Larger Type
Smaller Type

Press Room


Quilts Celebrating African American Spirit .at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

Saluting the work of the Women of Color Quilters Network, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery will host "Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary Quilts by African American Artists" from Oct. 6 to Jan. 21, 2001.

This exhibition communicates messages about the spiritual, cultural, political and social positions of the African American past and present. Artists inspired by this legacy create vibrant and intricate fabric images.

"In this exhibition, leading quilters explore their rich heritage," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "They use traditional African cloth, African symbols and imagery and bright colors to create associations with the homeland of their ancestors."

The 50 contemporary quilts on view in this exhibition range from abstract designs, as in Gwendolyn Magee's "Crystalline Fantasy" (1998) to the joyful figural composition "Haitian Mermaid" made by Michael Cummings in 1995. Other artists construct a narrative about their families and childhood memories, such as Dindga McCannon's quilt from 1996–1997 titled "The Wedding Party: The History of Our Nation Is Really the Story of Families."

Alluding to the interweaving of the African and American cultures, some quilts feature pieces of traditional African cloth patterns in their compositions, such as Adrienne Cruz's "Imani/Faith" from 1997. Frances Hare's Sixteen Feet of Dance" (1996) celebrates traditional African dance.

L'Merchie Frazier's "From a Birmingham Jail: MLK" and Jim Smoote's "Buju (Banton)" are examples of the many works exploring political and social experiences and activism of the quiltmakers and the African American community in general.

"The beauty of this exhibition lies not only in the brilliant colors and vibrant patterns of the quilts, but in the fact that these textiles capture such a rich history," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery. "These artists celebrate their heritage through the narratives that they tell, but also through the act of quiltmaking itself, an art form that for many has been passed down through the generations of their families."

"The diversity of the quilters' experiences is demonstrated through the wide array of materials that they select to use in their work," said Jeremy Adamson, senior curator at the Renwick and the coordinating curator for the exhibition. "Their media vary from cotton and silk to leather, African mud cloth and burlap. They decorate their quilts with anything from beads and buttons to feathers, shells and seeds."

The exhibition was organized by the American Craft Museum, with funding from Target Stores and The Coby Foundation in honor of Irene Zambelli Silverman. The exhibition's presentation at the Renwick Gallery is supported in part by the Smithsonian's Special Exhibition Program. It was co-curated by Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi, president of the Women of Color Quilter's Network and David Revere McFadden, chief curator at the American Craft Museum.

A fully illustrated book by Carolyn Mazloomi, titled "Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts," accompanies the exhibition. Clarkson N. Potter published it in 1998. The cost of the hard cover book is $40.00.

The Women of Color Quilters Network was founded in 1986 and is the only national African American quilt group in the United States. Created to provide a forum for understanding and appreciating African American quilting, the Network has grown nto a community of quiltmakers of all backgrounds, ages and genders.


Public Programs Highlights


Friday, Oct. 6, at 2 p.m.

Meet the curator, Carolyn Mazloomi, and artists featured in the exhibition.

Saturday, Oct. 7, "Comfort and Joy: Quilting Community, Memory and Spirit—A Quilt Symposium" 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. .(break 12:15 to 2)

Panelists discuss quilts and their connection to family, community, the past and the present. Presentations by Carolyn Mazloomi, curator of Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary Quilts by African American Artists; Ricky Clark, affiliate scholar, Oberlin College; Gregg Stull, executive director, the NAMES Project Chapter of the National Capital; Carole Y. Lyles, quilt artist; and Nancy Gibson, curator of Textiles, Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. Seating is limited to 350 on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Saturday, Oct. 15, "Family Day—Let's Quilt!" Noon to 4 p.m.

Learn about quilting techniques through demonstrations and hands-on workshops.

Saturday, Nov. 4, "Quilt Share and Care" 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Bring your quilt to the Renwick Gallery for expert advice on what it means and how to care for it.

Sunday, Dec. 10, Family Gospel Concert, 3 p.m.


Washington Performing Art Society's Children of the Gospel Mass Choir perform songs inspired by "Spirits of the Cloth."

Quilting Demonstration and Family Workshop, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Three sessions: Oct. 22, Nov. 12, and Jan. 6, 2001

For information about a variety of other programs scheduled in coordination with this exhibition, including the Thursday at 1 p.m. gallery talk series "Take a Break at the Renwick," call (202) 357-2531.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at