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Quilt maker,folkartist,writer, from Freestone County, Tx.

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Books about African American Quilts

UNCONVENTIONAL AND UNEXPECTED QUILTS

Eli Leon Collection of Titus Family Quilts


(Click on Photos for slideshow.)

All photos contributed by Eli Leon unless specified otherwise.









Eli Leon,
Mission Statement
:

The knowledge, attitudes and values carried across the Atlantic by enslaved Africans appear to have informed a quilt making tradition so powerful that, to this day, it preserves its identity in a special province of African-American quilts.  Such "Afro-traditional" quilts are made by people who have no formal art training and who usually do not consider themselves artists; they learned their craft and absorbed its esthetics by watching and helping their mothers, aunts and grandmothers who, in turn, learned from previous generations--an astonishingly short, direct line to the patchwork traditions of enslaved African-Americans.

The resulting--often highly idiosyncratic--quilts call out to be seen as the works of art that they are.  Not that they cease to be products of custom.  The brilliance of this work must also be credited to a tradition which encourages individual expression and provides a context in which the talents of individual artists can flourish.

Improvisation, pervasive in black African art and familiar as a basic element of many African-American musical forms, is a vital force in this tradition.  The artisans maintain a generous attitude toward the accidental, embracing innovations that originate beyond the conscious domain.  They use approximate measurement, stepping up the order of variability by dealing creatively with the tricky piecing predicaments that ensue.  They use "flexible patterning," in which the design, conceived of as an invitation to variation, will not repeat, but will materialize in a sequence of visual elaborations.

Afro-traditional attitudes and methods are antithetical to the standard American quilt making tradition--practiced by both whites and blacks--in which great value is placed on precise measurement and exact pattern replication.  They bear keen likeness, however, to the improvisatory practices of the textiles-makers of
Kongo and West Africa, regions from which American slaves were taken.  These antipathies and affinities suggest an enduring African influence on the Afro-traditional quilt.

My shows and catalogs celebrate the sophistication, vivacity and significance of improvisational African-American quilts, both as artistic achievements and as expressions of African-American traditions.……………

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Resume:   Eli Leon (elileon1@yahoo.com)

                                                                         ***

Awards:  John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1989.

               Surface Design Association Critical Writing Award for the development and
               application of critical vocabulary in the field of surface design, 1990.
                                                                        ***
Selected Publications:
Something Pertaining to God: The Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins.  Shelburne Museum., Shelburne, Vermont, May-Oct, 2007. 
Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African Textiles and African-American Quilts, Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, Nov 2006-Feb, 2007.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quiltmakers.  Museum of Craft and Folk Art, San Francisco, 2006; Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, Aug-Nov 2007.
Improving the Bow Tie.  Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA, June-Aug 2005.
"Too Short to Save: African-American Improvisational String Quilts," in A Report from the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2002 
Let It Shine: Improvisation in African-American Star Quilts (exhibition catalog), William D. Cannon Art Gallery, San Diego, CA. 2001.
Review of My Quilts and Me: The Diary of an American Quilter by Nora McKeown Ezell, in Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association, Issue No. 3, 2000, pp. 75-79. 
No Two Alike: African-American Improvisations on a Traditional Patchwork Pattern (exhibition catalog), South Carolina State Museum, 1998.
"African Influence on the American Block-style Quilt," in Sally Gant, ed.,African Impact on the Material Culture of the Americas (collected symposium papers), Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Old Salem Inc., Winston-Salem, NC, 1998.
Something Else to See: Improvisational Bordering Styles in African-American Quilts (exhibition catalog), University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1997.
"Shadows of the Divine Perfection," in Lawrence Rinder, ed., Rosie Lee Tompkins(exhibition catalog), Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, 1997.
"Showing Up": African-American Maximum-contrast Quilts (exhibition catalog), Richmond Art Center, 1996.
Arbie Williams Transforms the Britches Quilt (exhibition catalog), University of California, Santa Cruz, 1993.
Models in the Mind: African Prototypes in American Patchwork (exhibition catalog), Winston-Salem State University, 1992.
"Cross-strip Patterning in African Textiles and African-American Quilts," Surface Design Journal, Vol.15, #1, Fall, 1990, pp.6-8,38. 
Who'd a Thought It: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking (exhibition catalog), Introduction by Robert Farris Thompson, San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum, 1988.
"Wrapping Home Around Me: How the Patchwork Quilt became a Medium for the Expression of African Values," in Rambling On My Mind (exhibition catalog), Museum of African-American Life and Culture, Dallas, 1987, pp.18-33.
                                                                          

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Selected Exhibitions:

Sunshine and Surprises: African American Quilts from the Eli Leon and Robert Cargo Collections. Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK. Aug 16-19, 2007.

Something Pertaining to God: The Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins.Shelburne Museum., Shelburne, Vermont, May-Oct, 2007. 

Approximate Measure: Improvisational African-American Quilts.  Shirley/Jones Gallery, 235 Corry Street, Yellow Springs, Ohio, Jan-March 2007. 
Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African Textiles and African-American Quilts, Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, Nov 2006-Feb, 2007.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quiltmakers.Museum of Craft and Folk Art, San Francisco, 2006; Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, Aug-Nov 2007.
Let It Shine: Improvisation in African-American Star Quilts, William D. Cannon Art Gallery, Carlsbad, CA, Sept-Nov 2001; Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, June-Sept 2002; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, Feb-March 2003; New England Quilt Museum, Sept-Nov 2003; New York State Museum, Jan-March 2004
No Two Alike: African-American Improvisations on a Traditional Patchwork Pattern, South Carolina State Museum, Oct 1998-March 1999; Vermont Folklife Center, Sept-Nov 1999; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, Jan-March 2000; National Afro-American Museum, April-June 2001; Santa Rosa Junior College, Feb-March 2003.





