"Four Little Girls" by Bisa Butler (photo courtesy of the Scantland Collection)

‘Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition’ in Columbus

This Columbus Museum of Art exhibition on display Oct. 6 through Jan. 28 showcases artists using the medium of quilting in innovative and thought-provoking ways.

The quilt features four girls all between the ages of 11 and 14. Carole Robertson, Carol Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley all look to be dressed for church, but the bright nature of Bisa Butler’s composition, “Four Little Girls, September 15, 1963,” holds a heartbreaking power in the tragic story it commemorates.

The girls died when a bomb exploded during Sunday services at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The bombing came days after President John F. Kennedy mobilized the Alabama National Guard to allow Black students to attend nine previously all-white schools in the city.

Butler made the quilt in 2018, and it is among 50 works that will be featured at the Columbus Museum of Art as part of “Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition,” running Oct. 6 through Jan. 28. The exhibition examines the past, present and future of American quilting and how artists use the art form to convey social, political and environmental concerns.

“We had an idea to feature works in conversation with other works by contemporary quilters and some historical quilters to expand on the American story as it speaks to quilts and quilts speak to it,” says Deidre Hamlar, curator-at-large at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Historically, quilts have been viewed as objects of craft rather than works of art, but the medium has evolved to go far beyond the time-honored patterns and processes. They now provide a vehicle for artists to make statements about history, identity and the world. The Columbus Museum of Art's exhibition will also include pieces that further push the quilting medium, such as three-dimensional and sculpted works as well as quilt wearables like shoes, jackets and dresses.

“The fact that all these quilts with all shapes, sizes and dimensions can all coexist within a context of one exhibition, I think that says a lot for our nation and what we can create,” Hamlar says. “It really is a metaphor for what we can be.” 480 E. Broad St., Columbus 43215, 614/221-6801, columbusmuseum.org