Rosie Lee Tompkins at the Townsend Center

String (Quilt), 1985, by Rosie Lee Tompkins, courtesy BAMPFA

Rosie Lee Tompkins at the Townsend Center

Inventive Quiltmaking
Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023 9:00 am -

NOTE: This exhibition features printed reproductions of artworks that were recently featured in Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective organized by the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and are a part of its permanent collection. They were given to BAMPFA by Oakland-based collector Eli Leon as part of a bequest of over 3000 quilts by African American artists. Through this historic gift BAMPFA is now the largest public repository of Tompkins’s art in the world.

Rosie Lee Tompkins is widely considered to be among the most accomplished and inventive American quilters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Indeed, her reputation has grown to the point where her work is no longer considered solely within the context of quiltmaking but is celebrated as one of the great American artistic achievements of our time. 

“Rosie Lee Tompkins” is a pseudonym adopted by Effie Mae Howard, who was born in 1936 in Gould, Arkansas. She learned how to quilt from her mother as a youth but did not begin to practice quilting professionally until the 1970s, when she was living in Richmond, California.

In several ways, her artworks retain elements found in traditional quilting: they frequently honor kinship ties or commemorate personal milestones, incorporate recognizable patterns and piecing techniques, and are made from repurposed materials that she bought from thrift stores and flea markets. In other ways, her approach to textiles displays an individual aesthetic sensibility marked by unexpected color combinations, innovative use of traditional forms like the circular yo-yo, a love for lustrous fabrics (especially velvet), and embroidered text that layers biblical references with esoteric numerology. Above all, she believed that her work was inspired by God and often made quilts directed towards her own healing and spiritual life.


All artworks were pieced and quilted by Rosie Lee Tompkins unless otherwise noted, and are reproduced courtesy of the estate of Effie Mae Howard.

The exhibit is located in a space also used for events and meetings; please call (510) 643-9670 or email in advance to confirm room availability.