"Anything I Can Stick a Needle In": An Interview with Yvonne Wells

By Morgan, Stacy | Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

"Anything I Can Stick a Needle In": An Interview with Yvonne Wells


Morgan, Stacy, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics


In this interview, artist Yvonne Wells discusses the origins and early years of her quilting career, the development of her "story quilts" and "picture quilts" on religious and sociopolitical themes, her working process as an artist, her esthetic preferences, and her dealings with the art world and fellow artists in contexts ranging from the local to the international. In addition, Wells offers her interpretation of several specific quilts that are reproduced with the interview. What emerges is a rich portrait of a steadfastly independent and prolific artist.

**********

Introduction

Quilted garments date back at least to the time of the First Dynasty of the Egyptian pharaohs in 3400 BC (Orlofsky and Orlofsky 1-2). In its American incarnation, settlers from the early 1700s onward stitched together pieces of fabric over a layer of insulating material and bottom layer of fabric "backing" as a way to reuse available material for further functional ends as bedcovers and the like. (1) Given this context of everyday use, quilting was long perceived as a practical craft, but since the 1960s' US revivals of interest in creative expression by women and folk communities, an increasing number of galleries, scholars, and formally trained artists have come to recognize quilts as an art form possessing substantial esthetic qualities.

Located deep in the US South, Alabama possesses a rich heritage of quilting traditions--particularly among the state's African American communities. For example, in 1966 a group of women from in and around the tiny community of Gee's Bend formed a quilters' cooperative in connection with the Civil Rights Movement, raising money for the movement by selling individual quilts at auction in New York City and later spurring economic growth by doing contract work for national department stores like Sears (Callahan 19-30, 68-90). More recently, the quilters of Gee's Bend have gained acclaim through a series of exhibitions of their work in prestigious art museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. (2) In 2006, their work appeared on a series of official United States postage stamps.

Alabama also has produced famous individual quilters such as Mozell Benson, Nora Ezell, and Yvonne Wells. (3) Yet, where both Benson and Ezell learned to quilt from family members and began putting their skills to use in earnest during early adulthood, Wells did not come of age as part of these quilting traditions. Although her mother occasionally stitched together items into makeshift bed coverings, Wells explains that no one in her family had previously been a quilter. Moreover, Wells did not take up quilting until she was beginning to approach middle age in 1979, and was essentially self-taught in the enterprise. In fact, Wells worked fulltime for decades as a physical education teacher in the Tuscaloosa city school system until her retirement in 2000.

By the mid-1980s, Wells had added "story quilts" and "picture quilts" involving the use of cut-out applique figures to her repertoire of traditional piecing work. In keeping with her unusual route to the medium of quilting, Wells also sometimes incorporates unconventional materials that range from bits of metal and discarded clothing items to flags and fragments from pre-existing quilt tops. In 1985, with encouragement from friend and local art dealer Robert Cargo, Wells exhibited her quilts at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in neighboring Northport, Alabama. Originating in 1972, the Kentuck Festival attracts a wide variety of artists working in diverse media from across the United States and has developed a special reputation for the richness of its displays by folk and self-taught artists. Much to Wells's surprise, she received a "Best in Show" prize her very first year at the festival. Since then, her fame has grown exponentially, and her quilts have been exhibited in both art and history museums across the United States--from the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City to the White House--and around the globe from Japan to Italy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Anything I Can Stick a Needle In": An Interview with Yvonne Wells
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.