Crossing Mountains and Other Adventures: Story Quilts by Rumi O’Brien

Exhibition runs Sunday, January 22 – Sunday, March 5, 2017

At the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, Nancy Nicholas Hall

Reception: Sunday, January 29, 2017, 1 pm – 3 pm

Rumi O'Brien quilt

Detail from “A Man’s Life” quilt by Rumi O’Brien

Rumi O’Brien is that rare storyteller who can transport you to another time and place, introduce you to a colorful cast of characters, and spin an epic tale without ever saying a word.  Her stories are told with fabric, needle, thread, and thimble – tools and materials that work together to create the whimsical quilts that are her signature.  These story quilts center on the theme of adventure, both the everyday and the existential, as Rumi and her friends dig ponds, hunt for morel mushrooms, make friends with fish, cross mountains, and dance on Jello.

As a Japanese-American, Rumi expertly combines the folk art traditions of both countries to create a hybrid quilting style of her very own.  Inspired by American folk quilts, Rumi began quilting in the early 1980s.  She found immediate success with her first quilt, The Journey Home, pieced and appliquéd with beautiful Japanese katazome fabrics and hand-quilted with a bold nature-based design.  It also marks the first appearance of the diamond-faced hero of so many of Rumi’s stories: a cloth version of yakko-san, a traditional origami design based on the human figure.

“Crossing Mountains and Other Adventures” gathers together 16 of Rumi’s story quilts as well as watercolor paintings, folk art, and origami on loan from the Jura Silverman Gallery and local collectors.  Together, this material tells its own story, that of a beloved Madison-based artist who continues to charm and delight viewers with her unique artistic style.


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Monday – Friday: 10 am to 4 pm
Sunday: Noon to 4 pm

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About Design Gallery

The Ruth Davis Design Gallery holds exhibitions that relate to the processes and results of design. Together we encourage research, education and outreach by bringing together the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, the Design Gallery and Ruth Ketterer Harris Library, as well as undergraduate and graduate programs in Design Studies. We are located in the new Nancy Nicholas Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Human Ecology.Completed in June 2012, the LEED-certified Nancy Nicholas Hall supports the School’s mission to improve the quality of human life, through its education, research, creative endeavors, outreach and engagement. This technology-rich environment facilitates webinars, video conferencing, and interactive learning. Its accessibility, café, roof terrace, and other comfortable community spaces welcome visitors and promote interactions among faculty, staff, students, and visitors. An enlarged, climate-controlled Design Gallery and Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection enhance the visibility of creative works from both students and professional artists.

Support Us

All Design Gallery events and exhibitions are free and open to the public, thanks in part to the generous support from the Anonymous Fund. Support our programming through a gift to the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

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