Exhibitions / Bold Expressions

African American Quilts From the Collection of Corrine Riley

May 5, 2011 - December 18, 2011


The exhibition showcases more than fifty quilts made throughout the American South between 1910 and the 1970s. Stunning color combinations and distinctively free patterns epitomize an artistic vision that is unique to the American folk art tradition. African American quilts, made entirely by women, are celebrated for their bold improvisation and modern take on traditional quilting patterns, such as the House Top or Log Cabin, Star of Bethlehem and Pine Burr. Many of the quilts are made from materials that were readily available to the makers, including flour sacks, old blue jeans and work clothes and fabric remnants. This early form of recycling and reuse was a necessity that became the foundation for unique expression. The exhibition will also explore a variety of construction techniques and quilting.

Corrine Riley, Collector

As a textile student at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1970s, Corrine Riley was exposed to “big” modern paintings, which set her on a quest “to look for things in the real world that displayed this quality of intense personal expression.” She still recalls coming face to face with her first African American quilt, a Strip Quilt from East Texas that ignited in her a passion to search out and study these asymmetrical, symbolic and improvisational objects of use.

Riley, a quilt collector for 35 years, has become a quilt restorer and textile collector, so she is never at a loss when replacing worn fabric. She says, “I have collected vintage fabrics for 30 years, so I can usually find something that comes from the same era to match it.”