Colloquium: Re-visioning the Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins
In conjunction with the exhibition Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective, three scholars shed new light on Tompkins, her cultural context, and her place in modern and contemporary art. Presenters are exhibition cocurator Elaine Yau, Horace Ballard, curator at the Williams College Museum of Art, and Lisa Gail Collins, professor in Art History, Africana Studies, and American Studies at Vassar College. Tompkins’s son Sammy Howard brings a personal dimension to the discussion, which is moderated by Director and Chief Curator Lawrence Rinder, co-organizer of the exhibition.
Elaine Yau, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at BAMPFA, offers a talk entitled “The Craft and Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins.” She will present an overview of Tompkins’s distinctive textile practice, bring to light new biographical information, and explore the impact of Tompkins’s relationship with Eli Leon, a noted Bay Area collector and authority on African American quilts. Yau specializes in art at the intersection of vernacular culture and modernist art histories; critical approaches to “outsider art”; African American art history; and American material and visual culture. Her research has been supported by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Recent and forthcoming essays include explorations of Sister Gertrude Morgan’s painting and performances, Minnie Evans, and the role of “the folk” in African American art history.
Horace Ballard, curator of American art and research curator of photography at the Williams College Museum of Art, speaks on “An Aesthetics of Transcendence.” Responding to scholar and humanist Elaine Scarry, who asserted that “the search for beauty can lead us to justice,” and inspired by Rosie Lee Tompkins, Ballard will ruminate on the themes of visionary practice, aesthetics, and collective ethics. A scholar of the art and visual culture of Europe and the Americas from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, Ballard is faculty in the joint graduate program in the history of art at the Clark Art Institute and Williams College. He has held previous positions at Monticello/The Home of Thomas Jefferson, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
Lisa Gail Collins is a professor in Art History, Africana Studies, and American Studies at Vassar College presents "A Practice of Patience," a creative consideration of quilts and their making as sustaining practices, including tending sorrow and giving form to grief, providing meaningful context for Rosie Lee Tompkins' own practice. She received her BA in Art History from Dartmouth College and her PhD in American Studies—with graduate minors in Studies in Africa and the African Diaspora and Feminist Studies—from the University of Minnesota. A member of the Vassar faculty since 1998, she teaches interdisciplinary courses in American art, social, and cultural history with an emphasis on African American lives; art and social change; creativity and everyday life; feminist thought and activism; and social and cultural movements in the United States.