Homewood fiber artist Tina Williams Brewer recently received the 2018 Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Artist of the Year. Brewer spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort for our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories about the quilting technique Brewer has shared for decades with seniors, students, and other artists.
Below are excerpts of their discussion.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Brewer on the stories she is telling with her quilts:
I'm telling the stories of our ancestors, and I come from a family where I sat at the kitchen table and ate food, and that's how they communicated our history to us about the family. So, as I started to pick up my pieces and started to quilt, I thought that would be important to use that as an impetus to tell the stories so that the people won't be forgotten.
And, I've been working pretty much since 1985 on the Middle Passage, and I have tried to capture the history from the Middle Passage going backwards instead of forwards. To say what we brought to this country rather than what they say about us in this country.
Brewer on receiving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Governor's Award for the Arts, Artist of the Year for 2018:
I was overwhelmed by it because, of course, everyone works hard. My work, I think, is good. It speaks to an importance of my community and my people.
But to have it be acknowledged by the greater community ... is important. It really took me aback, and, so, I'm forever grateful. I've been working with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for about 20 years. I've worked with the Society for Contemporary Crafts for 23 years. And for that time, I've done community work. So, I've been working as a community artist for 23 years.
So, you just do that work and love that work ... and then to have somebody pick it up and say, you know, "This is worthy of a celebration."
Brewer on her influences and sharing her techniques with others:
When I first started out, my father-in-law really influenced me in terms of capturing that ancient history. And then Ancient African History classes at the Homewood library were inspirational as well. But the technique that I use is one that I've made up. So, I still do a lot of scrapping because its important to use fabric that comes with its own energy. Like, I've made some quilts from my father-in-law's ties, from old scraps of fabric from my family members. So, I kind of repurpose and have been repurposing for a long time.
I think that [the importance of teaching] comes from my upbringing. The more you give, the more you receive. You know, I am a teacher who teaches everything that I know. And I give it over to you and something new comes. So, I'm not afraid to let it all be practiced by other artists, and then I enjoy their success. So, I've been teaching what exploration is, what my process is, from the very beginning.