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

January 22 – March 5, 2017
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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Each academic semester the Design Gallery organizes a major curated exhibition related to a design topic followed by showcase installations of Design Studies student creative work at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

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