African-American 

Quilts and; Quilters




"My first awareness of African-American quilts as a category of quilt making came several years ago when Eli Leon, collector of African-American quilts and author of several books and show catalogs, came to me to help him solve a problem dating a quilt with questions about the dyes on it. Eli had received a Guggenheim award several years ago to aid in his research and collecting of African-American quilts. I later read one of his well-researched books and saw how he drew parallels between the quilts made in the African-American community and the fabrics which I knew and loved from Africa. I was hooked! (He also draws parallels with jazz, another of my favorite things, and African-American quilt improvisation styles.) The combination of elements of traditional African textiles with the blocks and patterns of traditional American quilt patterns can result in a joyful finished quilt………."



An earlier exhibit, …of quilts from Eli Leon's collection, was called Who'd A Thought It ,and it traveled to several museums around the USA. The catalog was published by the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum with an introduction by Robert Farris Thompson, an African-American scholar. 


copyright Susan C. Druding 2000


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Improvisation with Needle and Thread

Imagine a field of study that requires information that can’t be found in a book, archive, or art museum. There’s no conventional way to gather samples. Tracking down exemplary specimens can involve con men and bribery. 

Welcome to the world of Eli Leon ’57, (He graduated from Reed College in 1957), who has carved out a niche as a leading scholar and curator of improvisational African-American quilts. 

Leon, who majored in psychology at Reed and has an M.A. in psychology from the University of Chicago, has published numerous books on the subject and won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989 to further his study. 
Early on, Leon focused his collecting efforts on quilts more familiar to Euro-Americans, in which the fabric patches are painstakingly measured, and stitches are tiny and even. His focus shifted in 1981, though, when a “quilts wanted” ad in an Oakland newspaper led him to a quilt that defied everything he thought he knew about the craft. That’s when Leon traded a leather jacket for the address of a reputed con artist—the son of the remarkable quilt’s maker—in an effort to learn more about its origins (improvisational quilts are often sold at auction without attribution to their makers).
Quilts like the one Leon happened upon in 1981 have been likened to jazz, gospel music, and the blues, for departing from rigid repetition and for embodying the personal preferences of the maker. Arbie Williams, a National Heritage Award-winning quilter, once told Leon: “If you get discomfortable with something you’re making . . . just cut it down the middle and send it to the other side.”
Quilters discovered by Leon, such as Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936–), who grew up in a large family where poverty demanded that every scrap of cloth be put to use, express themselves piece by piece in patchworks. Leon says these quilts and quilters have changed the way he thinks about art. “The revelation that a body of work seen by the dominant culture as nothing but failed attempts to meet that culture’s rigid standards is, on the contrary, a powerful and sophisticated art form with its own ideals and conventions, affected me deeply,” he says. “The growth process I’ve undergone to transcend my culture-boundedness has been exhilarating.” 
This spring, Leon’s seventh cataloged exhibition was shown at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African American Quiltmakers featured improvisational quilts by four generations of women from one Texas family. Much of the same material will be displayed at the Brattleboro Museum in Vermont in 2007–08; check www.brattleboromuseum.org for details. In the meantime, Leon will have another cataloged show—Accidentally on Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African and African American Textiles—at the Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa, November 18, 2006 through February 11, 2007 (see www.figgeartmuseum.org).
—Rachel Fredericks ’04
  
Eli Leon ’57               Alumni Peofiles / Reed Magazine  / Autumn 2006

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The Beautiful Choas of Improvisational Quilts

July 13, 2011

by Lisa Hix


"Quilt collector Eli Leon explains that while improvisational quilts may look spontaneous, they do require technical proficiency and quilting know-how. “Improvisational quilts are not crazy at all,” he says. “They often have a number of patterns in one quilt. They may even be the same pattern on the whole quilt, but it doesn’t necessarily look that way because the pattern keeps varying.”….


Leon—an Oakland, California, resident who has amassed many collections in his lifetime, including toasters1930s salt-and-pepper shakers, and quilts of many kindsfirs came atcross improvisational quilts and the work of Sherry Byrd in the early ’80s. He knew he’d unearthed a unique form of folk art, and one that deserved a spotlight…….

“I was going around to museums and showing them slides of mine, wanting to do a show,” Leon says. “The curators I met were very doubtful that I had anything of interest. They didn’t like the improvisational quilts and certainly didn’t think that they were as special as I did. But the director of the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum at the time, J. Weldon Smith, was a scholar of African art. He was fascinated and allowed me to have a show.”

Despite all the curatorial doubts, the show was a runaway hit, as museum-goers immediately responded to the quilts’ life-affirming vibrancy and brilliance. “I wasn’t going to have a show without a catalog, so Smith agreed to do a catalog,” Leon says. “He ended up printing 10,000 of them, and they all sold out.”…..

In fact, the exhibition was such a hit, it toured the country, stopping at around 25 different museums, including prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian. The show put the San Francisco museum, now called the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, on the map……


For Leon, he sees a similarity between improvisational quilts—which he calls antithetical to traditional American quilting—and textiles produced in West Africa and the Congo. He cites commonalities such as broken patterns, improvisation, and palindromic motifs, as well as a great variety of bordering styles……



As Leon, a white man, continued to publish books and showcase his collection around the country over the next 20 years, his race never seemed to be an issue. Byrd and her family, for example, were pleased to find such an enthusiastic buyer and advocate…..

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Joanna Williams Says :

This is a thoughtful, feeling account of an artistic tradition and the man who studies it. The illustrations are high quality, especially the details. A model for such and article…..


January 28th, 2012 at 8:14 pm Anne Seiden Says: 

Beautiful work…..which despite the amazing artistry of the pieceworkers and quilters….. still, almost none of us would have known about without Eli Leon’s practical and scholarly work…..AMAZING ALL THE WAY AROUND…….



















