Art Quilts, Not Bed Quilts: Fiber Art

Traveling Exhibition “Black Gold” Showing in Jasper County
Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage
Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage(WTOC)
Updated: Mar. 5, 2020 at 6:00 PM EST
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You might remember your grandmother or another family member quilting, but the quilts on exhibit at the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage are not made to lay on a bed or a couch. These intricate quilts are called fiber art, and are designed to send a message.

North Charleston fiber artist Torreah “Cookie” Washington noticed that few opportunities existed for African American artists to show their work. She took matters into her own hands and created a yearly exhibit that showcases fiber art from around the country.

Washington named this year’s exhibition after Esperanza Spalding’s song “Black Gold.” She wants the artwork to serve a similar purpose.

“It’s such a beautiful song," Washington said. "It really talks about encouraging African American youth to embrace our history and celebrate that.”

After the exhibit is shown North Charleston, it travels through the South Carolina state museum network. Through March 21, you can see “Black Gold” in person at the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage in Ridgeland. Washington says she relishes the opportunity to instill a love of art in the next generation.

“I love it when the children are here, because they’ve never seen anything like this before, and they’re just in awe," Washington said. "'Who did that Ms. Cookie? Who did that? How do you do that?' And so hopefully we’re generating enough interest to have a new generation of art quilters.”

About 25 art quilts are on display at the Morris Center right now. Cookie Washington traveled down from North Charleston to Ridgeland to share the stories behind a few of her favorite pieces.

Cookie Washington not only curates these annual exhibits to showcase other arts, but she also creates her own fiber art. She shared what inspired her to become an artist.

Washington came from a family of dressmakers, and Cookie still makes some wedding dresses today.

“I think I was born with a needle in my hand,” Washington said.

She transitioned from dressmaking to art quilting out of the desire to make herself heard.

“I saw the ‘A Communion of the Spirits’ exhibit by Roland Freeman and I thought ‘This is it. I can do this. I want to have something to say.’"

Tragedy inspired the first art quilt Cookie ever stitched. She turned to quilting as a way to cope after the murder and dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas in 1998.

“I couldn’t write about it. I just didn’t have words, and so being able to go into my studio and create something with little pieces of fabric, it calmed me, and it soothed me, and it also told a story.”

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