What Makes African American Quilts Compelling Art?

A Conversation with Art Collector David Whaley and Everhart Museum Executive Director Kathy Johnson Bowles

On Thursday, November 11 at 6:00 p.m., the Everhart Museum presents “What Makes African American Quilts Compelling Art? A Conversation with Art Collector David Whaley and Everhart Museum Executive Director Kathy Johnson Bowles.” During the forum, Whaley and Bowles discuss the background and design elements of the quilts featured in the Museum’s current exhibition Bold Independence: African American Quilts from the Collection of David Whaley and why these artworks are captivating.  

The forum takes place in the gallery space of Bold Independence, which is on view through June 6, 2022, and features fifteen quilts created by African American women living and working in Alabama and Mississippi in the mid-to-late 20th century. During the forum, Whaley and Bowles explain the appeal of the bold designs, colors, patterns, and improvisational construction that exemplify the dynamic aesthetic of many quilts made in the region at the time. They also provide compelling background information about the featured artists and their life circumstances, as they endured incredible hardships, poverty, and injustice while making art that is now revered around the world. Whaley and Bowles also explore the visual traditions handed down from the artists’ ancestors enslaved from Africa. 

Whaley’s quilts, which comprise Bold Independence, are by known quilters whose lives and works have been chronicled by acclaimed scholars including Robert Cargo, Maude Southwell Wahlman, and the curatorial team who presented The Quilts of Gee’s Bend (2002) at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2002, and later by The Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

Whaley serves as Design Director for Longwood University in Virginia. He has received over 80 national awards for his design work. As a dedicated champion of the visual arts, he has served on the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts’ advisory board for 26 years and he is active in the leadership of the University and College Designers Association (UCDA) where he serves as President for the UCDA Foundation Board of Directors. He has also served on boards at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), 1708 Gallery, and The Folk Art Society of America (FASA) in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. David is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and is currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Museum Studies at Harvard University.​

In addition to being the Everhart Museum’s executive director, Kathy Johnson Bowles is a textile artist working with themes of identity and social justice, a folk art scholar, and art critic. She has served on the Folk Art Society of America’s board for more than 15 years and is a frequent contributor to the Folk Art Messenger magazine, where she focuses on underrepresented artists.

Art Collector David Whaley
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