Cookie Washington – All That We Carry: The Epic Stitchers and Friends
The Sumter County Gallery of Art & The Deane and Roger Ackerman Family Fund present
ALL THAT WE CARRY: The Epic Stitchers and Friends
Curated by Cookie Washington
“All That We Carry: The Epic Stitchers and Friends” is an earth-based art exhibition of quilts, indigo, sweetgrass baskets and ceramic curated by, and featuring the art of renowned quilt artist Torreah “Cookie” Washington. This large-scale exhibition celebrates the joys, the sorrows, the life stuff; physical, mental, spiritual, and familial of Black people. The exhibition title is inspired by the National Book Award winner “All That She Carried” by Tiya Miles. The book is about a sack that was handed from mother to daughter beginning in 1850 in South Carolina, since slavery. In this exhibition, artists are asked, what are you carrying in your sack? This exhibition of traditional art forms will include pieces that speak to the journey that Black women (and men) are on. What is in the invisible emotional sack that they carry every day?
Curator Cookie Washington observes, “Black folks talk about walking out of their houses and putting on ‘armor’ in anticipation of microaggressions and racial discrimination. Black artisans are not a monolith. We come from different walks of life and are profoundly diverse as a people. We are all carry different things from our different journeys. We also have our own individual journeys to happiness and healing.
Acknowledging and talking about our feelings is not something a lot of Black women have been taught to do or have seen modeled. When I tried to talk about my feelings as a child, my mother, would say things like ‘you’re fine’ or ‘you need to get over it’. We deal with things by pushing our feelings aside, keeping our eye on the prize and getting the task at hand done. Some of us have so much in our invisible sacks. After many years, I eventually came to terms with the fact that this is the world that we live in. I knew that I had a choice to spend the rest of my life in misery, or to heal and keep choosing happiness. What do I want to carry forward? When we heal, it unlocks all the joy that’s held captive inside of us. So, can we carry joy alongside our pain? “Joy in these times requires radical self-care. In the end, I am choosing to carry Joy in my sack… So how will you show the public through your art, what’s in your sack?”
All That We Carry is a large-scale exhibition that will be in both gallery spaces will feature the work of fiber artist Torreah “Cookie” Washington, an award-winning master art quilter from the SC Lowcountry and 19 other fiber, indigo, clay and sweetgrass artists – some of the best working in their field today. As a 4th generation stitcher, Cookie is emblematic of traditional earth-based artists working today to maintain traditional art forms – to address issues of contemporary society while keeping true to generational processes and materials.
Karen Watson, SCGA Executive director notes, “The exhibition is also a Black history lesson. Works such as Washington’s quilt “Henrietta Lacks”, and Patricia Montgomery’s “Septima Clark” (often called the Mother of the Movement) Civil Rights Coat, Tony Williams’s indigo “The Fabric of Our Lives” chronicling cotton and enslavement, and Sylvia Hernandez’s “A Glimpse of Racism”. There are also pieces celebrating Black life and joy – Arianne King-Comer’s indigo “When Sistahs Sing the Gospel”, Angela and Darryl Stoneworth’s sweetgrass “Diamond African Wedding Basket”, Bunny Rodrigues’s “Gullah Women”, and Antwon Ford’s sculptural sweetgrass baskets.”
On Friday evening, November 18th Washington will teach a “Quilting Bee for Social Justice” for the public, 6-9 pm, at the gallery. For the Friday night Quilting Bee, SCGA is partnering with Morris College to have 12 to 15 students participate in the activity and dialogue.
The closing event, Thursday January 12th, 5:30-7:30, will be a Panel discussion “All That We Still Carry – Where Do We Go From Here?”, of artists and community leaders.