Gladys C. Durham –Henry Biography
GLADYS CELIA DURHAM-HENRY (born 1906-died 1996) …in Butler, Texas… into a family of quilters, including her mother Ellen Anna Titus-Durham,(b.1884-d.1930) ;her grandmother, Patsie Reddick-Manning. She completed schooling that was available  in her community ,at Owens Chapel school,(up to the eighth grade) and married her husband Willie Elbert Henry,….
Her quilting activity was part and parcel of the activities she undertook to support and nuture her household. In addition to quilting, she sewed clothes for people, crocheted, tatted, and made rag rugs. Like the farmwoman she was, she canned fresh vegetables from the kitchen garden she tended herself….
Gladys Henry watched her mother and grandmother make quilts when she was a girl. As an adult, with scraps readily available from her dress making  job, she successfully began quilt making as a vocation. She would invent patterns, use those from friends and even adapt patterns from crossword puzzles retrieved from newspapers. Her own daughter, Laverne Brackens would later comment on her mother’s ingenuity at creating beauty from these scraps.
Yet, the legacy of her quilting is especially notable, as all participants in the exhibit "QUILTS OF COLOR: THREE GENERATIONS IN AN AFRO-TEXAN FAMILY" point to her as a central influence…she is even the most direct influence on the quilting career of her grand daughter ,Sherry Byrd.

Pat Jasper, Director
Texas Folklife Resources Gallery ,
Austin, Texas…1999
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AAVAD.COM

Gladys Henry Resume



GENERAL BOOKS AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS:

ATLANTA (GA). High Museum of Art.

No Two Alike: African-American Improvisational Quilts.
September, 1996-February,1997.
27 pp. exhib. cat., color illus. of quilts with their makers. Text by Eli Leon. Quilts by 21 quilt makers, from the folk art collection of scholar Eli Leon. The exhibition is divided into four groups: Square Within a Square emphasizes improvisational variations on a widely used quilt pattern; High Contrast, the second section, features mostly black and white quilts based in the African American aesthetic "showing up," i.e. standing out through the use of large patterns, bold colors, and strong contrasts; the third section features quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; and the fourth section displays the work of four generations of women in one quilting family: Gladys Henry, her daughter, granddaughter Sherry Byrd and great granddaughter Bara Byrd. Other quiltmakers included: Louisa Fite, Kitty Jones, Minnie Lee Metcalf, Fannie Mae Moore, Maple Swift, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Arbie Williams, et al. Excerpt from Leon's introduction (p.6): Practices such as measuring approximately, using scraps as found, incorporating accidents into the finished work and making frequent exceptions to whatever rules may have been established, are all aspects of a vision in which incidental contingencies, accepted as spontaneous offerings, are skillfully managed to contribute to the beauty and individuality of an artist's work. Accordingly, quiltmaker Laverne Brackens--an eloquent spokeswoman for improvisation--talks of "off-centering the centerpiece," displaying odd selvages, turning printed stripes in different directions, stripping lengthwise and widthwise in the same quilt, enlarging blocks that are too small for the current need with long strips of fabric, and working out the pattern as she goes along, all to effect a "different look," "change it up," or "give that quilt a offset look." [Traveled to: South Carolina State Museum, October, 1998-March, 1999; Vermont Folklife Center, September-November, 1999; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, January-March 2000; National Afro-American Museum, April-June, 2001; Santa Rosa Junior College, February-March, 2003; Museum of Art, University of Maine, October 21, 2005-January 14, 2006.] Sq. 4to (10 x 10 in.), wraps.


CHICAGO (IL). Mayor's Office, City of Chicago.

The Chicago Public Art Guide.

Chicago (IL): Dept. of Public Affairs,.

