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Modern-art quilt is on display at BYU

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"Subway Graffiti No. 3" is a story quilt by Faith Ringgold that depicts her family and friends in the central panel. Names are in the graffiti around the painting.

“Subway Graffiti No. 3" is a story quilt by Faith Ringgold that depicts her family and friends in the central panel. Names are in the graffiti around the painting.

BYU Museum of Art

PROVO — Brigham Young University's art donors aren't as keen on opening up their wallets for contemporary art as they are for the classics, but the BYU Museum of Art still managed to acquire an important modern work unveiled last week.

The unique quilt painting by black artist Faith Ringgold was unveiled to celebrate Black History month.

"Subway Graffiti No. 3" is a story quilt, a style Ringgold developed in the 1980s. The quilt has a central panel of canvas, in which her family and friends are depicted in acrylic. Names of family and friends are in the graffiti that surrounds the painting and includes a tribute to Ringgold's sister, Barbara, who is called Princess. Notables in the panel are identified by the T-shirts they are wearing, including Diana Ross, "Miami Vice," "Ghostbusters" and Michael Jackson.

Students at BYU are taking on the task of identifying each person in the quilt.

A quilted pieced border that depicts political messages about African Americans and women surrounds the painting. All is machine stitched together in panels.

Student Kirsten Davis found the quilt on the Internet while searching for Ringgold works and suggested it to the museum, said curator Marian Wardle. The museum purchased the quilt from the ACA Galleries in New York. Other Ringgold works offer political and feminist statements.

"(The quilt) brings diversity to the museum," said director Campbell Gray. "We've been trying to get contemporary art, but the donors are not much interested in (it). ... We've not had a strong program of contemporary art. This is a substantial step forward."

Philanthropists Curtis and Mary Ann Atkinsson stepped forward and said that whatever the museum raised in funds for contemporary art, they would match. Five other donors agreed, and the museum was able to purchase the quilt, now on permanent display in the Lied Gallery.

An internationally acclaimed artist, Ringgold has received numerous awards and made her way into art history survey books because of her emphasis on racial and gender issues and her experimentation with quilting, a traditional women's medium.

She began creating political paintings in the 1960s in traditional oil on canvas at the height of the civil rights movement. In the 1970s she began experimenting with other media such as cloth sculptures, masks and tankas — Tibetan-style paintings framed in fabric borders.

"By 1980, Ringgold had collaborated with her mother in the creation of her first quilt," museum officials said. "In 1983, Ringgold made her first story quilt, the medium which she would establish as distinctly her own. Since then, story quilts have been the primary focus of Ringgold's artistic career."

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com