Grant From Bank of America Will Support Essential Conservation of the World’s Largest Publicly Held Quilt Collection by African American Artists
(Berkeley, CA) June 13, 2022—The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) has received a significant grant from Bank of America to support the conservation of its African American Quilts Collection, a cornerstone of the museum’s holdings and the largest collection of its kind. BAMPFA is one of a small number of cultural institutions worldwide that have been selected as this year’s grant recipients by Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, an annual program that funds the conservation of historically or culturally significant artworks that are in danger of deterioration. The grant to BAMPFA will support critical conservation treatment for nearly one third of the museum’s holdings of more than three thousand quilts, many of which will go on view for the first time in a major exhibition at BAMPFA in 2024.
BAMPFA received the African American Quilts Collection in 2018 as a bequest from Eli Leon, the noted quilt collector and scholar who passed away that year. Spanning more than a century of American history, the collection encompasses works by hundreds of individual quilters—including celebrated names like Arbie Williams, Laverne Brackens, Gladys Henry, Sherry Byrd, and Angie Tobias, as well as many lesser known and anonymous artists. Most quilters represented in the collection are women, many of whom migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area from the southern United States. Among the collection’s most notable holdings are more than five hundred works by Rosie Lee Tompkins, who is widely considered one of the most significant quilt artists of the twentieth century; these works were the subject of an acclaimed Tompkins retrospective at BAMPFA in 2020-21, which the New York Times called “a life-changing, history-altering exhibition”.
Although Eli Leon spent decades amassing what is believed to be the world’s largest privately assembled collection of African American quilts, he lacked the resources to comprehensively conserve these works, many of which are extremely fragile or at risk of deterioration. Since receiving the collection in 2018, BAMPFA has launched an unprecedented, multi-year initiative to provide the high standard of professional care and scholarly attention that is needed to ensure these vital holdings remain accessible to future generations. The grant from Bank of America is a crucial milestone in that urgent effort, providing essential conservation support for 720 of the most at-risk quilts from the collection.
The 2022 Bank of America Art Conservation Project recipients include 19 major art restoration projects that represent a diverse range of artistic styles, media and cultural traditions across the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Ghana, Ireland, Nigeria, Spain, France and Mexico. Since 2010, Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project has supported the conservation of more than 6,000 individual pieces including paintings, sculptures, and archaeological and architectural pieces of critical importance to cultural heritage and the history of art.
“We believe that the arts are a powerful tool to help communities thrive and create greater cultural understanding, and we’re pleased to support BAMPFA’s conservation of this important quilt collection” said Gioia McCarthy, San Francisco-East Bay president for Bank of America.
“As the institutional stewards of this unparalleled collection of African American quilts, BAMPFA takes seriously our obligation to care for these irreplaceable artworks so that they can remain a vibrant resource for scholars and the general public for decades to come,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, BAMPFA’s Executive Director. “We’re tremendously grateful to Bank of America for generously helping us to fulfill this commitment, and in particular for their discernment in recognizing that these quilts created by Black women—most of whom lacked formal training or connections to the professional art world—are every bit as worthy of conservation and support as work from the Eurocentric art historical canon that is so often the focus of corporate arts philanthropy.”
Bank of America Arts and Culture
The Bank of America Art Conservation Project is a key demonstration of Bank of America’s arts support worldwide, and part of the company’s environmental, social and governance commitment. Through the Art Conservation Project, programs like Museums on Us®, loaning exhibitions through the Art in Our Communities program, the Masterpiece Moment video series and sponsorships and grants, we support a wide range of both local and world-class organizations. Our programs are designed to have a positive impact on economies and societies throughout the world, and shine a light on diverse cultural traditions. Through steadfast and strategic support, we have become one of the world’s leading corporate supporters of the arts. To learn more about our arts and culture support and programs, please visit bankofamerica.com/arts.