92 pp., approx. 150 color illus., intro. text by Gregory G. Knight. Contains index of works by region, branch library installations, special projects, map, index of artists with titles of work. Includes color illus. of the following works: Richard Hunt (Freeform, 1993, stainless steel sculpture, State of Illinois Building); Preston Jackson (Irv Kupcinet Memorial, 2006, bronze cast portrait sculpture, Wabash Ave./approach to Irv Kupcinet Bridge.) Works at the Harold Washington Library Center: Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo (Du Sable's Journey, 1991, terrazzo and inlaid brass floor design); Jacob Lawrence (Events in the Life of Harold Washington, 1991, ceramic tile mural.) Works in the collection of the Harold Washington Library Center: Faith Ringgold (The Winner, 1988, painted quilt); Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture); John Bankston (painting); William Dawson (sculptures); Robert Dilworth (painting); Richard Hunt (drawing); Preston Jackson (sculpture); Calvin Jones (painting); Bertrand Phillips (painting); David Philpot (sculptures); Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (painting); Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (painting); Alison Saar (sculpture); Lorna Simpson (photographic print); Fan Warren (drawings). At the Legler Branch Library: Elizabeth Catlett (Floating Family, 1996, carved wood); and Kerry James Marshall (Knowledge and Wonder, 1996, mural painting). At the Austin Senior Satellite Center: Brook Collins (Family Mosaics, 2006, 15 photographs) and Melvin King (Follette Park and Selma March, 2006, paintings). At the Rosemont busline station: Martin Puryear (River Road Ring, 1986, wood sculpture). At the 4th District Police Station: Amir Nour (Untitled, 1980, rolled steel semi-spheres). In Bronzeville/along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive: Alison Saar (Monument to the Great Northern Migration, 1994, bronze figure sculpture); art benches by: Willie Cole, Geraldine McCullough; Ed Dwight (Blues Sculptures - Four Musicians, 2005, bronze sculptures, at 47th St./Dr. Martin Luther King Drive). Chicago Police Dept. Headquarters /Michigan Ave.: 4 quilts by Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd and Sara Byrd - four generations of African American quiltmakers. At Chicago International Airport: Dawoud Bey (Chicago Couples, 2000, photographic print); Richard Hunt (Flight Forms, 2001, stainless steel.) At the Thurgood Marshall Branch Library: Venus Blue (They All Had Something in Common, 1995, quilt). At the Woodson Branch Library: Bernard Williams (sculpture). At the Rogers Park Branch Library: Al Tyler (paintings). At the Uptown Branch Library: Mr. Imagination (installation). At Mabel Manning Branch Library: Dawoud Bey (photographs) and Willie Carter (painting). At Logan Square Branch Library: Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (paintings). At West Chicago Branch Library: Nick Cave (fabric). At Brainerd Branch Library: Preston Jackson (sculpture). At Douglass Branch Library: Emilio Cruz (banners.). At Woodson Branch Library: Richard Hunt (sculpture), Charles Searles (sculpture), and Bernard Williams (sculpture). At Wrightwood-Ashburn Branch Library: Candida Alvarez (stained glass) and Gerald Griffin (collage). At Avalon Branch Library: Stephen Marc (photographs). At Bessie Coleman Branch Library: Laverne Brackens (quilt) and Arbie Williams (quilt.) At Chicago Bee Branch Library: Carrie Mae Weems (painting/mixed media), Derek Webster (sculpture), and Gregg Spears (painting). At Jeffery Manor Branch Library: Marva Lee Pitchford Jolly (ceramic installation). At Kelly Branch Library: Robert Dilworth (painting) and Jacob Lawrence (lithograph). At Pullman Branch Library: Orisegun Olomidun (painting) and Bernard Williams (mural). At South Chicago: Kerry James Marshall (mural). At South Shore Branch Library: Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture and mosaic) and Laverne Brackens (quilt). West Pullman Branch Library: Marcus Akinlana (mural and mixed media). [See: explorechicago.org] pdf file: www.explorechicago.org/etc/...art.../ENTIRE_PA_WEB.pdf
SAN FRANCISCO (CA). Museum of Craft and Folk Art.
Will the Circle be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilts.
May 4-July 23, 2006.
Group exhibition. Curated by Eli Leon. Eleven improvisational quilts, made by four generations of a single Texas family, spanning nearly a century in the lives of Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, and Bara Byrd. Extensive oral history from each quiltmaker, a photograph and biography of each are included in the exhibition. [Traveled to Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, August 11-November 25, 2007.]
YELLOW SPRINGS (OH). Shirley-Jones Gallery.
Approximate Measure, Improvisation in African-American Quilts.
January 19-March 10, 2007.
Group exhibition. Included: Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Bara Byrd, Willia Ette Graham, Irene Bankhead.



AAVAD.COM



















Biography

Laverne Arella Henry-Brackens

Born: 1927

Laverne Arella Henry-Brackens is the daughter of W.E. (Willie Elbert) Henry, Sr. and Gladys Celia Durham-Henry. She was born April 13, 1927 in Freestone County, Texas. She is their fourth child and oldest daughter. Her siblings are:
Clyde Henry 
Coleman Henry 
Richmond Henry 
Laverne Arella Henry-Brackens
 Aldessa Joyce Henry-Bass 
Willie E. (Elbert) Henry, Jr.
 Vernetta Lee Henry 
Eleanore Henry (died in child birth) 
Clifton Artel Henry
Their father W.E. was an only child and their mother, Gladys, was the only Durham daughter who gave birth to children, among the four sisters in her family.  Gladys was  a homemaker and quilted to keep the large family of children warm in the winter time. Laverne participated in her mother's quilt making activities during her youth. She began learning to quilt as a child, when she helped her mother, Gladys Henry in her quilting, but had no interest in learning the craft. 



"Laverne is the middle generation of the quilters still active in her family today. Like her Aunt Katie Mae Tatum and her daughter Sherry Byrd, she learned the basics of quilting at home. observing her mother and grandmother and occasionally trying her hand at stitching and piecing. But as one of the eldest children in her parent's home, she recalls being responsible for many other household tasks. Perhaps for this reason she didn't continue quilting as a young woman.



 After marrying Connie Freddie Lee Brackens in the 1940's, Mrs. Brackens worked in a variety of jobs, but most consistently as a cook in private homes and public institutions. Following an accident in the early 1980's, she retired from her job and was prevented from further work involving physical strain. As it turned out, quilting provided just the right creative outlet for her boundless energy. Nowadays, she spends all of her free time cutting, piecing and sewing several quilts a month." 

Thus she finally developed an interest in making her own  quilts. 


“The whole time I was on crutches … I was piecing quilts because I could use my left foot [for the sewing machine],” she told an interviewer. “Nothing else I can do. So I just set down and quilt.” 



Working with factory scraps supplied by a friend, she found a creative outlet in quilting. “I don’t go by patterns,” she said. “I made it up out of my head. When you pick up the material and start working with it, that’s when you know what [the quilt] will be.”



Brackens’ art represents a tradition of improvisational quilt making that has been recognized as a unique part of the African American heritage, a counterpart of blues and jazz. Her quilts are distinguished by an off-center centerpiece, rotating printed stripes and both vertical and horizontal striping. “If you piece them all where they hit right together, every quilt you piece is going to look just alike, and if you twist it up a little bit, it’ll make the quilt look different,” she said. “I just like to take a simple quilt and give it a different look. That’s what I be trying to do.” 



The unusually prolific artist enjoys placing letters and numbers in her designs. A granddaughter’s eighth birthday inspired her to create a pattern that employed the number 8 in interesting and creative ways. The letters may have a meaning, as when she used “W” and “H” in a quilt for her father, Willie Henry, but in other instances, words and letters are used simply as graphic elements.



