Fabric artist Tina Williams Brewer provokes emotion, conversation with quilts
Her creations carry a title and have a theme, like literary masterpieces.
A lecture on Feb. 23 for about two dozen attendees was a chance to be immersed in Brewer’s art.
“The Harvest” was created in 1989, during her first decade of quilting. The door-sized piece is done in muted grays and dusky browns. Appliqued figures are lined up in two columns as if men were stacked on the deck of a ship.
The quilt is about slave trade and forced relocation. Brewer said the quilt evokes dark reactions but she is unrepentant.
“It’s really hurtful, the harshness of the topic,” Brewer said. “It’s something people should see and begin to talk about.
“I needed to understand more about this. It was so liberating.”
When she crafted her first quilt in1981, Brewer had no background in the practice. She described her process as very kinetic, rarely working from a drawing or plan.
“I’m very intuitive,” she said. “You can’t be afraid.”
In 2018, Brewer was named Artist of the Year by the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Council of Arts. She has never made a living selling her work but has won a number of honors both nationally and internationally. She works with budding artists of all ages as a resident artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Folded into her fabric artistry are diverse elements from her time growing up in Huntington, West Va., earning a degree from Columbus College of Art and Design and working in a Pittsburgh jazz club.
Brewer prefers to gather her fabrics rather than buy them. From a trip to Africa came fabric for “If You Don’t Hear the Tap, You’ll Hear the Bang.” Her mother’s red dress, doilies, little mirrors and translucent fabrics are pleated, overlapped, layered, pinched, embroidered and made into 3D items.
Photos are screened onto material: favorite poet Joyce Scott and news from the pages of the Pittsburgh Courier. Reoccurring symbols and traditional motifs are the bones of her work.
Her piece, “Darlings of Rhythm,” was created in 2005 and is based on an all-female band. She brings it into classrooms and finds it evokes questions about history.
She encourages students to create quilts using their own experiences.
Each of the more than 20 quilts she brought to Cooper-Siegel are intensely personal but also universal, Brewer said.
“Relationship” from 2010, “Isolation” circa 1993, and “Tributary of Genius” from 2006 each delve deep into ideas the Homestead resident wanted to explore.
She finds some of her older works inspire new conversations about topics ranging from the use of black face to the award-winning film “The Green Book.”
“If a story has been enriched by time, you can go back to the quilt,” she said. “A quilt is never finished.”