Cheyney University Artist in Residence Wendell George Brown gave a gallery walk-through for Professor D'Antonio-Madsen and Professor Domenic's art students on Thursday afternoon. The event marked the opening of his exhibition Tracing Stitches: Exploring a National Treasure, and the conclusion of a week's worth of work in preparing the Biddle Hall Art Gallery for public view.
Brown's colors, use and organization of materials contrast with one another. The first gallery features a series of quilted portraits of notable African Americans, including Cheyney University's own Frannie Jackson Coppin, among others. Each portrait is carefully stitched in Brown's signature style with brief biographies of each subject incorporated into the borders of the pieces. The gallery is a tribute to Cheyney's history as the first Historically Black College and University.
The second gallery exhibits Brown's large, three-dimensional story quilts, which are populated with figures inspired by African Art. The figures rest upon a quilted, domestic-scene of everyday life. An installation of large, freestanding quilted sculptures dominates the center of the room. The installation consists of towering, 8-foot-tall figures, all seeming to move together in a clear direction. Brown calls attention to the African motif saying, "The double-faced figures symbolize looking and learning from the past to move into the future."
Brown is enthralled with Cheyney University's history. He says to students, "You are blessed with so much history, from Richard Humpreys, the founder of the institution, through to Cheyney's current President, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital. With history like this," he explains, "you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Learn from them and build your future. The portraits in the room are of the people who have historic importance.”
Brown admits that he enjoys talking about history, particularly African and African American art and history. "My calling has always been to textiles," he says. "In Africa, most of the textiles, like weaving and appliques, were originally made by men." As a male fiber artist, Brown feels innately attracted to the quilt medium "because it allows me an opportunity to excavate and examine history as it relates to me and my culture," he explains. "I hope all audiences who view this exhibition leave looking at themselves and the world around them in new and different ways. Art allows us to expand our minds, regardless of our majors or discipline."
On Saturday, March 9, Brown will lead two workshops in which participants will make quilt pieces. He will take one handmade piece from each student and stitch all of the individual pieces together. The resulting quilt will return to Cheyney in soonafter as an enduring piece of the University's history. The exhibit and workshop are presented through the 2012-2013 Arts and Lectures Series.