In 1996, Brackens’ work was displayed with that of her mother, her daughter Sherry Byrd and her granddaughter Bara Byrd in “Four Generations of African-American Quilters” at the High Museum in Atlanta. This evolved into the 2006 exhibit and catalog “Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilters” at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. The show coincided with a filmed interview with Brackens by the museum’s exhibition manager, Karin Nelson, and was followed by an article, “One Family’s Quilted Legacy,” in the October 2006 issue of Quilters Newsletter magazine.



Brackens’ art has been recognized in Texas as well, in a 1999 Texas Folklife Resources exhibition, “Quilts of Color: Three Generations of Quilters in an Afro-American Family”; in a 2001-2002 exhibit, “Storytelling: One Stitch at a Time,” at the Texas Memorial Museum of Science and History in Austin; and in a documentary, Family Quilts, broadcast by the television show Texas Country Reporter on October 28, 2006 (show No. 1,000). The Texas Memorial Museum owns two of her quilts, and Chicago’s Bessie Coleman Library features her work, along with that of another African American quilter and NEA heritage fellow, Arbie Williams of Oakland, California.




As of September 23, 2011, Mrs. Brackens became the first quilt maker from the state of Texas to be honored to receive a (NEA) National Endowment for the Arts Folk-art Fellowship Award. This proved to be one of her grandest accomplishments in her eighty-four years of living. Another great honor proved to be the fact that pieces of her patchwork compositions were included in a commissioned shawl that First Lady Michelle Obama presented to the first Lady Kim Yoon-ok, of South Korea, in October 2011, when she and her husband visited the White House on an official visit.



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AAVAD.COM
GENERAL BOOKS AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS:
AMHERST (MA). Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts.

Something Else to See: Improvisational Bordering Styles in African American Quilts.

February 1-March 15, 1997.
44 pp. exhib. cat., 44 color and b&w illus., bibliog., biogs., exhib. checklist. Features 36 outstanding quilts. Text by Eli Leon. Artists include: Roy Atkins, Irene Bankhead, Marble Battle, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Willia Ette Graham, Georgia Lee Kidd, Rosa "Honey" Pierre, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gussie Wells, Arbie Williams, et al. 4to (10 x 10 in.), black pictorial wraps. First ed.
ATLANTA (GA). High Museum of Art.

No Two Alike: African-American Improvisational Quilts.

September, 1996-February,1997.
27 pp. exhib. cat., color illus. of quilts with their makers. Text by Eli Leon. Quilts by 21 quiltmakers, from the folk art collection of scholar Eli Leon. The exhibition is divided into four groups: Square Within a Square emphasizes improvisational variations on a widely used quilt pattern; High Contrast, the second section, features mostly black and white quilts based in the African American aesthetic "showing up," i.e. standing out through the use of large patterns, bold colors, and strong contrasts; the third section features quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; and the fourth section displays the work of four generations of women in one quilting family: Gladys Henry, her daughter, granddaughter Sherry Byrd and great granddaughter Bara Byrd. Other quiltmakers included: Louisa Fite, Kitty Jones, Minnie Lee Metcalf, Fannie Mae Moore, Maple Swift, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Arbie Williams, et al. Excerpt from Leon's introduction (p.6): Practices such as measuring approximately, using scraps as found, incorporating accidents into the finished work and making frequent exceptions to whatever rules may have been established, are all aspects of a vision in which incidental contingencies, accepted as spontaneous offerings, are skillfully managed to contribute to the beauty and individuality of an artist's work. Accordingly, quiltmaker Laverne Brackens--an eloquent spokeswoman for improvisation--talks of "off-centering the centerpiece," displaying odd selvages, turning printed stripes in different directions, stripping lengthwise and widthwise in the same quilt, enlarging blocks that are too small for the current need with long strips of fabric, and working out the pattern as she goes along, all to effect a "different look," "change it up," or "give that quilt a offset look." [Traveled to: South Carolina State Museum, October, 1998-March, 1999; Vermont Folklife Center, September-November, 1999; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, January-March 2000; National Afro-American Museum, April-June, 2001; Santa Rosa Junior College, February-March, 2003; Museum of Art, University of Maine, October 21, 2005-January 14, 2006.] Sq. 4to (10 x 10 in.), wraps.
CHICAGO (IL). Mayor's Office, City of Chicago.

The Chicago Public Art Guide.

