One of the most rewarding I experienced at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art was having the opportunity to work with Yvonne Wells. Wells is an African American artist and quiltmaker out of Tuskaloosa, Alabama. The MMFA owns a number of her quilts and offers a traveling exhibition called "From Heart to Hand: African American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts."
I first met Wells while working on an education component for the exhibition "Piecing Together History: The Civil Rights Quilts of Yvonne Wells." The education component consisted of a web-based interactive project created in html5, but stored locally on the iPad to serve as a kiosk. The project can also be viewed on the web, although the dimensions of this project were designed to be featured exclusively on the iPad (the website is not responsive, so it may be hard to appreciate on smaller mobile devices). This project consisted of various recordings featuring Yvonne Wells talking about select quilts in the exihbition, which documented her personal reflections of the civil rights movement. The recordings were made by the Museum's curatorial department, which I edited and combined with images to form animated video slideshows. Each video pans and zooms to focus on different features of the quilts as Wells describes them. The project also included four video interviews with the artist, some of which were produced by the curatorial staff, while others were taken from rare video footage with the artist (in the version that is currently online, I substituted those videos for interviews I conducted for a later project). To strengthen the education component, I added a timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a timeline of events that was also referenced in the Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin. The project was rewarding on so many levels. For one, I had a chance to work with a living artist, which is always a rewarding experience, and I had a chance to partner with the curatorial department in a way that felt more integral to the overall development of the exhibition.
I was fortunate enough to revisit my journey into the life of Yvonne Wells when the MMFA decided to feature an exhibition of photographs by Jerry Siegel titled "Creator/Created: Jerry Siegel Portraits and Artists from the Permanent Collection." In my effort to strengthen the educational components of the exhibition, I proposed to conduct video interviews with the artists featured in the exhibition, many of whom were still alive and living in Alabama and Georgia. This project required that I visit the home of Yvonne Wells to conduct a video interview that documented her life and development as a quilt maker. Traveling with a camcorder, light stands and remote microphones, I conducted the interview in her living room to create an organic and homegrown atmosphere. I felt that we needed more visuals, so Wells graciously agreed to set up a large quilt behind her. Since Wells worked as a teacher and educator for many years, it was not surprising to hear how astute and articulate she was at describing her development as an artist and her passion for quiltmaking, which she described as "art." The videos that I recorded during this meeting were added to the Museum's YouTube channel and were later added to this online version which I posted years later. The project for the Jerry Siegel exhibition also included video interviews with 15 other artists, including Cal Reed, Charlie Lucas, and Dale Lewis, to name a few. Eventually, the videos were incorporating into iPad interactive kiosks that were installed in the exhibition, along with the photographs by Jerry Siegel. The kiosk also included additional photographs by Siegel that were not included in the exhibition and documentary footage of Siegel working with high school students during a photography workshop.
It was such a pleasure to interview the artists in the Montgomery Museum's collection and I will always cherish the opportunity to meet Yvonne Wells.
Museum Educator and Tech Blogger