Viewing Room

  • One by One: Phyllis Stephens

    February 16 – 28, 2021

  • Almine Rech is pleased to share Phyllis Stephens: The Royal Court, the fourth installment of One by One, Almine Rech’s series of exclusive online viewing rooms dedicated to extraordinary individual artworks.


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  • Phyllis Stephens The Royal Court, 2020 Quilt with sustainable fabrics 190.5 x 185.4 cm 75 x 73 in

    Phyllis Stephens

    The Royal Court, 2020

    Quilt with sustainable fabrics

    190.5 x 185.4 cm

    75 x 73 in

     


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  • Phyllis Stephens (b. 1955, American) is a fifth-generation quilt maker who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. She is considered to be a master of African-American story quilts and has quilted professionally for more than thirty years. Her work has been shown at museums such as The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky—considered to have one of the world’s top quilt displays—as well as the National Museum of Ghana in Accra. In 2010, Stephens was awarded a resolution by the Georgia House of Representatives for her print portfolio, For Crying Out Loud, a tribute to the Children of the Civil Rights Movement.

     

    Notable collectors of Stephens’s work include Ric Lewis, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. and LaTanya Jackson, Denzel and Paulette Washington, and Aretha Franklin. Her work is in the corporate and museum collections of Citicorp Group, New York and the National Museum of Ghana.

     

  • Portrait of Phyllis Stephens

  • “I start every single quilt with a prayer”. Prayer is what fuels my inspiration. Secondly, I am very thoughtful with every part of the quilting process—which includes, (but is not limited to)—the idea, the sketch, the fabric and thread selections, and the layout. The process continues with cutting each piece, placing the cut pieces properly, sewing, sizing, and—ultimately—the signing of my name. I have absolutely no idea how long it takes to create a quilt. I sometimes will take a guess, but rarely am I correct. It usually turns out to be much longer than I previously thought. There are variables in quilt making, and the variables differ with each quilt. There are many changes made before completion. I always follow my heart and instinct; therefore, a timeline is the last thing on my mind.


    I am also sensitive to my surroundings as well as the current environment and culture; however, I always take care to add or include the past.  I want to honor the things, people, events, places, and circumstances that shaped the life I get to live freely. I like to remember the sacrifices that were made for me. The most exciting aspect of quilt making is that it is a true learning experience—one that is forever changing. The process changes; it is invented, then re-invented, over and over again. I am most grateful because my life is a very beautiful artistic journey.  This thing I refer to as “Story Quilt Making” has been an amazing, adventorious and wonderful ride.

  • "The stories I tell in my quilts live deep inside of me. Some works are a collaboration of many stories brought together to make one piece...while others depict defining moments I have chosen to pay close attention to."

    – Phyllis Stephens

  • The Royal Court is part of her masks series. According to Stephens, “The Royal Court is simply a nod to people who help you maneuver through life’s twist and turns. These honorable people guide and nudge you in the right directions, and make sure you understand you are not on this journey alone. They are people who are there for you; always in your corner. I refer to them as Royals, because they truly come from a higher place. They possess the ability to lift you to place(s) beyond your boldest imagination. More importantly, the Royals make you believe you belong in that elevated place. They will help dismantle any obstacle that gets in your way to assure that your light shines brightly—because ultimately...your success is their reward. The Royals are typically a small group of people, but they are strong and mighty...They are [also] brave enough to hold you responsible for your life choices. They will...stop you in your tracks, just before you are about to make a grave misstep. They make sure your truth is actually the truth—which is a gift within itself. These Royals’ raison d’être...is for your good and for your success. As most of us come to realize, it takes The Royal Court to push you through on this journey called Life.”

     

  • Stephens’ fabric selections are central to her work. They help her present the stories she wants to tell, and their quality reflects the beauty and intricacy of her stories. Her fabrics are also painstakingly chosen for their sustainability. According to Stephens, The Royal Court “has over a hundred cuts of fabrics, consisting of variety of cottons, polished cotton, cut velvet, damask, silk, upholstery, velvet, faux Croc, cane, cork, tapestry, leather, linen, kuba cloth, mud cloth, dupioni silk, silk trim, and paint. However, the real jewels in this quilt are the [rare and one-of-a-kind] pieces of fine Belgium cotton, which (through a trade agreement) are hand-dyed and painted in Ghana.” The Royal Court was created through the use of the satin-stitch, a closely woven thick stitch, and over ten thousand yards of thread was used to stitch together the entire work.

    According to Stephens, the most important part of her process is towards the end, when she is “resting with the quilt,” or spending a couple of days just looking it over after it appears to be finished. It’s during this time that she decides whether it is indeed complete and tells her story. Stephens also finds the process of quilting to be transportive. According to her, “Quilting is sometimes thought of as a hard, long, drawn-out process. Not for me. I am an heir to the culture and value of the African tradition of quilt making. The long process (of quilting) allows me time to travel to some of the sweetest places in my memories, like the quilting parties I enjoyed as a little girl. It was there that sewing hands and tall tales flowed one and the same. I enjoy every part, every process, and the special privilege of creating a quilt.”

     

  • Women sewing a quilt, Gee's Bend, Alabama, April 1937 Photograph by Arthur Rothstein, all rights reserved


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