Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Edna J. Patterson-Petty Sewing Up a Creative Storm

Edna J. Patterson-Petty Sewing Up a Creative Storm

The phrase, "When words are too deep, try art therapy," captures the spirit, work and person of Edna J. Patterson-Petty. A fiber artist, art therapist, and teacher, Patterson-Petty's work truly heals, providing the comfort and warmth expected of the quilts she creates. Her graduate degrees in Studio Art and Art Therapy and the inspiration derived from her East St. Louis community provide the framework for her enormous creativity. Patterson-Petty's quilts have been collected by important institutions, showcased in numberous exhibitions, and have graced several professional publications. (From exhibition catalog)

I saw Edna Patterson-Petty's work twice before I spoke with her or met her. I first met Edna's work in a beautiful book by Carolyn Mazloomi (with a preface by Faith Ringgold and a foreword by Cuesta Benberry). "Spirits of the Cloth: Contemporary African American Quilts" was a gift from my dear friend Stephanie Farrow whom I served in Peace Corps/Ghana with. (If you go to Carolyn Mazloomi's site highlighted here, you can see other books she's published.)

West Africa is all about cloth and we hand-stitched quilts while we lived there as well as started our own fabric collections with their stories and histories. When I told Stephanie I'd encountered an African-American fabric artist living in East St. Louis, she asked me if her work was in "Spirits of the Cloth." When I looked in the index, there Edna's work was, on many pages.

Next, at the Urban League's Black Fine Art Show I walked into Freida L. Wheaton's Salon 53 booth and gasped, with my hands over my heart when I was face to face with her pieces. I resolved to find her and did. First over the telephone and later, by Edna's graciousness, in her home. Our telephone conversation was wide-ranging and we felt we'd known each other forever.

I discovered Edna's husband had served in staff positions for Peace Corps and AfriCare in countries where I'd lived and traveled. When I visited the Patterson-Petty's on there calm street in East St. Louis, Reggie showed me his vast collection of African artifacts gathered over this life of service, and with equal pride, his wife's breath-taking artwork in her studio and throughout their home. (If you visit Edna's website, there's a beautiful slideshow titled "The History Keepers." Don't miss this beautiful virtual tour of Edna's work, the Patterson-Petty home, and glimpses of Reggie researching in his library.)

In fact, Edna's creativity is constantly over spilling the boundaries of categories between media. She's used broken tile to mosaic the stairway and create a grotto in the upstairs bathroom. She's always making something. Always learning something. Just this summer her work branched even further into sculpture as she learned new processes for stiffening and stabilizing cloth for outdoors and started a welding class. Whoa, girl!

And if all this were not enough, Edna is the mother of four children and has been a parent educator and caseworker. She presents workshops on self-esteem using art as a means of discovering strengths.

Edna also makes memory quilts, mainly machine stitching and then finishing them by hand. Bring what you have in mind to her and give her a budget and she'll work with you to give you a treasured memory. Click here to go to Edna's website to learn more about her work and her services.
Here is another example of Edna's work, "Spirits Known and Unknown," 49.5 x 37.6 inches. The bottom of the quilt has a jug turned on its side alluding to water spreading upward rather than down.

“Spirits Known and Unknown” by Edna J. Patterson-Petty


Here are some titles by Cuesta Benberry on quilting history:

Benberry, Cuesta. Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts. Louisville: The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc., 1992.

----------, Patchwork of Pieces: An Anthology of Early Quilt Stories, 1845-1940 Paducah: Collector Books, 1993.

*----------, A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

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7 Responses »

  1. In Ghana there is the spirit of water known as Mammy Wata. The jug on the bottom of Edna's quilt "Spirits known and unknown" with water flowing upwards reminds me of Mammy Wata.

  2. Fiber arts have always seemed...more real, maybe, than paintings or prints that just hang on the wall. They're really a part of life, not just adornment, and that really comes across in Edna's work.

  3. Yes, I agree. Because fiber art has
    dimensionality outward it has more presence. I went to the College of
    Arts (and Crafts) in Oakland, California. One of the good things that
    happened in the arts in the 20th century was raising crafts such as
    fiber work and clay work into the arts and erasing some of the
    distinction between the two. CCA(C) was known for its fiber art and I
    really enjoyed my classes in that field while I was there. The
    building was across the street from the main campus and so it felt as
    if it were in a world of its own.

  4. One of my favorite childhood memories is my aunt allowing me to help
    her in sewing room -- little did I know that one of those quilts was destined for a gallery showing. My little brush with greatness was
    enough to cement the 'coolness' of fiber arts for me.

  5. I think that Edna is an outstanding artist. She truly feels her way into existence with the way that she manipulates the cloth. You can literally feel the love that she puts into her work. I look forward to seeing what is on the horizon for her. Way to go girl!!!!!!

  6. I enjoyed reading about the work and philosophy of Edna J.Patterson-Perry. Loved how you presented it: "The phrase, “When words are too deep, try art therapy,” captures the spirit, work and person of Edna J.Patterson-Perry." Creative art therapy is near and dear to my heart, applied in a different way -- but the positive benefits and results are discernable. I enjoyed your site and will return -- it is a feast for the heart and soul!

  7. I am always drawn to art work that heals or has a message. I am touched by this introduction to Edna's work. I want to know more.

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