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Page Last Updated 14 Nov 2014

Michael James
Surface Design Journal
Fall 2010

Michael Cummings has been working with the quilt form since the early 1980's. Cummings has successfully synthesized aesthetic  qualities found in folk art, in african and african-american art (think Romare Bearden), in music (specifically, jazz),  and in diverse textile and non-textile narrative traditions, to arrive at a unique and sincere expression that trumps the frequently overwrought and sentimental picture quilts of less able makers.  He's committed to telling the stories of African-Americans across a broad historical, social, cultural, philosophical, and mythological spectrum.  His recent "A Young Obama" takes an objective, biographical approach to representing the first African -American president, but Cummings's pride and admiration are palpable.  Here are two black men – the artist and the politician – looking purposefully and unblinkingly at new American paradigms and at a future of possibility that fulfills the dreams of their fathers.



The International Review of
African American Art,
Volume # 18, # 4, 2003,
Cherilyn Wright

A Visual Explosion In Harlem

"Quilt maker Michael Cummings, creates a universe of his own with an infinite collection of fabrics and textiles. His 1886 brownstone on Saint Nicholas Avenue in the Sugar Hill neighborhood is at once home, studio and gallery. With an extensive collection of African and Caribbean sculpture, Cummings' walls are draped with dozens of quilts splashed with images of fantastic beasts, giant fish, mermaids and jazz makers from the past."


The New York Times, June 14, 2001,
Home Section, Marianne Rohrlich

In the Ateliers Of Harlem

"...Harlem's Second Coming can be found on a smaller scale, in sophisticated little shops and businesses. There 's the old brewery where Marc Wilson has opened a floral design and events planning business; the 1886 brownstone on St. Nicholas Avenue where Michael Cummings makes quilts; and the West Harlem apartment that is headquarters for Sheila Bridges, a decorator involved in the design of former President Bill Clinton's 125th Street offices...."

"Michael Cummings' quilts have been exhibited at the American Craft Museum in New York and the Smithsonian International Gallery in Washington. Many of the designs, like his Jazz series, have African-American themes. His new work, however, is of butterflies...."


The Leader (Corning, NY), January 25, 2001

Stories in Cloth:
Quilts by Michael Cummings

In his latest work, he includes "Egungun Children", a six-quilt series and "Dreams Deferred", a quilt commemorating the children who died in the Oklahoma State Office Building tragedy.

Possibly Cummings most intriguing work on display at 171 Cedar is the debut of his cloth collages that illustrates Alice McGill’s new children’s book, "In the Hollow of Your Hand." McGill performed there on January 15.

The best praise an artist can receive often comes from comments of fellow artists and McGill is quick to commend Cummings on his latest quilts.

"The work is beautiful and uncanny," McGill said of Cummings’ collages. "He has even used pieces of colored glass to decorate the work."

Cummings has a keen sense of history. His reverence for the spiritual and his reworking of present and future possibilities make his quilts dance off the wall. Several of his original works are now part of the collections of Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Cosby.


Christian Science Monitor, February 20, 1998

Quilting has traditionally been a woman's art in Western society. But New York artist Michael A.Cummings is changing all that. Mr Cummings sews right in his home, an 1886 house in Manhattan, and stitches at a sewing machine in his drawing room under chandelier light. With a pair of scissors, he cuts yards of fabrics for images that depict stories of his life experience and his African-American heritage. Then he appliques them onto cloth backgrounds along with common objects like buttons, beads, shells, and sequins.

Quilts in the old tradition tell stories of our lives. Michael A. Cummings enlivens the quilting tradition, giving storytelling an even more powerful visual permanence.

 

Maine Sunday Telegram, February 1, 1998,
Philip Isaacson

Cummings' "Narrative Quilts" Have Important Stories to Tell

Cummings has stated that he sees jazz as a spiritual force linked to the emotional and historical landscape of African-American life. He exemplifies this in the "Jazz Series" by placing events in an African cafe. The idea for this came from an old poster announcing a jazz performance in West Africa. Cummings' group -- a pianist, bassist, and saxophonist -- share the cafe with a lush tropical landscape. Their costumes vary from quilt to quilt. At times, they are tribal -- particularly Yoruba. At other times, they are western and, in some instances, something of both.


ABJ, August 1, 1995,
Dorothy Shinn

Quilts that Can Warm the Soul

In Clara's Garden, Cummings explores memories of walks through the garden of this family friend, uniting past and present in the use of antique quilt blocks and one of Clara's dresses.

