Gwendolyn Magee

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Journey of the Spirit: The Art of Gwendolyn A. Magee
April 23, 2006 Special to the Star

Tough. Provocative. Honest.

These words best describe Gwendolyn A. Magee's approach to her work - and the content of much of her art.

And all of these elements are on display in "Journey of the Spirit: the Art of Gwendolyn A. Magee," the newest exhibit at the Meridian Museum of Art.

The museum will host a reception this Saturday from 6p.m to 8p.m. for the new exhibit. The reception is free and open to the public. Gallery talks by Gwendolyn Magee and by Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, will take place at 6:40p.m.

In "Journey of the Spirit," which was organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art, Magee weaves a riveting form of fine art created from vibrant patterns of fabric and thread. This exhibition marks the first comprehensive survey of the work of the Jackson-based artist, chronicling her dramatic interpretation of both personal reflections and historical events as expressed through fabric and textile.

"Magee's quilts are visually compelling and conceptually well developed," said Mississippi Museum of Art Deputy Director for Programs René Paul Barilleaux.

Co-organized by Barilleaux and photographer and quilt collector Roland L. Freeman, "Journey of the Spirit" traces the evolution of Magee's art from her initial traditionally patterned quilts to their transformation into what are essentially fabric and fiber "paintings."

Viewers can observe Magee's progression in style, beginning with her earliest compositions using fabric as an artistic medium to create her unique patterned quilts. During the past four years, the artist has grown more figurative with her designs, exploring African-American eras of hardship and oppression through her personal interpretations of slavery, civil rights and racism. Twelve of the quilts depict haunting images form the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson's American masterpiece, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Shadowy silhouettes float through several of these later works, an artistic representation of the human mosaic of the African-American community.

Magee's stunning quilts pay homage to the traditions of quilt-making while paving the way for further innovations in the art form. Ranging from quilts that explore patterning and abstraction to those that rely on representation and narrative, each one combines complex visual elements with brilliant colors.

Magee was born in 1943 and raised in High Point, N.C. She received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1963, and afterward pursued graduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Magee's quilts have been exhibited internationally since the mid-1990s. She lives and works in Jackson, where she has resided since 1972.

Organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art, "Journey of the Spirit" is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and the Rock River Foundation. After its showing at the Meridian Museum of Art, the exhibition will continue to tour other Mississippi communities.

"When we began to envision this exhibition, we were determined that Magee's work be seen by as many people in the state as possible," Bradley said.

A beautiful, limited-edition book accompanies the exhibition. The book features full-color illustrations of the artist's work, along with an essay by Roland L. Freeman, founding president of The Group for Cultural Documentation and co-organizer of the exhibition with Barilleaux. The foreword was written by nationally recognized quilt authority, Cuesta Benberry.

In a statement about her work Magee says, "Since childhood, I have been fascinated by color - any color, a long as it is intense, intriguing, and/or vibrant. However, it was not until I started working with cloth and fiber that I found a medium in which I have the ability to manipulate color to achieve the type of patterning and effects that please and excite me. Recently, however, my art has taken on another dimension as I have begun to experiment with a very limited pallet."

Although I still work with abstract design, my current work leans more heavily toward representational imagery. It has also taken me deep into an exploration of my cultural heritage as an African-American through the development of a 12-piece series based on the song 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' by James Weldon Johnson (also known as The Negro National Anthem).

"Over the years I have discovered that quilting is an art form that serves for me as the medium for a uniquely personal form of communication. It is a 'journey of the spirit' that intricately connects me with each viewer through a complex range of responses."

The exhibit of "Journey of the Spirit" at the Meridian Museum of Art is also supported by the Mississippi Arts commission, the city of Meridian and the Riley Foundation.


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