Rosie Lee Tompkins Quilts at Berkeley Art Museum

Way back in the '90s, a friend (my first book arts professor and mentor, also) and I were curious about quilts and went around looking at quilt exhibits together. She recently reminded me that we once drove out to the Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco where there was a display of quilts in an opulent private home. I vaguely remember dark wood and staircases, but I do clearly remember a velvet quilt. It might have been green velvet, and we marveled at it. We had never seen anything like it before. It was likely not square, one end wider than the other. The shapes were pieced in a lively manner, not a perfectly repeating pattern. The texture was lovely, we could tell, even without being able to touch it. We are pretty sure now it was a quilt by a local Richmond, CA artist, Rosie Lee Tompkins (aka Effie Mae Hopkins) (1936-2006).

Since the 1980s, she made hundreds of quilts, and her work was collected by Eli Leon, who died two years ago (1935-2018) and left his collection of three thousand African-American made quilts to the Berkeley Art Museum, in the care of Lawrence Rinder, Director and Chief Curator, who had previously organized a show of Rosie Lee Tompkins' work in 1997.

Her work, a solo show, is now on display at the Berkeley Art Museum. We had been waiting for it. There are approximately 70 pieces in the show, and we were able to take our time and admire each piece within an hour. It is stunning. Lively is really the best word for her work. There are some obsessive areas of detail, unusual color pairings, quilts with fabrics that glitter, velvet quilts where the color changes shades depending on which way the nap runs. It's very hard to emulate one of these quilts; I've tried!

Rosie Lee Tompkins created the tops and had others do the quilting for her, including Irene Bankhead, Willia Ette Graham and Johnnie Wade. She apparently bought her fabrics precisely for their interesting qualities. Almost all the works are untitled. In this case, I'm not sure what else there would be to say. The exhibit is through July 19, 2020.

A few works by Rosie Lee Tompkins.

and a neat inset detail in the above work

sparkly blue

Two pink ones in conversation

Oh, this takes patience!

The orange commands attention so you almost miss the pinwheels of dark fabrics in this one. 
A wonderful pattern disruption!
I hadn't noticed this before, but my friend sees two eyes in this one.

Freshly inspired. I'll be going back.