Sunday, April 3, 2011


Since I have been so busy lately and unable to stitch; I thought I would share someone that has brought
me great inspiration: Her name is Rosie Lee Tompkins.

I never met her, nor did I know her, but I attended a showing of her beautiful work at the Shelburne
Museum many years ago. I had an artist friend who insisted that I must come and see this woman's
work. So, off she and I went and I remember being in awe of the beautiful simplicity and yet complexity
of her work.

Rosie Lee Tompkins~  original photos by Eli Leon

Rosie Lee Tompkins was not her real name. She had fourteen younger half-siblings and grew
up picking cotton and helping her mother piece quilts in rural southeast Arkansas, where poverty
"encouraged" the family to use every available scrap of fabric. Deeply religious, Tompkins felt
that she was God's instrument. She never completed High School but went on to enroll in adult
education classes and passed a test for admission into the Oakland City College, and took courses
in nursing and worked as a practical nurse in convalescent homes. She married twice and raised
four children.
 As with all people, she faced a difficult time in her life. In the late 1970's she was hospitalized
for a nervous breakdown.
 After her release from the hospital, she longed for peace of mind. Hearing voices, though and
believing  that her phone was tapped, she never arrived at the tranquility she sought. In the later
years , she covered her walls with patchwork appliqued with sacred crosses, hoping this would
fend off the intruding voices, but it failed to do so.

None the less, Rosie found solace in her special blend of prayer and needlework.

Rosie did not measure her pieces, but relied on images she would hold in her mind.

This is a picture of a dress Rosie made from ties. She embroidered  her name "Effie" and
Scripture (John 3:16) on it.

Rosie wore brightly colored clothes. A bright yellow, orange and purple outfit would not be
uncommon and those same bright colors might appear in her quilts.

If you ever get an opportunity to see her work "in person" I highly recommend it.

If you are interested in her work, I recommend searching the net for more information
and images. My pictures of the brochure are not very clear.

I am really fond of   "Outsider Art" and I thought you might enjoy this:



  1. Thank you.
    Is this a "Spam" comment?

  2. I certainly did enjoy this...

  3. Thank you Marie for more information on Rosie Lee Tompkins. I really enjoyed feeling connected to the past. I love how her quilts look organic. One of the things that I learned in researching her was that her borders were never squared. That made me feel like I was in good company. I had an art quilt that I was trying to get the border squared...and for some reason I would cut some off here and then there and it would be out of square. Finally just had to accept this. So I really appreciated this!!

  4. Hi Ger,
    Glad you enjoyed reading about Rosie/Effie. I found her work so inspiring. Actually seeing the work in person had a profound effect on my perception of how quilting does not have to be perfect little squares. Her embroidery stitches were thick, but simply done.

  5. Hi Cosmic Arcata,
    I think "organic" is a good word. What I loved so much about her work was the fact that the pieces were not perfect. I find "perfection" in imperfection :)

  6. I have always loved Rosie Lee Tompkins' work, and whenever I have seen an article on her, I have relished every word and filed it away. She was such a remarkable quiltmaker. I loved the way she created. She would hear voices and then would create out of this other-worldly space. She lived by her own rules for sure. I have never had the chance to see her work, but would give anything to do so. There was so much written about her when she died. I hope her legacy lives on.

  7. Oh Phyllis I just love your new picture on your "gravatar" (I think that is what it is called??
    Anyway, seeing Rosie Lee Tompkin's work in person
    was such a treat! It continues to inspire me to this day. I had never heard of her until her quilts/quilting came to the Shelburne Museum. Some of the finishing work for her quilts were done by other women after her death. But, the tops were done by her. She has certainly inspired me and I am sure countless other women.