Experience the stunning story quilts of artist Tina Williams Brewer

Tina Williams Brewer. Whirling Dance and the Unconscious Rhythm, 2007. Discharged batik fabric, silk, taffeta, tulle, organza, and embroidery with cotton floss, silk, and metallic threads. 33 x 43 in. Courtesy the artist.

Columbia, S.C. – The Columbia Museum of Art announces featured summer exhibition Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace, on view Saturday, June 10, through Sunday, September 3, 2023, only at the CMA. Organized by the CMA, Stories of Grace showcases the work of Pittsburgh-based fiber artist Tina Williams Brewer, who creates densely layered, highly symbolic story quilts that explore African diasporic history and ancestral heritage. The artist and exhibition will be honored at a members’ celebration the evening of Friday, June 16.

The first major museum survey of the artist’s work in the Southeast, this career-spanning exhibition features roughly 45 works drawn from both public and private collections as well as brand-new work that will debut in Stories of Grace, fully divulging the scope and richness of Brewer’s multilayered practice.

“It’s been a privilege to work with Brewer in the leadup to this exhibition,” says CMA Curator Michael Neumeister. “The themes she engages in her art are deeply tied to South Carolina and its history. It will be a joy for our audiences to look at this region anew, through the eyes of a remarkable artist.”

For four decades, Tina Williams Brewer (b. 1949) has created quilts that tell stories of vision and grace. Her approach to art is shaped by personal experiences and an intuitive connection with the past. Brewer relates her quilts to lukasa, traditional memory boards created by the Luba culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like lukasa — objects that are ritualistically employed to recount history and evaluate the future — Brewer’s work conceptually links the processes of teaching and remembering.

Born in West Virginia, Brewer studied ceramics and advertising at the Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio, before settling in Pittsburgh in the early 1970s. She was introduced to quilting through her participation in local crafts groups, where she quickly gained facility with patchwork techniques. While the steady and contemplative act of sewing allowed the artist to balance her creative energies with the demands of motherhood, the medium also held personal meaning — her family had quilted for generations, engaging a Southern tradition that is particularly resonant in African American communities. Like family members before her, Brewer worked primarily with scraps, utilizing fabrics and garments that were readily available. The impulse to “make something out of nothing,” as Brewer describes it, was a way of honoring her heritage.

From the outset, Brewer transformed traditional quilting patterns and patchwork techniques — including log cabin and Jacob’s ladder designs — into a unique idiom that incorporates African symbolism. She began incorporating figural patterns and combining found fabrics with family heirlooms, newspapers, and photographs. Her methods expanded alongside her interests in African and African American history, subjects that she examines through a range of traditional symbols, original motifs, and globally sourced textiles.

Brewer’s work is further inspired by her travels, including a formative trip to Ghana and extensive time spent at St. Helena Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The artist was stimulated by the island’s rich Gullah tradition and the accounts of a formerly enslaved population that quickly established self-sufficiency against all odds. She was profoundly absorbed by the links between the landscape and its history, and the human stories that shaped both. As part of the exhibition, the CMA produced a short film documenting her travels in this state and the ways that her work is shaped by memory and place.

The densely layered, evocative works that Brewer has recently created are resplendent with color and energy. Though the artist continues to integrate traditional quilting concepts in subtle ways, these free-flowing compositions sometimes register more as abstract paintings or collages.

Rather than conveying rigid narratives, Brewer’s multilayered story quilts transmit the intrinsic, interlocking natures of history, culture, and spirit. Her colorful and richly symbolic compositions interweave the past with present experience and gesture to futures yet untold.

Stories of Grace Program Highlights:

Members’ Celebration for Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace
Friday, June 16 | 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.
CMA members are invited to celebrate new exhibition Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace and enjoy a conversation between curator Michael Neumeister and artist Tina Williams Brewer that centers on Brewer's work, its thematic ties to ancestry and place, and the importance of quilting as an artistic medium. Enjoy food by Chef Benjamin “BJ” Dennis, who infuses the flavors and culture of the Lowcountry into his Gullah Geechee cuisine. Cash bar. Free. Members only.

Juneteenth at the CMA
Monday, June 19 | 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
In celebration of Juneteenth, the CMA is open and offering free admission. Enjoy exhibitions including Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace, Resurgence and Renaissance: Art of the Catawba Nation Since 1973, Bullets and Bandaids: A Veteran Anthology, and Constantine Manos: A Greek Portfolio, as well as the CMA Collection. At 2:00 p.m. take a tour of Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace led by Dr. Nancy Tolson, CMA commissioner, docent, and USC assistant professor of African American Studies. Tour presented by CMA affinity group Friends of African American Art and Culture. Free admission with support from Councilwoman Gretchen Barron, Richland County Council, South Carolina.

Gallery Talk with the Curator
Wednesday, July 12 | 12:00 – 12:30 p.m.
Take a midweek break and join CMA Curator Michael Neumeister for a special tour of featured exhibition Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace. Hear directly from the person who worked with Brewer to bring the exhibition from conception to fruition and learn about the artist’s process and the ways that her work is inspired by South Carolina. Free with membership or admission. Registration preferred as space is limited.


Tina Williams Brewer: Stories of Grace is organized by the Columbia Museum of Art. Supporting Sponsors: Dr. Suzan D. Boyd and Mr. M. Edward Sellers. Contributing Sponsor: The Heinz Endowments. Friend Sponsors: Barbara B. Boyd; Friends of African American Art & Culture; Laura and Kevin Horner; Gina Trippi and John Kerr. Patron Sponsors: Beth and Matthew Richardson; Judy and Luther Battiste; Dr. and Mrs. Allen J. Coles, III. Generous support from the community through Midlands Gives. Additional support provided by Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. Media Sponsors: Grace Outdoor; WXRY 99.3 FM. Grantors: City of Columbia; Experience Columbia SC; Richland County Government; South Carolina Arts Commission; Discover South Carolina; Arts, Equity, & Education Fund; Opportunity Fund; a grant from the Coastal Community Foundation at the request of CMA member Bonnie Adams Kapp. Special thanks to De Buck Gallery, New York.

About the CMA
The Columbia Museum of Art is a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to lifelong learning and community enrichment for all. Located in the heart of downtown Columbia, S.C., the CMA ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and creative educational programs. At the heart of the CMA and its programs is its collection, which encompasses 7,000 works and spans 5,000 years of art history. Established in 1950, the CMA now welcomes more than 150,000 visitors annually and is a catalyst for community creativity and education, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds. It is the recipient of a National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a National Art Education Association award for its contributions to arts education, a National Park Foundation Award, and two Governor's Awards for the Arts for outstanding contributions to the arts in South Carolina. In order to serve even more audiences, the CMA underwent a transformation. Funded by a successful capital campaign, the two-year renovation project garnered new collection galleries with a progressive thematic layout, new studios for artmaking, cutting-edge program and event spaces, and an entrance on Main Street. Overall, more than 15,000 square feet of functional space were added to the building’s existing footprint. To learn more, visit columbiamuseum.org.

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