewise. [2] Despite the fact that she was a deeply private person and rarely sold her quilts, her work was discovered in 1985 by Eli Leon, an Oakland-based collector specializing in African-American quilts. I mentioned her work in my writing when I could. In Arkansas he visited Rosie Lee’s mother, Sadie Lee Dale, and bought one of her quilts, too. You should see what she does with color!”. “I think it’s because I love them so much that God let me see all these different colors,” Tompkins once said of her patchworks. There were obituaries in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe. As New York Times critic Roberta Smith put it, “Tompkins’s textile art [works]…demolish the category.”. This surface action, I discovered, reflected her constant improvisation: Tompkins began by cutting her squares (or triangles or bars) freehand, never measuring or using a template, and intuitively changed the colors, shapes and size of her fabric fragments, making her compositions seem to expand or contract. R osie Lee Tompkins , born Effie Mae Martin in Gould, Arkansas in 1936, grew up picking cotton alongside her fourteen siblings and half-siblings. Tompkins seems to have been an artist of singular greatness, but who knows what further revelations — including the upcoming survey of the Eli Leon Bequest — are in store. To submit a letter to the editor for publication, write to. More than 500 works by Tompkins reside at the Berkeley Art Museum. Each had survived a nervous breakdown or two; Rosie Lee’s, coming sometime in the late ’70s, deepened the spirituality and intensity of her work, making it more than ever a haven from the world. Rosie Lee Tompkins, 70, whose quilts hung in museums, graced the pages of art magazines and left awestruck critics scrambling to describe them, died Dec. 1 at her home in Richmond, Calif. In a velvet quilt from 1992, the viewer is startled into closer attention by an eruption of black and white (upper right) in a field of rich colors and patch of small green and black squares framed in burnt orange, a quilt-within-a-quilt (lower left). He put three of her quilts in the show, one of which the Whitney acquired. They come at us with the force and sophistication of so-called high art, but are more democratic, without any intimidation factor. (It debuted briefly in February before the coronavirus lockdown.) A measure of Tompkins’s ambition is that she preferred to concentrate on the ‘free-jazz’ aspect of her work: piecing the quilt tops. She was born Effie Mae Martin in rural Gould, Ark., on Sept. 9, 1936. Rosie Lee Tompkins Anthony Meier Fine Arts Rosie Lee Tompkins, Untitled, ca. University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2020. A remarkable early quilt from the 1970s is pieced almost entirely of blocks of found fabric embroidered with flowers — old and new, machine- and handmade. Bing, Alison (November 2003). 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. In the #11 series, Artforum invites contributors to add one more thing to their 2020 Top 10 list.Here, Lynne Cooke discusses “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective,” on view at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California through July 18, 2021. Another narrative quilt is more like a wall-hanging, or maybe a street mural, pieced with large fragments of black and white fabric and T-shirts printed with images of African-American athletes and political leaders. Sometimes the embroidery reflected her daily Bible reading, including the Gospels, as did her addition of appliqué crosses. Eli died on March 6, 2018, at 82, in an assisted-living home. He would later write, “She was evasive, but eventually let on that she herself dabbled in the craft.”. Then, several months later, came the amazing news: Eli had bequeathed his entire quilt collection to the Berkeley Art Museum, a tribute to the early advocacy of Mr. Rinder. She signed nearly everything with her real name, Effie, or some combination of Effie Mae Martin Howard, and often added her nearly palindromic date of birth, 9.6.36, or the birth dates of her sons, her parents and other relatives she wanted to honor. UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Eli Leon Bequest; Ben Blackwell. Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective marks the first exhibition at BAMPFA of Tompkins’s work since this transformative bequest, and it includes dozens of quilts that have never been exhibited previously. 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 … Other women finished the quilts by adding a layer of wadding and the back, a standard practice. It shows small individual adjustments made and liberties taken, almost granular expressions of imagination and freedom. The question of their destiny hung uneasily in the air. Thereafter he bought everything she would sell him, sometimes going into debt to do so. Anthony Meier Fine Arts will present a solo exhibition of never-before-seen works by renowned American artist Rosie Lee Tompkins(1936–2006), "Rosie Lee Tompkins at Anthony Meier Fine Arts". Rosie Lee and Eli were an odd pair, both willful, defensive and fragile. As a result her quilts could be deliriously akimbo, imbued with a mesmerizing pull of differences and inconsistencies that communicates impassioned attention and care. Most of the pieces in this show were quilted by Irene Bankhead, whose work Eli also collected. She worked with the convention of the quilt block but with enormous variation in size, free distortions of shape and vivid color contrasts that have been described as "geometric anarchy" and "riotous mosaics. Spread out in the museum’s sky-lighted galleries, the work’s beauty is more insistent than ever. Rosie Lee Tompkins is an artist who practiced meditation as quilting, who speaks directly to the current chaotic world of stay-at-home orders and social distance, our yearning for meaning. The comments section is closed. “As an artist, Tompkins may have taken improvisation further than other quilters. She said she believed God directed her hand and her art. He met Rosie Lee Tompkins at a flea market and became her fan, eventually bequeathing his collection to the Berkeley Art Museum. Quilter in Texas, runs a close second, with around 300 quilts in the show and! 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