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Michael Cummings - 30 Years of Quilt-Making

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The work of New York quilter Michael Cummings is included in the exhibit "Secrets & Stories" now on display at the Visions Art Museum in San Diego. Art quilts by Rachel Brumer, Karen Cunagin, Wendy Huhn, Carolyn Mazloomi, Lori Lupe Pelish, Wendeanne Ke'aka Stitt, Susan Shie and Anna Torma are also showcased.

Cummings earned a BA in American Art History at Empire College. Early in his artistic career, he painted and made collages and shadow boxes. He taught himself to quilt in 1973 by studying the works of local quilters and reading how-to quilt magazines and books.

Cummings has had varied quilting experiences. Vivian Ayers-Allen was the first gallery owner to display his quilts. In 1997, he was commissioned by the House of Seagram to create a quilt for the famous Absolut Vodka ad series. He has illustrated a children's lullaby book with specially-designed quilted pieces. Hallmark Cards even featured his quilts in the Mahogany greeting card line.

I had an opportunity to ask Cummings about his quilt-making recently.

What keeps quilting as an art form interesting for you?

MC: I have been quilting over 30 years. I love creating stories or narrative quilts. Working with fabrics to construct my art quilts is an exciting adventure. Fabrics allow me to surround myself with colors, prints and textures that constantly are energizing my creative process.

Tell us about your quilt in the Secrets & Stories exhibit.

MC: The quilt is titled "President Barack Obama." After President Obama won the election, I felt that a quilt celebrating his election, [that] historical moment and providing an African-American perspective was required. I wanted to address the racial issue and the fact that he is from an interracial marriage. Black and white are dominate colors in the quilt and symbolize Black and white America. I also divided his image into those two colors. I used another fabric with printed images of New York City scenes from the 1930s representing an urban environment, where he once lived. I wanted him to be surrounded by proactive civil rights activists that made history themselves and helped to enable him to be elected. I chose quotes that are hand-painted onto the surface of the quilt. These quotes are by James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes and President Obama's favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. These quotes hopefully provide viewers with some background related to struggles and pains that came before and still remain in a racially divided America.

There are 21.3 million U.S. quilters, according to the latest Quilting in America industry survey. Ninety-nine percent of "dedicated quilters," those who spent more than $600 per year on quilting, are women. Dedicated quilters are 6.2 percent of all US quilters. Quick math indicates there are about 13,200 dedicated male quilters. I can visualize the art quilts by Joe Cunningham, Edward Bostick, Raymond K. Houston, Michael James and John Sims.

What advice would you give to a young boy or young man who is interested in textile arts?

MC: As a male quilter, I have found that people are inquisitive about why and how I started making art/quilts. You need both creative skills and business skills, if you plan to sell your work. Business skills include marketing, promotion, bookkeeping and computer skills. You have to believe in yourself. Know that you are part of an ancient tradition in the global family of men and boys, working to create both functional and decorative items.

Thank you, Michael. The "Secrets & Stories" exhibit is on display at the Visions Art Museum in San Diego until July 22, 2012. Enjoy!