Artist of Month Allyson Allen Portrays Black History With Quilts

This quilt designed by Allyson Allen re-creates an announcement from the 1700s about African Americans being sold into slavery. Another of her quilts (below) depicts a quilt made in honor of an African American soldier during the Civil War.
By Shawnees Peacock, MSJC Student Intern

While many forms of visual art function as a tool for communicating ideas and emotions, none can eclipse the practicality of a quilt.

Quilting has been an American tradition for centuries. It is unique for its blend of beauty, function and ability to tell the story of the quilter and his or her culture.

Artist Allyson Allen specializes in quilting and fabric art. With each stitch and applique, she shows the aesthetic and storytelling power of the quilt. Arts Council Menifee has selected Allen as its April Artist of the Month.

"A quilter made a comment that once you are born, you are wrapped in a piece of cloth. So from that moment on, you are always connected to cloth," said Allen.

Quilting today has assumed a whole new identity. It has branched into a field known as art quilting, in which the artist treats the fabric as a blank canvas that can be manipulated and added to.

Allen uses the inherently graphic quality of quilting and couples it with powerful social and cultural messages. Her approach has helped elevate quilting into the realm of art and has earned her many accolades. She was nominated twice for the NEA National Heritage Fellowship for artistic excellence.

She has a piece of artwork touring with the three-year multi-museum entitled "And Still We Rise…" as a part of an exhibit for the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati. It is the largest assemblage of African American-made quilts to ever tour the country.

One of her quilts will go to South Africa for the Nelson Mandela exhibit, which opens in Johannesburg. This exhibit will tour all over Africa and then in the United States in 2016.

Allen wrote about her art and the medium is her 2013 book "Quilted Pages - Story Art Quilts". It features her quilts and other art pieces from three nationally exhibited collections.

"The type of art that I do is a genre called Information Art because I put photographs and words on the quilt. Even though I can do traditional bed quilts and bed design, the majority of my work in the last 10 years or so has really been the art quilt that you would hang on the wall," said Allen. "It’s not just squares and triangles on the bed.”

Allen’s artwork challenges the idea of what a quilt is by transforming it into more of a symbol that communicates a social message, while still referring to the traditional quilt that is beautiful, intricate and utilitarian.

"All of my pieces are dimensional. They have a doll or clay attached to them. None of my quilts are flat and they all have embellishments, raised parts to them," said Allen. "I do want people to step in close. I want people to want to touch the quilts, even though they are not supposed to. Once you feel like you want to touch it, I believe I have maintained the fact that a quilt is very tactile."

Allen cannot be typecast as an artist who deals solely the history of African Americans because her artwork spans a myriad of themes. However, Allen has gained much notoriety for her pieces that illustrate the complicated and sometimes troubling history of African Americans.

"Presenting [black history] like art makes a difference," said Allen. "Once you have to interact with the art through your emotions, it is teaching you something about yourself and the world. It tells [viewers] whether or not they knew that history and also makes them realize if they have an emotional reaction to what has happened to a huge part of our population. It makes them have to face what had to go on for America to be what it is now."

Allen has a new African American Folk Art quilt pattern line called "Run With Scissors" that made its debut at the Southern California Council of Quilt Guilds' Meet the Teachers presentation on April 12. Allen was a featured instructor.

Allen enjoys being a part of Arts Council Menifee’s Visual Arts division. She regularly shows her creations at their gallery receptions.

"We are so proud to display Allyson’s creations. Her work shows that creativity can be expressed in so many different forms," said Bill Zimmerman, Arts Council Menifee’s President.

For more information on Allyson Allen, visit her website at www.easysite.com/bookproject or visit www.artscouncilmenifee.org





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