Pieces of Ithaca: A Celebration of Quilting in the Ithaca Community
Andrea Campbell Gibbs excitement about the West African adinkra symbol shows by the glint in her eyes as she describes why she focuses on this African symbol in her quilt making. West African adinkra symbols, which represent important life events, proverbs, and cultural attitudes, take center stage in the quilts loaned by Andrea and displayed in the exhibit Pieces of Ithaca: A Celebration of Quilting in the Ithaca Community at the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library. The adinkra symbol is usually printed on instruments and cloth in West Africa and translates beautifully to quilts. This symbol represents a spiritual connection that Andrea feels with Africa, which she strives to present in her art, especially in her quilts that celebrate the voices and experiences of Black, Caribbean, and African people in America and abroad.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Andrea traveled to Ithaca, New York, to reside with family as she convalesced from back surgery, and never left. She quickly found herself busy in the Ithaca art world, focusing on a part of herself that had taken a backseat while she raised her two sons. She delved into different sides of her art—weaving, drawing, print making, and graphic design—but soon found that quilt making combined many sides of her art making interests. Quilt making grabbed her heart, and she now focuses primarily on producing quilts to be seen as artwork, as well as to be used practically as quilts.
Pieces of Ithaca showcases four of Andrea’s quilts, including Drum, which is central to the exhibit. The quilt was created using a pattern of the adinkra drum symbol of the Akan people of Ghana. Andrea notes that the drum is a symbol of “appellation, praise, goodwill and rhythm.” Like the rhythms of the drum, quilting is an art form that usually brings people together.
Andrea is currently active in the Tompkins County Quilters Guild, where she continues to create masterfully done quilts, and she is a part of numerous quilt organizations in Ithaca, often collaborating with other artists and quilt makers.
Throughout the city of Ithaca, quilt making is seen as an art form that effectively works to build community around an artistic passion for numerous Ithaca residents, as well as Cornell University faculty and staff. Quilting holds strong as a part of Ithaca’s history and culture and can be seen in various art and cultural events, and in libraries and museums around Tompkins County. For example, during the COVID pandemic in 2021, Cornell University participated in a university-wide initiative for members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities and abroad to create and produce quilt squares, as well as quilts, in honor of Cornell alumna and famed author Toni Morrison. The History Center in Tompkins County in Ithaca is a treasure trove with numerous boxes of newspaper clippings, quilt journals with inked designs, and historical quilt texts collected by generations of committed Ithaca-based quilters. Andrea credits Ithaca with being a space that allows her to focus on her art and showcase her creativity. Ithaca has been a space that allowed her to find community around her art.
Pieces of Ithaca’s second contributor, Leanora Mims, is no stranger to the art world of Ithaca, as well. A coworker and friend of Andrea, she met the author while researching Dave the Potter for her work as an art teacher with Dewitt Middle School in Ithaca and went on to introduce her to Andrea Gibbs. Her quilting and art have taken her on a path of working with numerous Ithaca community organizations and schools such as the Tompkins County Public Library Poetry Speaks program, the Lansing Community Afterschool Anti-Bullying Quilting Program, various events and programs with the Southside Community Center, and a program with the national organization Beyond Differences. She also worked with students in the Ithaca Junior English Honors Class, where they collaboratively produced quilts to honor Toni Morrison and enslaved artist Dave the Potter. Leanora has two pieces in the Pieces of Ithaca exhibit, primarily located on the online companion website connected to the library display, and she is gearing up to teach an hour-long art seminar in Ithaca at the Lansing Community Center in April 2023. Both Andrea and Leanora show commitment to their art, and they work tirelessly to educate students and collaborate across racial and cultural lines, spreading the joy of art throughout the city of Ithaca.
The Clarke Africana Library is excited to join with artists of the Ithaca community to specifically showcase and highlight quilts that celebrate Black artistry and culture.. — Patricia Abraham
The image above is a detail of "Untitled" by Georgia Feasel