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How ‘the Ubiquity of Quilting’ Influenced Artist Garland Farwell

Garland Farwell's art is often made from materials including wood found in abandoned homes or on the side of the road in junk piles or junk yards. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Garland Farwell, the featured artist at last month’s 38th Magic City Art Connection (MCAC), counts several Black artists as inspirations.

“The Gee’s Bend Quilters, [who hail from Alabama’s Black Belt region], are the queens for me right now. I aspire to do something like that,” said Farwell, whose work often features quilt patterns, during a recent interview at the MCAC in the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.

When Farwell arrived in Alabama in 2008 as artist in residency at the Coleman Center for the Arts in York, located in Sumpter County, he looked around and saw “the ubiquity of quilting.”

“I’ve been influenced by the Gee’s Bend Quilters, of course, but a lot of local women [in York], too,” he said. “Just looking at those patterns and how far back some of them go, how they’re connected to families, how a grandmother would pass it onto her daughter, and so on … gave a real feeling of connection and totally restarted my art making process.”

Though “it’s hard to choose between artists,” Farwell said he also is inspired by “the work of Leonardo Drew and Lonnie Holley.”

Drew is a contemporary artist based in Brooklyn, New York, who creates sculptures from natural materials. Holley is an American artist, art educator, and musician from Birmingham who is best known for his assemblages and immersive environments made of found materials.

Farwell is also a huge fan of African American artist Theaster Gates. “His art is an entire community. He’s revitalizing the urban, depressed area of Chicago in a way that is magical,” Farwell said. “He is a visual artist, he’s a potter, and his work itself is stunning. [Like Holley], he uses a lot of found objects and does assemblages. … I can’t name one piece I like because his entire presentation is the art. … He is incorporating this community building into his art making, so everything I see of his, I’m blown away by it. He’s a good model. … I’ve been watching him a bit.”

In addition to being motivated by other artists, Farwell hopes to serve as a source of inspiration.

“It is hard, and it is a sacrifice. It’s not something you get into because you have a whim. You have to be committed. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it if you like doing it,” he said. “If it is something you really want to do, you have to be really creative and crafty and find your way because there is a lot of opportunity. … You have to grab things and be very aggressive in searching for opportunities because they’re out there.”

Asked what his favorite piece among the works he has created, Farwell said, “That’s like asking a mother who her favorite child is.”

“I love everything I’m doing, or I wouldn’t put it up. Right now, however, I am enjoying the larger wood assemblages. … I started with smaller ones and have started expanding them. I’m enjoying the potentials of it because I can see it going in a lot of grander directions.”


To learn more about Garland Farwell, visit www.south17.org or contact him at garland@south17.org.