Of the arts, there's none more utilitarian than quilting. While a painting might brilliantly capture the reflection of the moon on a lake and a poem might reveal the emotional foundations of being human, neither will keep you warm in the dead of winter. Born out of necessity, historically the art of a quilt was secondary. Quilting was hardly ever art for art's sake.
That said, there are few things more stirring than a work of art that exists when it doesn't have to. The finest quilt-makers didn't have to make complex, beautifully geometric patches of color to keep their families alive, but they did.
One of the top quilt-makers in the South lives right here in the Bluff City, and now she has an exhibition of some of her best work at the Brooks. Hattie Childress' quilts combine the found-art whimsy of sewing together Crown Royal bags with the emotional sobriety of the civil rights movement. The expressive mechanics of quilting were often passed down as an oral tradition, from mothers to daughters and grandmothers to grandchildren. Childress herself was set on the quilted path by her grandmother. An innovator -- quoting the Bible, telling some of the history of the region's civil rights struggles and triumphs, and examining Southern sports and music, all as text on her fabrics -- Childress' works are a pleasure to behold. And they'll keep you from freezing during a long winter night.
"Blocks and Pieces: Quilts by Hattie Childress" at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through August 20th