As with everything we do, this exhibition is a community effort. The presenting sponsor is The Deane and Roger Ackerman Family Fund. SCGA was awarded a prestigious SouthArts Traditional Arts Presentation grant, The Sumter County Cultural Commission with support from the John & Susan Bennett Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC, the SC Arts Commission and the Nat’l Endowment for the Arts, Ralph and Toye Canty, Dr. Deanne and Elielson Messais, Ben Griffith and Tammy Kelly of State Farm, the Carson Family, Swan Lake Quilt Guild, and Trapp Construction and Remodeling. Flowers courtesy of Azalea Garden Club & the Council of Garden Clubs of Sumter.
(Click the image above to see the full Panel Discussion)
All That We Still Carry: Where Do We Go from Here? A Panel Discussion with Distinguished Guests.
The Sumter County Gallery of Art in partnership with Sumter Little Theatre is honored to present “All That We Still Carry – Where do We Go From Here?” Thursday, January 12th, 5:30-7:30. This panel discussion is in conjunction with the exhibition “All That We Carry: The Epic Stitchers and Friends” curated by Torreah “Cookie” Washington. The exhibition is inspired by the National Book Award Winner “All That She Carried”, by historian Tiya Miles about a sack that was handed from mother to daughter beginning in 1850 in South Carolina, since slavery. In this exhibition, artists are asked, what are you carrying in your sack? This exhibition of traditional art forms will include pieces that speak to the journey that Black women (and men) are on. What is in the invisible emotional sack that they carry every day?
This riveting panel discussion will explore the “Still Carry” aspect by locating and dissecting the intersection(s) of social justice with almost every aspect of Black life in America – economic, institutional, political, law enforcement, education, housing, food, environment. How can art, environmental conservation, writing and increasing representation in cultural institutions, impact and propel forward social justice that has been subjugated for so long? Our distinguished panelists are from very different disciplines, yet each recognizes and challenges injustice in their respective day-to-day professional lives. To have such a notable group of artists, writers, and thinkers come together in Sumter is an experience not to be missed. We will start out in the gallery with light refreshments and a last opportunity to see this amazing exhibition, then walk next door to the Sumter Little Theatre for the panel discussion and question/answer session. Many thanks to the board and staff of the Sumter Little Theatre for allowing us to use their wonderful space.
The co-moderators are Dr. Reneé Anderson and Wendell Brown. In addition to panelist artist and curator, Torreah “Cookie” Washington, who made this exhibition a reality with her indefatigable energy, other distinguished panelists include:
Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina and raised during the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Arts Movements. She is the author of On Wings Made of Gauze; Rice; The World Is Round; and Head Off & Split, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. Her new collection of poems, Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry, was released in 2020. In her home state of South Carolina, she involves herself in the day-to-day battles for truth and justice while also guiding students at the University of South Carolina where she is the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters, with appointments in both the Dept of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies Program. Finney’s work includes the arenas of Black girl genius unrecognized, Black history misplaced and forgotten, and the stories of women who prefer to jump instead of ride the traditional tracks of polite and acceptable society. In her poetry and storytelling, she explores the whispers and shouts of sexuality, the invisibility of poverty in a world continually smitten by the rich and the powerful, the graciousness of Black family perseverance, the truth of history, the grace and necessity of memory, as well as the titanic loss of habitat for all things precious and wild.
Dr. J. Drew Lanham a 2022 MacArthur Fellow, grew up in Edgefield, South Carolina, where he fell in love with watching birds and eventually turned his passion into a career. He details this journey in his 2016 book, “The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature.” The MacArthur Foundation notes that Lanham is “creating a new model of conservation that combines conservation science with personal, historical and cultural narratives of nature.” Lanham’s research and teaching focuses on the impacts of forest management on birds and other wildlife. He brings this ecological knowledge as well as his perspective as a Black man living in the South to bear on his work as a storyteller, poet, and passionate advocate for bird-watching and environmental conservation and stewardship. Lanham also writes and speaks on the implicit and overt racism people of color often face when engaging with their natural surroundings. In a 2013 essay, he shared “9 Rules for Black Birdwatchers” based on his own experiences. He also provides specific ways to bring social justice principles into conservation work.
