Rosie Lee Tompkins
On painterly abstract textiles.
We recently went to a small show at Guerrero Gallery here in Glassell Park and learned about the bold chromatic quilts of Rosie Lee Tompkins.
Tompkins was originally born in Arkansas. She left the South as part of The Great Migration, moving first to Milwaukee, then Chicago, and eventually settled in Richmond, California. She worked as a nurse for many years and would sell quilts at flea markets where was she also sourced material for her work. As her work began to gain notoriety she changed her name from Effie May Martin to the pseudonym of Rosie Lee Tompkins, to maintain her privacy. Her quilts are a part of the Improvisational Quilting genre and are also a part of a rich history of African American quilt making that includes the textile work of Gee’s Bend.
Collaged with pieces from flea markets she constructed kaleidoscopic visions that were painterly and abstract. The quilts display a special sensitivity to color and pair colors and patterns in ways that are unpredictable but feel completely harmonious. By using pieces that she found at flea markets she was able to create a fresh context for the material scrap that tells many stories. And although they are technically decorative objects, they can easily stand alone as works of art which is maybe why they were displayed like paintings.
Her fluid approach to composition and generous application of color are an inspiration and when asked about it she is known to have said, “I think it’s because I love them so much that God let me see all these different colors … I hope they spread a lot of love.”
Read more about Rosie Lee Tompkins and see more of her work here.
Words by Dante Iniguez