This exhibition inspired by Jazz and working in the narrative tradition tell stories of the African American experience across historical, cultural, philosophical, and mythical realms.
Mr. Cummings dedicates this exhibition to his dear friend, Cuesta Benberry, historian and archivist of African American quilts.
“Whenever I gained consciousness as a child, that is when I knew I wanted to be an artist…”
Michael A. Cummings, a native of Los Angeles, currently
lives and sews in the 100-year-old Harlem brownstone he purchased in the early 1980s. “I guess you could say that my home is like my art: It is a living, breathing collage.”
Cummings’ work as a quiltmaker -- an art form which dates back centuries and involves the piecing together of fabric to form something new -- has brought him national and international attention. In addition to the HBO commission, Cummings has had solo exhibitions with Bates College in Maine, Hallmark Cards, New York City's Cinque Gallery and Studio Museum in Harlem.
His work is included in the public collections of the Brooklyn Museum, NY, the Museum of Art and Design, NY, the California African American Museum, CA, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NY, the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, DC, and in notable private collections. He has received numerous prestigious awards.
Cummings’ work can also be found in several books, most notably A Communion of the Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers and Their Stories by Roland L. Freeman; Quilts: A Living Tradition by Robert Shaw; and The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cook Book by National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
The “New York Times” noted in 1992 that Cummings “may seem like a honorary Edwardian in his pictures but he … draws inspiration from Africa and the art of African Americans, particularly the great quilters of the South.”
Most recently, Cummings was featured in the PBS series “Craft in America.”
Cummings’ keen sense of history, his reverence for the spiritual, and his reworking the possibilities of the present and the future make his quilts striking.
Cummings was commissioned by House of Seagram to produce a quilt for the Absolut Vodka ad series. Also, he created a particularly moving quilt for the Helias Foundation to commemorate the children who
died in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Ironically, Cummings—one of America’s premier quiltmakers—stumbled into the art form.
“I used to work for the Department of Cultural Affairs in New York City. During one event, staff was required to construct their own banner. That banner opened my mind to what I could do with fabric.
This was twenty years ago and at the time I was only painting. But because I was living in a small apartment, quilt making offered me a new way to create—and it minimized the need for storage space. Also, because I was already inspired by the work of Romare Bearden, I saw it as another way to make collages."
Additionally, Cummings is one of a handful of male quilters in a medium dominated by women.
“Look at all the famous male fashion designers who make clothes for women. And look at all the chefs who are men. As a male quilter, I am in a unique position. It forces people to reassess what they think men can and cannot do. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll learn that in Africa and other non-Western places, men have been the ones who created and worked with fabric -- for centuries."
The African Jazz Series will be on display at the National Quilt Museum until September 15th.