Stories of West Africa by Hollis Chatelain


Hollis Chatelain’s art quilts in this educational exhibit originated with photographs she took while living for twelve years in Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Benin, communicating an American artist’s perspective on these distinctly African cultures. From her photos, Hollis drew the original illustrations for her coloring book titled Stories of West Africa. These drawings in colored pencil were scanned, enlarged, digitally printed on cotton fabric, and then quilted in 2016 and 2017. Hollis’ art medium relates to her background and the cultures she encountered. The background of each quilt is inspired by the beautiful and decorative fabrics omnipresent in West Africa.

This exhibition is Hollis’ personal interpretation of everyday life in West Africa. Having lived in this part of the world for twelve years, her approach is one of observation and respect. Hollis’ choice of medium relates to her background and the culture she encountered. Her use of textiles conveys the warmth of this society. The quilting becomes the heart and soul of the people and is the key to her interpretation.

Listen to a podcast of the exhibit on Hollis Chatelain’s website:


My art most often comes to me in my dreams; usually influenced by current events and the many years I spent living in West Africa. This is why I tend to create surreal dreamlike compositions with a photographic quality.

I create “textile paintings” because fabric not only gives me a way to do all the things I love—photography, drawing, painting—but it is also very tactile. The softness of the medium draws viewers in and encourages them to engage on a deeper level.

Just as my many colors of thread hold the layers of fabric and batting together, I feel that my creations can also pull people together. We are wrapped in cloth from birth through death. Thus fabric creates a connection that suits the issues I address in a personal way. I believe that each one of us plays an essential role in making this world what it is. I hope my work will touch and inspire viewers.

My art often starts with a monochromatic dream. From there I start researching, looking for images that describe what I dreamed. It is important that the colors, faces, buildings, and plants are authentically what they could or should be. I’ve realized over time that my dreams often give me insight into places and peoples I’ve never seen.

Once the research is finished, I begin to draw, using the photos as inspiration. Often I work from 30-40 photos, sketching many small drawings. I then enlarge the small drawings onto large paper the size of the piece, creating the basic design. After transferring the design to fabric, I paint using fiber reactive Procion dyes and can easily spend six months on a painting. The dyes are usually six values of one color (the color of the dream). Once the painting is finished, the next step is washing out the dyes, and batting the piece to prepare it for quilting.

Thread is my passion. It adds contour, depth, and volume to my creations. The threads make the images come alive through hundreds of different colors. My large pieces have as much as 25,000 yards and over 200 different colors of thread in them.

I choose to work in larger-than-life sizes so that when a piece is finally finished, viewers will be called from all distances to come closer and step into the story.


Hollis Chatelain is an internationally recognized and award-winning artist specializing in textile painting. Through her works that address challenging social and environmental themes, Hollis reflects 12 years of experience living in West Africa and working with humanitarian organizations.

Using a distinctive style characterized by a dream-like use of color and imagery, her dye-painted scenes of multi-cultural life convey the untold stories of women, children, families, and the earth, and have been described as “easy to gaze at, but hard to forget.”

With an educational background in design and photography, and over 35 years of experience as a professional artist, Hollis’ work can be found in public and private collections throughout the world. In addition to creating her art, Hollis holds lectures and workshops in the United States and abroad, instructing students in subjects including color, drawing, design, dye-painting, & quilting techniques.


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