Rosie Lee Tompkins
              Amelia Lang
              I learned about the life and quilts of Rosie Lee Tompkins (the pseudonym of Effie Mae Howard) from my mother. She was an art teacher—my art teacher—and would routinely give short presentations about local artists, usually women, to teach her students about art made in Northern California. I knew that Tompkins was born in Arkansas in the 1930s, had settled in Richmond, California, and that her work was considered part of an African American quilting tradition, but I had never seen the quilts in person until early March 2020, when I visited the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) to view “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective.” The previous day, the Grand Princess cruise ship had pulled into the Port of Oakland carrying thousands of passengers exposed to the novel coronavirus; I walked through the museum in suspense, my thinking fragmented by constant notifications about the future. Yet Tompkins’s quilts pulled me into the present: I was mesmerized by the nearly seventy works on display, which revealed her fascination with color, the consistency of her inconsistency, and her use of fabrics that carried with them generational shorthands depending on pattern, texture, and material. Nearly a year later, a small …

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