Chicago (IL): Dept. of Public Affairs,.
92 pp., approx. 150 color illus., intro. text by Gregory G. Knight. Contains index of works by region, branch library installations, special projects, map, index of artists with titles of work. Includes color illus. of the following works: Richard Hunt (Freeform, 1993, stainless steel sculpture, State of Illinois Building); Preston Jackson (Irv Kupcinet Memorial, 2006, bronze cast portrait sculpture, Wabash Ave./approach to Irv Kupcinet Bridge.) Works at the Harold Washington Library Center: Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo (Du Sable's Journey, 1991, terrazzo and inlaid brass floor design); Jacob Lawrence (Events in the Life of Harold Washington, 1991, ceramic tile mural.) Works in the collection of the Harold Washington Library Center: Faith Ringgold (The Winner, 1988, painted quilt); Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture); John Bankston (painting); William Dawson (sculptures); Robert Dilworth (painting); Richard Hunt (drawing); Preston Jackson (sculpture); Calvin Jones (painting); Bertrand Phillips (painting); David Philpot (sculptures); Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (painting); Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (painting); Alison Saar (sculpture); Lorna Simpson (photographic print); Fan Warren (drawings). At the Legler Branch Library: Elizabeth Catlett (Floating Family, 1996, carved wood); and Kerry James Marshall (Knowledge and Wonder, 1996, mural painting). At the Austin Senior Satellite Center: Brook Collins (Family Mosaics, 2006, 15 photographs) and Melvin King (Follette Park and Selma March, 2006, paintings). At the Rosemont busline station: Martin Puryear (River Road Ring, 1986, wood sculpture). At the 4th District Police Station: Amir Nour (Untitled, 1980, rolled steel semi-spheres). In Bronzeville/along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive: Alison Saar (Monument to the Great Northern Migration, 1994, bronze figure sculpture); art benches by: Willie Cole, Geraldine McCullough; Ed Dwight (Blues Sculptures - Four Musicians, 2005, bronze sculptures, at 47th St./Dr. Martin Luther King Drive). Chicago Police Dept. Headquarters /Michigan Ave.: 4 quilts by Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd and Sara Byrd - four generations of African American quiltmakers. At Chicago International Airport: Dawoud Bey (Chicago Couples, 2000, photographic print); Richard Hunt (Flight Forms, 2001, stainless steel.) At the Thurgood Marshall Branch Library: Venus Blue (They All Had Something in Common, 1995, quilt). At the Woodson Branch Library: Bernard Williams (sculpture). At the Rogers Park Branch Library: Al Tyler (paintings). At the Uptown Branch Library: Mr. Imagination (installation). At Mabel Manning Branch Library: Dawoud Bey (photographs) and Willie Carter (painting). At Logan Square Branch Library: Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (paintings). At West Chicago Branch Library: Nick Cave (fabric). At Brainerd Branch Library: Preston Jackson (sculpture). At Douglass Branch Library: Emilio Cruz (banners.). At Woodson Branch Library: Richard Hunt (sculpture), Charles Searles (sculpture), and Bernard Williams (sculpture). At Wrightwood-Ashburn Branch Library: Candida Alvarez (stained glass) and Gerald Griffin (collage). At Avalon Branch Library: Stephen Marc (photographs). At Bessie Coleman Branch Library: Laverne Brackens (quilt) and Arbie Williams (quilt.) At Chicago Bee Branch Library: Carrie Mae Weems (painting/mixed media), Derek Webster (sculpture), and Gregg Spears (painting). At Jeffery Manor Branch Library: Marva Lee Pitchford Jolly (ceramic installation). At Kelly Branch Library: Robert Dilworth (painting) and Jacob Lawrence (lithograph). At Pullman Branch Library: Orisegun Olomidun (painting) and Bernard Williams (mural). At South Chicago: Kerry James Marshall (mural). At South Shore Branch Library: Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture and mosaic) and Laverne Brackens (quilt). West Pullman Branch Library: Marcus Akinlana (mural and mixed media). [See: explorechicago.org] pdf file: www.explorechicago.org/etc/...art.../ENTIRE_PA_WEB.pdf

SAN DIEGO (CA). William D. Cannon Art Gallery.

Let It Shine: Improvisation in African-American Star Quilts.
2001.
Exhib. cat., color photos of quilts with portraits of their makers. Text by Eli Leon. Exhibition of quilts created in the mid- to late-20th century in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and California. [Traveled to: New York State Museum, Albany, 2004; and other venues.]
SAN FRANCISCO (CA). Museum of Craft and Folk Art.
Will the Circle be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilts.
May 4-July 23, 2006.
Group exhibition.
Curated by Eli Leon. Eleven improvisational quilts, made by four generations of a single Texas family, spanning nearly a century in the lives of Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, and Bara Byrd. Extensive oral history from each quiltmaker, a photograph and biography of each are included in the exhibition. [Traveled to Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, August 11-November 25, 2007.]
YELLOW SPRINGS (OH). Shirley-Jones Gallery.
Approximate Measure, Improvisation in African-American Quilts.
January 19-March 10, 2007.
Group exhibition. Included: Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Bara Byrd,
Willia Ette Graham, Irene Bankhead.

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Sherry’s Resume



Sherry A. Byrd, an African American  Folkart/Quiltmaker  from Freestone County, Texas creates quilts of International acclaim. Six generations of quilt makers are in her family. Her works have appeared in many important exhibits.


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GENERAL BOOKS AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS:
AMHERST (MA). Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts.
Something Else to See: Improvisational Bordering Styles in African American Quilts.
February 1-March 15, 1997.
44 pp. exhib. cat., 44 color and b&w illus., bibliog., biogs., exhib. checklist. Features 36 outstanding quilts. Text by Eli Leon. Artists include: Roy Atkins, Irene Bankhead, Marble Battle, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Willia Ette Graham, Georgia Lee Kidd, Rosa "Honey" Pierre, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gussie Wells, Arbie Williams, et al. 4to (10 x 10 in.), black pictorial wraps. First ed.
ATLANTA (GA). High Museum of Art.
No Two Alike: African-American Improvisational Quilts.
September, 1996-February,1997.
27 pp. exhib. cat., color illus. of quilts with their makers. Text by Eli Leon. Quilts by 21 quiltmakers, from the folk art collection of scholar Eli Leon. The exhibition is divided into four groups: Square Within a Square emphasizes improvisational variations on a widely used quilt pattern; High Contrast, the second section, features mostly black and white quilts based in the African American aesthetic "showing up," i.e. standing out through the use of large patterns, bold colors, and strong contrasts; the third section features quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; and the fourth section displays the work of four generations of women in one quilting family: Gladys Henry, her daughter, granddaughter Sherry Byrd and great granddaughter Bara Byrd. Other quiltmakers included: Louisa Fite, Kitty Jones, Minnie Lee Metcalf, Fannie Mae Moore, Maple Swift, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Arbie Williams, et al. Excerpt from Leon's introduction (p.6): Practices such as measuring approximately, using scraps as found, incorporating accidents into the finished work and making frequent exceptions to whatever rules may have been established, are all aspects of a vision in which incidental contingencies, accepted as spontaneous offerings, are skillfully managed to contribute to the beauty and individuality of an artist's work. Accordingly, quiltmaker Laverne Brackens--an eloquent spokeswoman for improvisation--talks of "off-centering the centerpiece," displaying odd selvages, turning printed stripes in different directions, stripping lengthwise and widthwise in the same quilt, enlarging blocks that are too small for the current need with long strips of fabric, and working out the pattern as she goes along, all to effect a "different look," "change it up," or "give that quilt a offset look." [Traveled to: South Carolina State Museum, October, 1998-March, 1999; Vermont Folklife Center, September-November, 1999; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, January-March 2000; National Afro-American Museum, April-June, 2001; Santa Rosa Junior College, February-March, 2003; Museum of Art, University of Maine, October 21, 2005-January 14, 2006.] Sq. 4to (10 x 10 in.), wraps.
AUSTIN (TX). Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
It Ain't Braggin' if it's True.
April, 2001.
Group exhibition. Included: Sherry Byrd (quilt).



