Modern Art Monday Presents: Rosie Lee Tompkins, Three Sixes

rosie lee tompkins three sixes photo by gail worley
Photos By Gail

To make this quilt, Rosie Lee Tompkins (19362006) drew on many techniques developed by Black women quilters in the American South who blended West African textile traditions, European patterning, and individual improvisation in their art.

Tompkins, who learned to quilt from her mother while growing up in rural Arkansas, sought solace in patchwork after struggling with mental health issues while working as a nurse in the late 1970s.

rosie lee tompkins three sixes photo by gail worley

Tompkins credited prayer as the inspiration for her abstract compositions and each of her quilts is coded with deeply personal significance. For Three Sixes (1986), she composed long strips of fabric by sewing together small, irregular rectangles — in this case six per strip — ensuring that no scrap went unused. The resulting complex grid pays homage to three of her relatives whose birth dates all include the number six.

Photographed in The Whitney Museum in NYC.

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