Exhibit focuses on quilt art

Francie Johnson

For many individuals, quilts are common household items used to keep warm during cold nights. But for Tuscaloosa artist Yvonne Wells, quilts are much more than just bed coverings: they’re a means of artistic expression.

“What my head sees and my heart feels, my hand can create that,” Wells said. “It may not be what is right to the viewer, but to me, the artist, it’s what I had seen at that time.”

Yvonne Wells’ “Seven Deadly Sins” collection of quilts will be on display in the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center from June 6 to 27.

Wells, a retired Tuscaloosa physical education teacher, created her first quilt in 1979. Everything she knows about quilting, she taught herself.

“I chose quilting because of the availability of material that was needed to make quilts,” Wells said. “Sheets and curtains and clothing – they were already present here at the house, and that’s why I think that I came into that as opposed to [other art forms.]”

While some quilters only make quilts out of 100 percent cotton, Wells uses any material available to her, including different types of fabrics, buttons and snaps. She said she loves the satisfaction of seeing her quilts come to life.

“To me, a quilt where you physically feel the needle going in and out of the fabric, means to me that it’s more love put into an art piece, as opposed to a painter where [he] has a brush and he does not feel the canvas that he’s working on,” Wells said. “But as for a quilter, once he picks it up, he feels the fabric, the thread and the needle speaking through the material.”

Wells’ quilts often focus on biblical and civil rights themes, two themes she holds close to her heart. Some quilts take a month or less to complete, but she worked on her “Seven Deadly Sins” collection intermittently for four years – from 2004 to 2008.

“The seven deadly sins are something very out of the ordinary that I never thought I would do,” Wells said. “I had seen other artists interpret the seven deadly sins, and I thought I wouldn’t ever do this, but as years went by, they started coming into my way of thinking. They seemed to be right there all the time. So that’s when I started to pluck them out and try to complete them.”

As time has passed, the stick figures and images on her quilts have grown larger in size, she said.

“There’s always evolution,” Wells said. “I think that to be an artist, you always have to be looking or hoping for a new direction, because you don’t grow if you don’t move forward.”

In addition to the quilt exhibit, the Cultural Arts Center will present a poetry reading featuring four different writers, one of whom is University of Alabama English instructor Brian Oliu. For Oliu, poetry readings are familiar territory.

“I’ve given readings in crowded bars, in the middle of the woods, in friend’s living rooms and in art galleries,” Oliu said. “Giving readings is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. I love being able to share my work out loud.”

Oliu will read from his upcoming book about 8-bit Nintendo games, titled “Leave Luck to Heaven.”

“I’m a firm believer in writing about what you love,” Oliu said. “You often hear folks talk about ‘writing what you know,’ but if you’re writing about something that you’re interested in, you’re going to do all of the research possible on it and eventually become an expert.”

Oliu said he hopes to form a connection with his audience through his writing.

“I think the coolest thing about writing is being able to put stuff down on paper and have people feel something,” Oliu said. “It’s some sort of magic, really – that a collection of letters can evoke an emotion from a random stranger. My goal with my writing is to have those feelings that I am trying to convey find themselves in the audience.”

The Yvonne Wells “Seven Deadly Sins” quilt exhibit will run through June 27.

(See also “Cooper exhibit opens in Black Belt“)