Feb 05, 2013


National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Grant Award Winner Visits From Mt. Olive, AL

Columbia State Community College will host the art work of quilter Bettye Kimbrell from July 1 through August 31, 2010. Pryor Art Gallery - located in the Waymon L. Hickman building on the Columbia Campus - is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and on Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. The gallery is also open on weekends during special events. The exhibit is free open to the public.

"What a privilege it is to display the work of Bettye Kimbrell," said Lucy Kuykendall, curator and director of Columbia State's Pryor Art Gallery. "One of her quilts commissioned by our government was on display in Paris in April, and is now in Belgium for 18 months. She is a certified national treasure, and Columbia State will be so honored to have her exhibit. Her interest in quilting has led her to search for the variety of traditional techniques that have existed in different cultures in the southeast, such as Native American. Her work is definitely exquisite, but she's also taken it to another level by documenting what has been and continuing at the highest level."

Kimbrell was raised on a cotton farm in Fayette County, Alabama, with her father, grandparents, and four younger siblings. Her grandparents grew or made everything they needed, including the bedcovers that kept everyone warm in a house with one fireplace and a wood-burning cookstove.

Kimbrell learned to quilt from her grandmother who, as she says, "believed your stitches reflected your character." For quilt backing she used feed and fertilizer sacks, while the fabric was dyed with walnut hulls and yellow root, and cotton from the fields was used for batting. As her quilting skills developed, she began experimenting with new designs and techniques. After she married and moved to Mt. Olive, a friend recommended her to a local department store as someone who could finish quilts for customers and local community members. In the early 1970s, she won her first blue ribbon at the State Fair in Birmingham.

In 1979, she organized a quilt show to raise money for the Mt. Olive Community Center, a frame schoolhouse that is now used for social functions and as a nutrition site for senior citizens. Out of this effort came the formation of the North Jefferson Quilters' Guild that meets twice a week to this day. In 1995, Kimbrell was awarded the Alabama Folk Heritage Award.

In 2008, she was selected to be one of 11 National Heritage fellows. Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, congratulated the 2008 fellows saying, "This, the highest form of federal recognition of stewards of our cultural legacy, reflects our agency's commitment to excellence and to public awareness of the depth and breadth of our nation's artistic heritage. Unlike most of our other funding programs, this award is not received through application, but rather as the result of nominations by community members, artistic peers or cultural specialists."

Folklorist Anne Kimzey says of her work: "Her expert skill reveals itself most powerfully in the intricate needlework and ornate, detailed quilting that has become her trademark. People are amazed by her subtle but complex designs and of millions of tiny stitches that cover her 'whole cloth' or 'white on white' quilts."