Wendell George Brown, Fiber Artist

It was through examining the paintings of African American artists Williams H. Johnson, for an exhibition at the Florence Museum of Art in Florence, South Carolina, and the death of my Mother that forced me to look at my own art form as a fiber artist "Quilting" with close inspection.

Studying Johnson's paintings "Sowing" ca 1940 -1942 and "Farming Couple at Work" ca 1942 - 1944 I rejoiced at Johnson's ability to paint the difficulties of everyday life and highlight the joy within the difficulty by immersing his subject and its surrounding in vibrant, bold colors and quilt like shapes that dance in joyful silence.

I recalled Johnson's genius a few years ago when,  I came across a box of hymnal that belonged to my maternal grandmother one of which was "Everlasting Life is Free". I sang the words to the spiritual and I was surprisingly comforted. Transfixed on the rhythmical vibration of the sound, I visualized each word; pieced, bound and stitched together as a cover protecting a mournful soul. This piffany forced me to see the synergy between quilts and Negro Spirituals and examine for my personal art form how the two mediums served as a source of protection for generations of enslaved and freed African American though to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

Jubilation, 2004
7ft x 7ft
pieced and quilted fabric and acrylic paint on canvas

The quilted painting Jubilation above was created soon after my revilation of the relationship between quilts and Negro Spirutals. In preparation for this work I visited a Baptist church in my neighborhood in St. Mary's County, Maryland. It was the sight of the old cinderblock church that  inspired me to go inside and worship.

The church was small - it had no more than six or seven pews on both sides of the isles. The choir consisted of ten members of them seven were women and three were men. The preacher was a burly, tall, black man who sweated from the time he began preaching to the time he finished; wore a long white robe that was buttoned up to his neck. His sermon from The Book of Job was about one’s ability to walk by faith and not by sight. As the minister preached he worked his congregation up into a crescendo of swaying bodies, stomping feet and hand clapping.  In the midst of it all a man stood up and shouted, “Thank You Lord! Thank you Jesus! Yes! Jesus!” He shouted and jumped up and down in a rhythmic dance swinging his arms all about himself. As the minister concluded the sermons, excitement transitioned into song. When I first saw the choir, I thought how small. A few women and boyish men could they possibly sing? Yes! Their voices and the spirit in which they sang - a round type of singing, repetitious and a capella, worked its way to a climax that was equally as moving as the sermon.

Jubilee, 2008
pieced and quilted fabric and acrylic paint on canvas

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