Skip to content
Stephen Towns

Stephen Towns’ unique quilts coming to Baltimore museum

Stephen Towns
Stephen Towns, ‘Birth of a Nation,’ 2014. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Stephen Towns

BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Museum of Art presents the first exhibition dedicated to the stunning textile work of Baltimore-based artist Stephen Towns. “Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning,” on view March 7 through Sept. 2, features 10 luminous quilts constructed in fabric, glass beads, metallic threads and translucent tulle that delve into the perspectives of women, people of color and the institution of slavery in American history.

Trained as a painter and self-taught in the art of quilting, Towns joins a long tradition of African American artists and makers, primarily women, who have invented creative methods of recording history and memory with fabric.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the artist’s monumental installation, Birth of a Nation (2014), which addresses the foundational role of black women’s labor in American history. The quilt presents the abstracted figure of a black woman nursing a white infant against a variant of the first official flag of the United States. Suspended above a mound of earth, the quilted flag receives the same reverent treatment outlined in the U.S. Flag Code, which prohibits the flag from touching floor, water or ground beneath it.

This work is surrounded by Towns’ Story Quilts (2016–2018), a cycle of seven quilts that narrate the life of Nat Turner and his 1831 rebellion. Towns will debut two new additions to this series—a scene of baptism and a scene of fire—for the first time at the museum. He has also created a new pair of quilted oval marriage portraits of Nat and Cherry Turner, inspired by early photography, which add a significant dimension to Turner’s narrative.

Special Child (2016), the first quilt in the Story Quilts series, was recently acquired for the BMA’s collection.

“Stephen Towns has created an extraordinary body of work that amplifies the voices of those who resist a legacy of injustice,” said BMA Director Christopher Bedford,. “We are proud to both display, and acquire, work by this talented artist in our community.”

“It’s an honor to work with Stephen Towns in realizing his first museum exhibition,” said Cecilia Wichmann, BMA assistant curator of Contemporary Art. “His quilts propose an alternative mode for narrating the complexities of American history—one that is at once more cosmic and infinitely more humane. This is a profound achievement that I’m thrilled we can share with visitors to the BMA.”