Something Pertaining to God: The Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins

A view of a gallery space. Large quilts are hanging on each wall. They are colorful and almost take up the whole wall, creating a warm and cozy interior.
Jun 27 to Sep 21, 2008

Something Pertaining to God: The Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins features 40 quilted objects, including 15 large quilts, clothing, chair covers, and pillows, by this acclaimed California artist.

Effie Mae Howard, who exhibited her quilts under the pseudonym Rosie Lee Tompkins, helped her mother piece quilts in rural Arkansas as a child. After moving to California in 1958, she settled in Richmond, where she worked as a nurse in a convalescent home. Friendly and outgoing, she married twice and raised five children and stepchildren. In the late 1970s, however, she went through a difficult time. Tompkins found solace in prayer and needlework and combined the two, infusing her patchwork with spirituality.

Eventually, her talents placed her at the forefront of contemporary art. Yet, as public interest in her quilts developed, she had no interest in personal recognition. She began to exhibit her work under the name Rosie Lee Tompkins, allowing her to maintain her privacy but still making her patchwork accessible to the public.

Since her death in December 2006, at age 70, it is finally possible to directly associate Effie Mae Howard with her quilts. Many of the works in this show are on public view for the first time; during her lifetime, pieces signed “Effie” or “Effie Mae Howard” were not exhibited. While much of Tompkins’ work appears unorthodox, she did learn traditional techniques, such as improvisational piecing, and aesthetic values from her family and community.

Organized by the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, this exhibition is the first solo museum show for the artist. Tompkins’ quilts were featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial and have been part of group exhibitions nationwide. Her works are also included in the collections of several major museums.

An installation view of a gallery space shows two large quilts hanging on a white wall. The quilts have an abstract pattern and have dark colors, especially the dark blue colors are prominent, creating a feeling of nighttime.

Installation view of Something Pertaining to God: The Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins