Stashes of fabric, buckets of buttons, shelves of textured scraps and a wall of every color spool adorns fiber artist Deon Lewis’ studio. Sourced from thrift shops and online stores, each item carries a unique history that Lewis transforms and imbues into her quilts. As a Tallahassee native, there’s one particular crazy quilt that she’ll never part with given the meaning she sees in every hand-stitched image.
“It’s covered in willow trees, mermaids and birds,” says Lewis. “It’s something I’ll keep forever because each little embroidery represents a certain time or event in [my family’s] life.” For a recent quilt commission, Lewis recreated a photograph from a 1950s wedding as an anniversary present. For this work she was able to incorporate the fabrics from the people in the photograph, giving the finished quilt even more special meaning.
This sentiment of recollection is wholly present in “Persistence of Memory,” a City Hall Gallery exhibition curated by COCA for the Art in Public Places program, where Lewis’ quilts are on display through Nov. 19.
“Each piece I created was based on a memory or evoked some sort of emotional response,” describes Lewis.
Lewis can recall the first quilt she ever made, comprised of leftover clothing that her grandmother, a seamstress, had lying about. It was fashioned on an old, treadle sewing machine one summer on her grandmother’s front porch, and in spite of the clashing color palette — Pepto-Bismol pink and baby blue — Lewis was a proud 12-year-old to have completed it.
Mostly self-taught, Lewis was always inclined toward art, but found her passion in fiber art. After she was married, Lewis would sit with her motherin- law and put together fabrics, learning and admiring her mother-in-law’s skill and talent. She looks up to fellow fiber artists Susan Carlson and Caryl Breyer-Fallert for their ability to create depth with texture. Lewis connects with artists outside of her own medium as well, especially in the paintings of Harold Braul.
“I love the light he uses in his work,” says Lewis. “His brushstrokes are so simple but they have so much depth. I can see that easily transferring to fabric.”
Her piece, “Every Little Girl,” displays Lewis’ own attention to color and depth. She aimed to represent every skin tone and hair type within the texture of her fabrics. The final piece is very different from her initial color palette, however, as she moved away from turquoise into pinks. Admittedly, Lewis is often drawn to jewel tones and prefers using oranges, reds, blues and purples to convey movement and emotion.
Lewis will use hand dyed fabrics so that she can acquire many different values in her color palette. Sometimes she’ll use natural fibers and plants to create prints and takes a lot of inspiration from her natural surroundings.
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