Bold Expressions: African American Quilts at the Mingei Museum

The Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park San Diego is a worthwhile destination for anyone interested in crafts and folk art.

Between May 15 and November 6, 2011 it’s a particularly worthwhile destination for quilters as they are showing Corrine Riley’s collection of African American Quilts.

To quote from the Bold Expressions web page (since removed).

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.

Photography was permitted, without flash and here are some of the quilts on show. I’ve posted my sharpest photos but the quilts that inspired me the most were the ones that were unstructured and spontaneous, and to some eyes, imperfect. They weren’t symmetrical and didn’t seem ‘designed’ and this gave them a vibrancy that may be missing from a matchy, matchy rotary-cut, perfectly pieced quilt.

Quilt from the Bold Expressions Exhibition

Quilt from the Bold Expressions Exhibition

I hope to take a lesson from these African American quilters and learn to let go in my own quilt design, at least some of the time.

Half Square Triangles Quilt from the Bold Expressions Exhibition

Black and White Quilt from the Bold Expressions Exhibition

For the book-lovers amongst us, the curatorial notes recommend these titles:


  • Signs & Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts, Maude Southwell Wahlman
  • The Quilt Encyclopaedia Illustrated, Carter Houck
  • Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum, Elizabeth V.Warren
  • The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, Tinwood Books, Atlanta in association with The Fine Arts Museum of Houston.



4 responses to “Bold Expressions: African American Quilts at the Mingei Museum

  1. Beautiful!

    I saw many of the Gee’s Bend quilts when they came to the Nevada Museum of Art. Absolutely loved them.

  2. That was just one of the wonderful things Balboa Park. We started at Marston House, which was amazing.There was also an exhibition about Gustav Stickley and the American Arts and Crafts Movement running so we felt particularly fortunate to have visited when we did.

  3. Asymmetry and loud, clashing colour can be good.

    • Yes, indeed. And I plan to have a crack at some ‘improvisational quilting’ as they call it. Think I might take inspiration from the black and white quilt and limit myself to two (or maybe three) unpatterned fabrics.

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