Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bisa Butler - Quilts in Galleries

Bisa Butler, sistah quilter in New Jersey, has her quilts in two galleries: The Hearne Fine Arts Gallery in Little Rock, Arkansas and the E & S Gallery in Louisville, KY.

"My work has always had that kind of hybrid quality because I was a painting major at Howard. I started adding fabric to my paintings because Romare Bearden did that in some of his collages. Little by little the fabric took over the canvas," Bisa shared with me recently.

"My first gallery show was at the Essex County College gallery where my father works. The opening night was so much fun, and I got such positive reinforcement and love from people who just stopped through that I realized all the years I had been hiding my work away I was really missing out on something," Bisa said.

"At that time I really didn't realize that quilters were stigmatized somehow or categorized as crafters and not as artists. I think that is prejudiced and silly. I think that the Gee's Bend show opened up the eyes of many gallery owners about the art of quilts, and of course Faith Ringgold's work. I did have one really embarrassing meeting at a gallery where the owner told me he didn't think there was a place for my type of quilt. He accepted that the qualities of the Gees Bend quilts were the African American quilt aesthetic and that my pieces were not apart of that. I also remember him saying that all sorts of people are now calling themselves "Fiber Artists" and he wasn't sure if they were really artists at all. I felt like my face was about to fall off at that point. I wanted to cry but I just accepted the criticism and was able to walk out of there with some dignity left. I knew deep down that he was wrong."

Bisa continued, "After that I went to the October Gallery in Philadelphia. They do a First Fridays event where the artists pay for wall space. If I remember it was $100 for a 10 x 10 wall space and the work can hang for the whole month until the next Friday. That event is really fantastic for new artists because all of the galleries are open and free to the public. Black, White, young, and old all come out to browse, shop, listen to music, and enjoy the snacks. Some people criticize commercial galleries like the October Gallery but they really helped me to gain my confidence to approach other galleries."

Bisa - thanks for sharing your story! To Black Threads readers - feel free to leave your comments about Bisa, and the challenges and celebrations you have in getting your quilts shown in galleries.


sabasi said...

Thanks for sharing this post on Bisa's story with us. Her work is phenomenal and her story reflects that of so many fiber artists as they deal with criticism from the art world.

Anonymous said...

Does Bisa Butler have a website or contact information?

Anonymous said...

Bisa Butler is in an exhibit in Morristown -- see my post at

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.