I'll Fly Away is a powerful work depicting a black woman ready to pick cotton, surrounded by a landscape of cotton boles, fantasy figures and African fetishes. The female figure resembles simultaneously an African mask, a cubist portrait (no surprise: the cubist portrait is based on the African mask) and a Byzantine Madonna. The surrounding design is symmetrical, composed in strong, bold, primaries punctuated by large, strategically placed buttons. The title of the work is said to come from an old spiritual: "Some early dark morning, I'm going to fly away from all my pain and misery."


The Seattle Times,June 24, 1993,
Deloris Tarzan Ament

Artquilts Exploring New Avenues

Cummings is one of a half-dozen contemporary African-American quiltmakers whose work explores new avenues of quilt development, while connecting with an African heritage in the selection of symbols, and in the strong, high contrast of colors and patterns used.


The New York Times, August 23, 1992,
Vivien Raynor

A Quilter's Hand with Dazzling Images

This reviewer discovered Mr. Cummings in a recent group show at Reader's Digest headquarters in Westchester County, only to find that he had been on the Manhattan scene for more than 15 years. In New York he has had several solo exhibitions and has participated in group shows at the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Museum of American Folk Art; his work has also been shown at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Mr. Cummings really lets fly in these scenes, defining figures in various types of ticking with touches of bright color and setting them against backgrounds that can be anything from floral curtain material to a black tree with large yellow beads for fruit and occasionally adding smears of white paint to suggest cigarette smoke. An especially memorable touch is the saxophonist whose beautifully drawn eyes bulge from under violet lids. Nevertheless, the most beautiful quilts are the somber three that tell of refugees from Haiti. The first shows a boat filled with small figures setting off in company with a black shark, a blue manta ray and a mermaid deity in rusty red satin. In the second, the boat and the mermaid are smaller and, despite the moth-like angels above, evil spirits abound, so that when the boat finally capsizes into the jaws of a shark, fish and sea serpents foregather for the feast. It is a tragedy in three acts framed by borders brown, blue and tomato-red velveteen.

Maine Sunday Telegram, February 1, 1998,
Philip Isaacson

Cummings' "Narrative Quilts" Have Important Stories to Tell

Cummings has stated that he sees jazz as a spiritual force linked to the emotional and historical landscape of African-American life. He exemplifies this in the "Jazz Series" by placing events in an African cafe. The idea for this came from an old poster announcing a jazz performance in West Africa. Cummings' group -- a pianist, bassist, and saxophonist -- share the cafe with a lush tropical landscape. Their costumes vary from quilt to quilt. At times, they are tribal -- particularly Yoruba. At other times, they are western and, in some instances, something of both.


ABJ, August 1, 1995,
Dorothy Shinn

Quilts that Can Warm the Soul

In Clara's Garden, Cummings explores memories of walks through the garden of this family friend, uniting past and present in the use of antique quilt blocks and one of Clara's dresses.

I'll Fly Away is a powerful work depicting a black woman ready to pick cotton, surrounded by a landscape of cotton boles, fantasy figures and African fetishes. The female figure resembles simultaneously an African mask, a cubist portrait (no surprise: the cubist portrait is based on the African mask) and a Byzantine Madonna. The surrounding design is symmetrical, composed in strong, bold, primaries punctuated by large, strategically placed buttons. The title of the work is said to come from an old spiritual: "Some early dark morning, I'm going to fly away from all my pain and misery."


The Seattle Times,June 24, 1993,
Deloris Tarzan Ament

Artquilts Exploring New Avenues

Cummings is one of a half-dozen contemporary African-American quiltmakers whose work explores new avenues of quilt development, while connecting with an African heritage in the selection of symbols, and in the strong, high contrast of colors and patterns used.


The New York Times, August 23, 1992,
Vivien Raynor

A Quilter's Hand with Dazzling Images

This reviewer discovered Mr. Cummings in a recent group show at Reader's Digest headquarters in Westchester County, only to find that he had been on the Manhattan scene for more than 15 years. In New York he has had several solo exhibitions and has participated in group shows at the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Museum of American Folk Art; his work has also been shown at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Mr. Cummings really lets fly in these scenes, defining figures in various types of ticking with touches of bright color and setting them against backgrounds that can be anything from floral curtain material to a black tree with large yellow beads for fruit and occasionally adding smears of white paint to suggest cigarette smoke. An especially memorable touch is the saxophonist whose beautifully drawn eyes bulge from under violet lids. Nevertheless, the most beautiful quilts are the somber three that tell of refugees from Haiti. The first shows a boat filled with small figures setting off in company with a black shark, a blue manta ray and a mermaid deity in rusty red satin. In the second, the boat and the mermaid are smaller and, despite the moth-like angels above, evil spirits abound, so that when the boat finally capsizes into the jaws of a shark, fish and sea serpents foregather for the feast. It is a tragedy in three acts framed by borders brown, blue and tomato-red velveteen.