BAMPFA exhibit features late Richmond artist Rosie Lee Tompkins

Berkeley exhibit features late Richmond artist Rosie Lee Tompkins
Rosie Lee Tompkins courtesy of Eli Leon.

By Kathy Chouteau

A virtual exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is looking back at the prolific work of a onetime Richmond resident now through Dec. 20.

The exhibition, “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective,” was co-curated with Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow Elaine Y. Yau and displays nearly seventy of Tompkin’s artworks—described by the museum as “an extraordinary range and number of quilts with inventive designs all her own.”

BAMPFA’s exhibition follows a recent gift from collector Eli Leon of more than 500 of Tompkins’ quilts to the museum as one facet of a larger gift of quilts by African American artists, per the museum.

According to BAMPFA, Rosie Lee Tompkins, who passed away in 2006, learned to make quilts as a child from her mother when they were living in Arkansas. After moving to Richmond, she went on to make her quilts professionally during the 1970s, her career spanning 40 years until her death.

Rosie Lee Tompkins quilt courtesy of BAMPFA

Tompkins’ called her quilts “put-togethers” and didn’t intend them for household use. “Making quilts was a way to experiment with colors, shapes and texture and to express personal ideas like her spirituality and family connections,” per BAMPFA.

An article by The New York Times about the exhibition said it “confirms her standing as one of the great American artists—transcending craft, challenging painting and reshaping the canon.”

While BAMPFA is currently closed, Tompkins’ work can be viewed on the museum’s exhibition page.