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New Exhibition Features Stunning Contemporary Quilts Artfully Handcrafted by Five Bay Area Women

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(Oakland, CA)—This September, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) presents Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts, an exhibition showcasing a dynamic and visually vibrant selection of American quilts made from the mid to late 1980s to the early 2000s by five women living in the Bay Area. The exhibition coincides with a new installation from OMCA’s extensive craft collection in the Gallery of California Art.

Featuring complex asymmetrical patterns, the selection of quilts on view in the exhibition includes unusual materials and an improvisational creation process that include both quilter and collector. Drawn from the collection of Oakland resident Eli Leon, who traveled the country in a van on a Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1980s, collecting the stories of quilters and their quilts, Yo-Yos & Half Squares features 20 contemporary quilts that defy expectations and expand the notions of craft through their individual artistic expression.

“We hope the exhibition alters viewers’ ideas of what a quilt can be,” says Carin Adams, Associate Curator of Art and Material Culture, whose most recent project was the highly successful SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot exhibition at OMCA last spring. “Looking at these 20 quilts is like entering a different world—one that is asymmetrical and tactile. Eli Leon’s collection is unique in the way that he was so deeply involved in the finished process,” Adams says. “His story is interwoven with those of the quilters. The show will also feature one quilt Leon made in memory of his father.”

Presenting stories from each maker—Angie Tobias, Arbie Williams, Mattie Pickett, Rosie Lee Tompkins, and Sherry Byrd—the exhibition illuminates how these quilts came to be, and the collaborations and relationships involved in their creation. Most of the quilters learned the craft early from their mothers and grandmothers, for whom quilting was a necessity or creative outlet. The quilts are highly distinct from each other and reflect the makers’ individual interests, skills, and talents, as well as Eli Leon’s vision and unique story as a collector, beginning in the early 1970s and with a large focus on African-American quilters.

Featuring a variety of materials from stiff 1970s polyester to velvet and glittery textiles the late Rosie Lee Tompkins (the quilt-making pseudonym of Effie Mae Howard) called “Christmas fabric,” these quilts each tell a unique story. Boldly unique in construction and design, the quilts are unique artworks in and of themselves.

Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts is on view in the Oakland Museum of California’s Gallery of California Art September 12, 2015, through February 21, 2016. The exhibition is made possible in part by generous support from the Simpson Family.

A new installation in the Gallery of California Art shines a light on California artists who use craft as a form of cultural expression. Highlighting more than 30 works from OMCA’s extensive collection of craft—many never before on view—the installation taps into the resurgent interest in craft and DIY and provides the compelling stories behind both the artist and the work itself. Ranging from provocative to whimsical, the new installation features sculpture, furniture, textiles, woodwork, and metalwork by artists such as Alex & Lee, Gaza Bowen, Claire Falkenstein, Gyöngy Laky, and Kay Sekimachi and Robert Stocksdale. Through photographs detailing artists’ studio work and artistic process alongside quotes from the artists themselves, the installation invites you to discover a new understanding of craft as a way of life.


The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) brings together collections of art, history, and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people. OMCA’s groundbreaking exhibits tell the many stories that comprise California with many voices, often drawing on first-person accounts by people who have shaped California’s cultural heritage. Visitors are invited to actively participate in the Museum as they learn about the natural, artistic, and social forces that affect the state and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. With more than 1.9 million objects, OMCA is a leading cultural institution of the Bay Area and a resource for the research and understanding of California’s dynamic cultural and environmental heritage.


The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is at 1000 Oak Street, at 10th Street, in Oakland. Museum admission is $15.95 general; $10.95 seniors and students with valid ID, $6.95 youth ages 9 to 17, and free for Members and children 8 and under. OMCA offers onsite underground parking and is conveniently located one block from the Lake Merritt BART station, on the corner of 10th Street and Oak Street. The accessibility ramp is located at the 1000 Oak Street main entrance to the Museum.

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