The California quilt maker, known as Rosie Lee Tompkins, always remained anonymous. The woman, who created the stunning quilts that hang today in museums and that were reproduced in art magazines, hid from the public. She was actually Effie Mae Martin Howard, an Arkansas-born mother and grandmother, who loved piecing quilts but who had no interest in public acclaim.
In 1988, Tompkins’ work first appeared at the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum in the exhibition “Who’d a Thought It?” Her quilts won over the critics with their bold, rich colors and irregular edges, corners, and compositions. While some compared her quilts to modernist paintings, others saw Africa in her style and technique. Tomkins’ quilts were not made from old clothes but from fabrics she purchased to vary the texture in her works.
Tompkins’ quilts were featured in magazines and exhibited in galleries and museums in Japan and throughout the U.S., including the Whitney Museum in New York, which included her quilts in its 2002 Biennial Exhibition and has one of them in its permanent collection.