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Exhibition honors landmark civil rights gains and continues Montclair Art Museum's centennial celebrations
Plummer T Pettway, Housetop/Strip Quilt, ca. 1960–1970. Cotton/ polyester blend, polyester, cotton, wool. Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, Gift of Kempf Hogan in honor of Robert Johns and Patrick Balch, 2005.9.7.
MONTCLAIR, NJ.- The Montclair Art Museum presents From Heart to Hand: African- American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. The timing of the exhibition corresponds with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and MAM will offer programs accompanying the show that will reflect on the many civil rights landmarks that occurred around that period. The show also marks the continuation of MAM’s Centennial celebrations, which began officially on January 15, 2014, 100 years to the day from its founding. The 30 colorful and creatively designed quilts by African-American quiltmakers, primarily of West Alabama, opens Sunday, September 21, 2014 and remains on view through Sunday, January 4, 2015.

Quilts have held an important and cherished place in American culture, particularly in the American South. Though the materials and techniques of quilt making may be common, quilts—as process, as art, and as image—embody the very fabric of our country. In the late 20th century, several communities in Alabama received national attention as a result of the scholarship that focused specifically on the historic context of quilts in the rural environment, and this scholarship also inspired a new appreciation for their aesthetic appeal.

“The quilts on view have an amazing graphic power and also offer an important visual narrative reflecting African-American social history,” said the Museum’s director, Lora Urbanelli. “We’re proud to be able to present this exhibition as the final show of our Centennial year.”

The quilts are part of the permanent collection of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama. Most were made between the mid-1950s and the end of the 20th century, and represent the major themes in traditional quiltmaking. The exhibition includes examples of pieced quilts and appliqué, as well as the improvisational techniques and use of unconventional materials that are common practice for contemporary quiltmakers. The quilts are grouped within three sections: “Tradition: Patterns from the Past,” “Improvisation: Practical Invention,” and “An Unconventional Canvas: The Quilts of Yvonne Wells.” The exhibition sections are designed to introduce traditional patterns and to show the improvisations upon these patterns that distinguish the work of individual quilters. Modern quiltmaking is exemplified by a group of outstanding narrative quilts by Tuscaloosa quiltmaker Yvonne Wells.

The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts began its collection of African-American quilts from West Alabama in 2004 by acquiring the collection of Mr. Kempf Hogan of Birmingham, Michigan. Hogan assembled the collection over a period of many years with the guidance and expertise of the late Dr. Robert Cargo, of Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery, formerly of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The two men identified the most important quiltmakers working in the region, and began gathering the works systematically to exemplify the finest achievements of these self-taught artists and to represent the breadth of their talent and creativity. The total holdings of the museum’s quilt collection has expanded to include more than 60 examples, by such master quilters as Mary Maxtion, Lureca Outland, Nora Ezell, and Yvonne Wells.

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