Black Quilts: Katherine Jentleson in Conversation with O. V. Brantley, Bridget R. Cooks, and Marsha MacDowell
May 4, 2023 | 7–8 p.m.
Location: High Museum of Art
Over the past five years, the High has more than quadrupled the number of quilts made by African American women in its collection, which today range from one of Jessie Telfair’s iconic Freedom Quilts to fifteen masterpieces from the artists of Gee’s Bend and stunning pieces by members of Atlanta’s more than twenty-year-old quilt guild, the Brown Sugar Stitchers Quilt Guild. Since the 2018 reinstallation of the High’s collection, about half a dozen quilts have been presented in an ongoing rotation within the Folk and Self-Taught Art galleries in cross-collection displays that explore themes such as civil rights history, the continuation of folk traditions, and still life in the work of both trained and untrained twentieth-century artists.
As the Museum prepares for a 2024 exhibition featuring Black quilts from its collection, it will bring together quilters, curators, community-based arts leaders, and historians from a variety of disciplines to talk about how to provide greater visibility, care, and context for Black quilts. This event features three esteemed panelists in conversation with curator Katherine Jentleson about their experiences making, documenting, and critically interpreting quilts.
About Our Guests
O.V. Brantley is a self-taught quilter who began quilting in 1999, and since then, has made more than three hundred quilts. She is a founding member and past president of the Brown Sugar Stitchers Quilt Guild and is cofounder of the Atlanta Quilt Festival, the largest African American quilt festival in the country. Her quilts have won awards at various quilt shows and been featured in several publications, including Georgia Quilts: Piecing Together a History (University of Georgia Press, 2006). Her work has been featured in exhibitions including Say Your Piece Black Women: Mothers, Martyrs and Misunderstood (2022–2023) and Long Time Coming: A Retrospective of O.V. Brantley’s Red and White Quilts (2022–2023). Several of her quilts, including Choose to Bloom, have been exhibited at the International Quilt Festival (2017, 2021). In 2019, she was commissioned by the United Negro College Fund to create a memory quilt for Oprah Winfrey.
Bridget R. Cooks is a scholar and curator focused on African American art. She serves as Chancellor’s Fellow and professor of African American Studies and Art History at the University of California, Irvine. She has curated several exhibitions including Lava Thomas: Homecoming (2022); The Black Index (2021–2022), which toured nationally; Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective (2019); and Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California (2018). Her writing can be found widely across interdisciplinary academic publications and art exhibition catalogues. She is most well known as the author of the book Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum (UMass, 2011), for which she received the James A. Porter and David C. Driskell Book Award in African American Art History. Her other awards have come from the Ford Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Getty Research Institute, California Humanities, and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Marsha MacDowell, PhD, is professor and curator of Quilt Studies and Folk Arts at Michigan State University Museum, director at Michigan Traditional Arts Program, and director at The Quilt Index. As a publicly engaged scholar, her work is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to material culture, informed primarily by art historical, folkloristic, and ethnographic theories and methodologies, and developed and implemented in collaboration with community representatives. She focuses on documentation and analysis of the production, meaning, and use of traditional material culture (particularly quilt making, especially that of Hmong American, African American, Native American, South African, and Southwest Chinese minority women); the role of museums in contemporary society; and creation of innovative ways, including digital repositories, to increase access to and use of traditional arts materials. Her book Quilts and Related Textiles of South Africa: Investigating an African Art (Indiana University Press) is forthcoming.