Dr. Reneé S. Anderson is the former Head of Collections at the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), Smithsonian Institution, where she coordinated and oversaw program collections management activities with a staff of 14 including major construction projects for collections storage, conservation and museum requirements, and Smithsonian Archives cold storage. Dr. Anderson was Principal Investigator for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation NMAAHC Collections Grant $2M (2013) and for CIBA grant $200K (2016). In her position with the African American Association of Museums (AAAM) her focus is on special projects which include, media interactions, Council collections support, and VIP visitor experiences. She continues to provide support for the NMAAHC Treasures national community program through presentations and as a reviewer for participant objects and works on numerous SI Task Force and Working Groups. Dr. Anderson served as the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists (ARCS) co-lead for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Task Force. Other activities include serving as a mentor in the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums development program.
Torreah “Cookie” Washington is an award-winning master art quilter from the SC Lowcountry. As a 4th generation stitcher, Cookie feels a deep connection to her foremothers. working in a medium that is centuries old, she is shifting the historical frame to accommodate her art. She is emblematic of earth-based artists working today to maintain traditional art forms to address issues of contemporary society. Cookie plays an integral role in her community. Sheteaches quilting to women in underserved communities, gives educational lectures in schools, & donates quilts to the homeless. She has been featured in 2 documentary films about African American Quilters. She has curated & exhibited the African American Fiber Arts Exhibit in North Charleston for 15 years & in 2009 was selected as 1 of 44 quilters to create a quilt for President Obama’s Inauguration. Cookie’s natural ability to attract excellent artists and writers as friends has made her a sought-after curator in the past two years. She recently curated an exhibition at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, WA, and she is curating an exhibition in Atlanta in February that will include many of the quilts in the Sumter exhibition.
Wendell George Brown A Virginia native, Fiber artist Wendell George Brown is an Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Henry Ponder Gallery at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. A summary of Brown’s curated exhibitions at Benedict College includes Harriet Tubman in South Carolina; Faith Ringgold Ancestor Project II; Comparative Religion, Civil Rights in South Carolinas, Great Kings and Queens of Africa, and The Mahlakasela Collection: Art from South Africa’s Apartheid. In addition, Brown currently serves as a Columbia Museum of Art Commissioner and served as Assistant Director of the Boyden Gallery at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Director of Museum Education at Hampton University in Virginia. A former assistant to American artist Faith Ringgold, Brown has also collaborated on projects with writers Lucille Clifton and Jeffrey Colman. Brown received his BFA From the Maryland Institute, College of Art and BFA from Howard University in Washington D.C.
Antwon Ford started making sweetgrass baskets with his grandmother when he was 4 years old. When Ford was a teenager, he realized this art form was hyper-local. “That realization was inspiring,” he said. “I’m part of something special.” But why is it special, he wanted to know, and what is his role in this expression of cultural identity? Today, Ford is perhaps the most innovative sweetgrass basket maker of his generation. Indeed, his creations are not generally utilitarian. As historian and curator at the McKissick Museum at USC, Dale Rosengarten observes, “He is a sculptor, turning a traditional craft into conceptual art.” Ford, 35, said the ubiquity of basket making in his community was partly a manifestation of cultural pride combined with the kind of social solidarity that creates a community safety net and sense of camaraderie among neighbors. Ford notes that the supply of materials also has diminished and changed. No longer can artisans gather high-quality grasses nearby or purchase a bundle for $20. They rely on suppliers who sell a bundle for as much as $100. “Ninety percent of the grasses are imported” ~ The Post and Courier
We thank our sponsors: Presenting sponsor, The Deane and Roger Ackerman Family Fund. SouthArts Traditional Arts Presentation grant, The Sumter County Cultural Commission with support from the John & Susan Bennett Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC, the SC Arts Commission and the Nat’l Endowment for the Arts, FTC, Ralph and Toye Canty, Dr. Deanne and Elielson Messais, Ben Griffith and Tammy Kelly of State Farm, the Carson Family, Swan Lake Quilt Guild, and Trapp Construction and Remodeling.