CHICAGO (IL). Mayor's Office, City of Chicago.

The Chicago Public Art Guide.

Chicago (IL): Dept. of Public Affairs,.

92 pp., approx. 150 color illus., intro. text by Gregory G. Knight. Contains index of works by region, branch library installations, special projects, map, index of artists with titles of work. Includes color illus. of the following works: Richard Hunt (Freeform, 1993, stainless steel sculpture, State of Illinois Building); Preston Jackson (Irv Kupcinet Memorial, 2006, bronze cast portrait sculpture, Wabash Ave./approach to Irv Kupcinet Bridge.) Works at the Harold Washington Library Center: Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo (Du Sable's Journey, 1991, terrazzo and inlaid brass floor design); Jacob Lawrence (Events in the Life of Harold Washington, 1991, ceramic tile mural.) Works in the collection of the Harold Washington Library Center: Faith Ringgold (The Winner, 1988, painted quilt); Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture); John Bankston (painting); William Dawson (sculptures); Robert Dilworth (painting); Richard Hunt (drawing); Preston Jackson (sculpture); Calvin Jones (painting); Bertrand Phillips (painting); David Philpot (sculptures); Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (painting); Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (painting); Alison Saar (sculpture); Lorna Simpson (photographic print); Fan Warren (drawings). At the Legler Branch Library: Elizabeth Catlett (Floating Family, 1996, carved wood); and Kerry James Marshall (Knowledge and Wonder, 1996, mural painting). At the Austin Senior Satellite Center: Brook Collins (Family Mosaics, 2006, 15 photographs) and Melvin King (Follette Park and Selma March, 2006, paintings). At the Rosemont busline station: Martin Puryear (River Road Ring, 1986, wood sculpture). At the 4th District Police Station: Amir Nour (Untitled, 1980, rolled steel semi-spheres). In Bronzeville/along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive: Alison Saar (Monument to the Great Northern Migration, 1994, bronze figure sculpture); art benches by: Willie Cole, Geraldine McCullough; Ed Dwight (Blues Sculptures - Four Musicians, 2005, bronze sculptures, at 47th St./Dr. Martin Luther King Drive). Chicago Police Dept. Headquarters /Michigan Ave.: 4 quilts by Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd and Sara Byrd - four generations of African American quiltmakers. At Chicago International Airport: Dawoud Bey (Chicago Couples, 2000, photographic print); Richard Hunt (Flight Forms, 2001, stainless steel.) At the Thurgood Marshall Branch Library: Venus Blue (They All Had Something in Common, 1995, quilt). At the Woodson Branch Library: Bernard Williams (sculpture). At the Rogers Park Branch Library: Al Tyler (paintings). At the Uptown Branch Library: Mr. Imagination (installation). At Mabel Manning Branch Library: Dawoud Bey (photographs) and Willie Carter (painting). At Logan Square Branch Library: Arnaldo Roche-Rabell (paintings). At West Chicago Branch Library: Nick Cave (fabric). At Brainerd Branch Library: Preston Jackson (sculpture). At Douglass Branch Library: Emilio Cruz (banners.). At Woodson Branch Library: Richard Hunt (sculpture), Charles Searles (sculpture), and Bernard Williams (sculpture). At Wrightwood-Ashburn Branch Library: Candida Alvarez (stained glass) and Gerald Griffin (collage). At Avalon Branch Library: Stephen Marc (photographs). At Bessie Coleman Branch Library: Laverne Brackens (quilt) and Arbie Williams (quilt.) At Chicago Bee Branch Library: Carrie Mae Weems (painting/mixed media), Derek Webster (sculpture), and Gregg Spears (painting). At Jeffery Manor Branch Library: Marva Lee Pitchford Jolly (ceramic installation). At Kelly Branch Library: Robert Dilworth (painting) and Jacob Lawrence (lithograph). At Pullman Branch Library: Orisegun Olomidun (painting) and Bernard Williams (mural). At South Chicago: Kerry James Marshall (mural). At South Shore Branch Library: Muneer Bahauddeen (sculpture and mosaic) and Laverne Brackens (quilt). West Pullman Branch Library: Marcus Akinlana (mural and mixed media). [See: explorechicago.org] pdf file: www.explorechicago.org/etc/...art.../ENTIRE_PA_WEB.pdf
RICHMOND (CA). Richmond Art Center.
Amazing Wonders: Quilts by African-Americans of the Northern California Region.
January 26-March 13, 2010.
Group exhibition. Curated by Kim Curry-Evans. Artists include: Elizabeth Browder, Blanche Brown, Sherry Byrd, Loretta Cohen, Marion Coleman, Jamie Gladney-Presley, Marilyn Handis, Benita Jones, Niambi Kee, Marilyn Lacey, Debbie Mason, Patricia Montgomery, Angie Tobias, Ann Seals, Nerlene Taylor, LaQuita Tummings, Julia Vitero, Dolores Vitero Presley, Johnnie Wade, and others.
SAN FRANCISCO (CA). Craft & Folk Art Museum.
Who'd a Thought it: Improvisation in African-American Quiltmaking.
December 31, 1987-February 28, 1988.
88 pp. exhib. cat., 94 illus., including 48 mostly full-page color plates, plus 30 reference illus. including photos of the quilt makers, biogs., notes, bibliog. Texts by Robert Farris Thompson and Eli Leon. A major contribution to the consideration of traditional heritage vs. personal innovation in the African American quiltmaking tradition. Artists include: Irene Bankhead, Cora Lee Hall Brown, Mary Lue Brown, Monin Brown, Sherry Byrd, Charles Cater, Alberta Collins, Odessa Doby, Willia Ette Graham, Emma Hall, Bettie Phillips, Mattie Pickett, Eula Thomas, Angelia Tobias, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gussie Wells, Arbie Williams, et al. Traveling exhibition. [Review: Ann Barry, NYT, November 16, 1989.] 4to, wraps. First ed.
SAN FRANCISCO (CA). Museum of Craft and Folk Art.
Will the Circle be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilts.
May 4-July 23, 2006.
Group exhibition. Curated by Eli Leon. Eleven improvisational quilts, made by four generations of a single Texas family, spanning nearly a century in the lives of Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, and Bara Byrd. Extensive oral history from each quiltmaker, a photograph and biography of each are included in the exhibition. [Traveled to Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, August 11-November 25, 2007.]
WINSTON-SALEM (NC). Diggs Gallery, Winston-Salem State University.
Models in the Mind: African Prototypes in American Patchwork.
1992.
42 pp. exhib. cat., illus., biogs. with photos of most of the quiltmakers, bibliog. Text by Eli Leon noting numerous parallels between African fabric motifs and familiar American patchwork designs. Quiltmakers mentioned include: Irene Bankhead, Cora Lee Hall Brown, Mary Lue Brown, Sherry Byrd, Charles Cater, Willie Mae Chatman, Laura Jackson Culp, Aurelia Foster, Willia Ette Graham, Emily Kirby, Ernestine Jordan, Carrie Sue Lewis, Rose R. McDowell, Bessie Moore, Dymon Moreland, Bettie Phillips, Mattie Pickett, Lucy Sims, Anny Bell Simon, Flossie Sullivan, Maple Swift, Mary Thompson, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Sarah Turnage (no photo), Johnnie A. Wade, Maudra Walker, Rosalyn Walker (no photo), Gussie Wells, Arbie Williams. [Traveled to Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, CA, 1994.] 4to, wraps.
YELLOW SPRINGS (OH). Shirley-Jones Gallery.
Approximate Measure, Improvisation in African-American Quilts.
January 19-March 10, 2007.
Group exhibition. Included: Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Bara Byrd, Willia Ette Graham, Irene Bankhead.
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Bara Byrd-Steward
Biography/Resume

