The New York Times on Saturday posted a beautiful article on Rosie Lee Tompkins, the California quilter born in Gould whose unusual and amazing work has been the subject of two exhibitions and hailed as “canon-busting, and implicitly subversive” by arts writer Roberta Smith.
Tompkins was the pseudonym of Effie Mae Howard (nee Martin), who was born in 1936 in Gould (Lincoln County) and learned quilting from her mother. An entry on Tompkins in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas notes that she believed that God designed her patchwork.
The New York Times article tells the story of quilt collector Eli Leon, who discovered Tompkins at a flea market where she was selling kitchen utensils and went on to buy whatever she would sell him. Leon, who died in 2018, bequeathed his quilt collection, which included 680 quilts, quilt tops, appliqués, clothing and objects, to the Berkley Art Museum. Tompkins died in 2006 in California.
The Berkeley Art Museum website offers a slideshow and a virtual tour of the retrospective exhibition of Tompkins’ work, which opened in February but had to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The images there and in the New York Times piece are of extraordinary works of art, which Smith also likened to op-art, though “softer, less mechanical and altogether more appealing.”
I long to see these quilts in person; the show would make a superb opening exhibition at the new Arkansas Arts Center in 2022.
The image that appears at the opening link to this article is of Tompkins’ quilt “Blue Medallion.” Photographer was Sharon Risedorph.