ROSIE LEE TOMPKINS: SEVEN QUILTS
by Lawrence Rinder
Rosie Lee Tompkins, who is considered by some to be the greatest quilter who ever lived, rarely made a quilt. That is because she was almost exclusively concerned with pieced tops, the sewn together pieces of fabric that form the top layer of a traditional quilt. To “quilt” is to add an inner batting and backing to the pieced top, giving the textile substance, strength and greater capacity for warmth. Tompkins, however, was primarily focused on the visual (and spiritual) aspects of her works, not their everyday functionality. Of her over five hundred works, the vast majority were either quilted by others (women whom Tompkins never met) or left unquilted.
So, it is a rare opportunity to see, in this exhibition, seven textiles that Tompkins quilted herself. In these works, we can appreciate several distinctive characteristics of her quilting. For most of these pieces, Tompkins created a border by folding the edge of the backing fabric so that it forms a frame around the pieced top; thus, the backing material (its color, pattern, imagery, texture) becomes an essential element of the composition. When Tompkins quilted, she often preferred the technique known as “tying” in which the three layers of the quilt are connected by means of a length of yarn that ties them together. In Tompkins’ quilts, these ebullient colored ties are welcomed as an element of visual interest in themselves, bright accents that add dynamic energy even as they serve as an all-over, unifying motif.
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