Stitching Stories: Tina Williams Brewer

Artist Tina Williams Brewer with her hand-pieced quilt Divine Plan, 2003, on view at The Westmoreland through September 8, 2024, as part of 65 Artists, 65. Years: An Anniversary Exhibition.

Internationally renowned artist and storyteller Tina Williams Brewer creates story quilts inspired by African and African American spirituality, history, and culture. A classically trained artist, Brewer describes herself as a folk and fiber artist.

The Museum added Brewer’s hand-pieced and hand-quilted Divine Plan (2003) to the permanent collection in 2020 through a gift of the Westmoreland Society. The piece is currently on view as part of 65 Artists, 65 Years: An Anniversary Exhibition. During a special tour of the exhibition in February 2024, Brewer described this quilt as telling a hopeful story of moving through “dark aspects of our life” and having “the faith that we will come out of it.”

Brewer’s Divine Plan references Mother Nature and the celestial world, and is the synthesis of three forces: the spiritual, physical and emotional. The composition is infused with coded symbolism that viewers can “read.” Surrounded by organic yellow shapes that represent seed pods “seeding” the world and flowers growing throughout, Mother Nature is at the top and very center of the quilt. The blackbirds represent the circle of life as they start their metaphorical journey in the light, descend into darkness, and emerge once again in the light.

The initial layer or background is all strip-pieced, following the traditional way of weaving Kente cloth together. The multiple layers of fabric are hand-dyed and hand-printed batik, and the printed fabrics are from domestic sources and Ghana to which Brewer has either discharged or added color. Using both traditional quilting patterns, as seen in the patchwork squares at lower right and in the petals of the flowers, and incorporating her own original designs, Brewer creates nuanced complex, layered compositions, rich with symbolism.

>> Click play on the short video to the right to hear Brewer talk about Divine Plan and its inclusion in 65 Artists, 65 Years.

Brewer stitches all of her work by hand, layering modern and traditional fabrics and transparencies to translate classical elements of art—line, texture, light, and reflection—into a flat medium.

“This process separates Tina’s practice from a lot of others,” said Chief Curator Jeremiah Williams McCarthy. “I’m always wowed by how her quilts incorporate modern printed fabric in juxtaposition with traditional African fabric, along with overlays and multiple dyeing techniques. It’s firing on all cylinders. It’s a composition that’s compelling and painterly, and the way she treats the material expresses so much mastery of fabric as a medium.”

Brewer noted that she brings a Black perspective to her art, which is not one that has historically been included in most museums. “I grew up in a time when we were not invited to beautiful museums like this one. So I am so thrilled to be a part of this collection, to be invited in, and to encourage others to come here as well. I think this is such a great step in the right direction, as the world is changing, to be able to keep museums alive by inviting all people into them.” She emphasized that “art is for everyone,” reminding visitors that their perspective as the viewer is valuable, calling the exhibition a “partnership of the artists, the curator, and then the viewer,” she said. “I am you and you are me.”

In 2022, The Westmoreland hosted Cultivation: Journey of the Work,” a solo retrospective exhibition featuring Brewer’s works from 1989 to 2021. Representing the many phases and issues she has explored through the decades, the quilts varied in topic, ranging from the history of slavery to the roots of racism and move to the breakdown of African and African American family dynamics, women, spirituality, and hope.

“For me, it’s been a life-long experience, piece, after piece after piece,” Brewer said about the evolvement of her career as a quilter, storyteller, and artist.

About Tina Williams Brewer:
Born in 1949 in Huntington, West Virginia, Brewer currently lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Graduating from Columbus College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Arts, Brewer has been creating art for more than forty years. Her work has been widely displayed both locally and internationally including exhibitions at the United States Embassy in Ghana and the American Craft Museum in New York City. Her work has been recognized by the American Arts in Embassy Program for more than 20 years, and she is the recipient of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Governor’s Awards for the Arts. Her work is held in the permanent collections of =Tthe Westmoreland Museum of American Art, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and The African American Museum of Dallas. Recent exhibitions include 1-54 Contemporary Art Fair, NYC, chosen by Omar Berrada, EXPO Chicago Curated Selection by Eric Shiner, Christies, Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, “Knotted Ties”, DeBuck Gallery NYC, “Threaded Memories” and Untitled Art Fair, Miami Beach, 2021, chosen by Natasha Becker, Curator, DeYoung Museum, San Francisco, CA.