Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936 - 2006)

Northern California sistah quilter and Arkansas native Rosie Lee Tompkins passed away last week.

I first became familiar with Tompkins' quilts from Eli Leon's catalog, Who'd a Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking: December 31, 1987 to February 28, 1988. Tompkins stitched incredibly colorful free-form, strip and string quilts. Her works were exhibited in solo shows at Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA (2003), Peter Blum, New York, NY (2002), the Berkeley Art Museum (1997) and numerous group exhibitions. (Photo: Three Sixes, 1986)

Tompkins, a pseudonym, wished to remain anonymous. Whatever her real name, I'm glad her quilts were shared with us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


(excerpts below - ikh)

Rosie Lee Tomkins (Effie Mae Howard), 1936-2006
By Eli Leon, Special to the Planet (12-08-06)

African-American quiltmaker Effie Mae Howard who, under the name of Rosie Lee Tompkins, produced astonishing works of patchwork art, died at the age of 70, Thursday or Friday, of unknown causes. New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote that Tompkins’s textile art works “demolish the category.”
“Tompkins’s work reminds us,” Smith said, “that the truly global nature of 20th-century modernism is not yet fully known. It also confirms that the persistence of painting is but one part of a larger phenomenon: the cross-medium, transcultural ubiquity of the pictorial.”

Deeply religious, Tompkins felt that she was God’s instrument. Her patchworks were designed by Him; she was grateful to have found this uplifting way of worshiping. Following an elaborate personal code that came to her during prayer, she pieced with particular family members in mind. Empowered by a force greater than herself, she thus attended to in-family spiritual relationships in the course of fabricating her extraordinary works of art.

Tompkins was intensely private. She only ever met four people as the artist “Rosie Lee Tompkins” (curator Lawrence Rinder, Africanist Robert Farris Thompson, historian Glenna Matthews, and myself, since I am a quilt scholar). But she heard voices, believed that her phone was tapped, and never arrived at the peace she so desired.

“I feel like I don’t have any privacy—” she told me, “like I’m living in a glass house or something—where everybody’s always looking in or listening to what I say.”

article continues with more...