Bara (1976 - ), is the latest generation of the family to
come to quilt making. She  creates and exhibits along with her family, salvaging many of the scraps and refashioning leftovers from her mother’s and grandmother’s  projects.
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GENERAL BOOKS AND GROUP EXHIBITIONS:
ATLANTA (GA). High Museum of Art.
No Two Alike: African-American Improvisational Quilts.
September, 1996-February,1997.
27 pp. exhibit. cat., color illus. of quilts with their makers. Text by Eli Leon. Quilts by 21 quilt makers, from the folk art collection of scholar Eli Leon. The exhibition is divided into four groups: Square Within a Square emphasizes improvisational variations on a widely used quilt pattern; High Contrast, the second section, features mostly black and white quilts based in the African American aesthetic "showing up," i.e. standing out through the use of large patterns, bold colors, and strong contrasts; the third section features quilts by Rosie Lee Tompkins; and the fourth section displays the work of four generations of women in one quilting family: Gladys Henry, her daughter, granddaughter Sherry Byrd and great granddaughter Bara Byrd. Other quilt makers included: Louisa Fite, Kitty Jones, Minnie Lee Metcalf, Fannie Mae Moore, Maple Swift, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Arbie Williams, et al. Excerpt from Leon's introduction (p.6): Practices such as measuring approximately, using scraps as found, incorporating accidents into the finished work and making frequent exceptions to whatever rules may have been established, are all aspects of a vision in which incidental contingencies, accepted as spontaneous offerings, are skillfully managed to contribute to the beauty and individuality of an artist's work. Accordingly, quilt maker Laverne Brackens--an eloquent spokeswoman for improvisation--talks of "off-centering the centerpiece," displaying odd selvages, turning printed stripes in different directions, stripping lengthwise and widthwise in the same quilt, enlarging blocks that are too small for the current need with long strips of fabric, and working out the pattern as she goes along, all to effect a "different look," "change it up," or "give that quilt a offset look." [Traveled to: South Carolina State Museum, October, 1998-March, 1999; Vermont Folk life Center, September-November, 1999; Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, January-March 2000; National Afro-American Museum, April-June, 2001; Santa Rosa Junior College, February-March, 2003; Museum of Art, University of Maine, October 21, 2005-January 14, 2006.] Sq. 4to (10 x 10 in.), wraps.
SAN FRANCISCO (CA). Museum of Craft and Folk Art.
Will the Circle be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quilts.
May 4-July 23, 2006.
Group exhibition. Curated by Eli Leon. Eleven improvisational quilts, made by four generations of a single Texas family, spanning nearly a century in the lives of Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, and Bara Byrd. Extensive oral history from each quilt maker, a photograph and biography of each are included in the exhibition. [Traveled to Brattleboro Museum, Brattleboro, VT, August 11-November 25, 2007.]
YELLOW SPRINGS (OH). Shirley-Jones Gallery.
Approximate Measure, Improvisation in African-American Quilts.
January 19-March 10, 2007.
Group exhibition. Included: Rosie Lee Tompkins, Gladys Henry, Laverne Brackens, Sherry Byrd, Bara Byrd, Willia Ette Graham, Irene Bankhead.








Check out Sherri Lynn Woods' Tour of the Eli Leon Quilt Collection

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