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High Point gallery showcases Durham quilters

by Jordan Green

 jordan@yesweekly.com

Washington Street is in the midst of a slow-walk resurrection to reclaim the glory of its heyday in the early 20th century as an African-American commercial hub.

Its cultural legacy is unquestioned, epitomized by most famous native son John Coltrane’s attendance at William Penn School. The stately Kilby Hotel, graced by the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, is boarded up and condemned. Becky’s/Mary’s Soul Food is an institution of statewide renown. The Hayden Harman Foundation of Burlington has invested in some properties. Several galleries, boutiques and a jazz club line the street.

And yet foot traffic is slow on Washington Street, currently conceived as High Point’s arts and culture district, and it feels a world apart from the furniture showrooms of downtown, practically a stone’s throw away. As an indication that the district hasn’t quite arrived yet, Phyllis Bridges, the owner of Yalik’s Modern Art, asked a recent visitor if he had any difficulty finding the place.

“When I decided I wanted to be on Washington Street six or seven years ago, it was the buzz: ‘Washington Street will be the priority,’” Bridges said. “There were renderings….” She shook her head.

She started the gallery in her house, and then moved into a different location on Washington Street about two years ago. About a year ago, she moved into her current location, an old poolroom built in the late 1940s.

The district hasn’t really caught on with the market buyers, who come to town twice a year to buy furniture. And despite the fact that the home furnishings industry has bequeathed the city with a surfeit of photographers and interior designers, the art scene hasn’t taken off in High Point the way it has in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

“It’s like we have a gold mine and the city doesn’t quite know how to tap into it,” Bridges said.

Given the persistence and commitment behind the cultural entrepreneurship sustaining Washington Street, the African American Quilters of Durham, NC is perhaps the most fitting exhibit imaginable for Yalik’s Modern Art. The quilts on display at the gallery showcase fabric arrangements that explode with light and playful color. While anchored to a timeless tradition, there is no question that quilting at this level takes the form into the realm of fine art. Similar to the collages of Romare Bearden, many of the quilters embrace music as an inspirational subject. The quilts celebrate women, African heritage and black heroes such as Michelle Obama, which makes perfect sense for a gallery that specializes in art primarily, but not exclusively, by African- American artists.

The recipient of a 2010 Indie Triangle Arts Award from the Independent Weekly, the African American Quilters of Durham produces an annual show that coincides with the Bull Durham Blues Festival. Bridges has taken that little piece of marketing acumen into her own toolbox, having curated the John Coltrane vs. the Jazz Critics exhibit in tandem with the nascent John Coltrane Jazz and Blues Festival in High Point this past September.

And when 40 members of the African American Quilters arrived at the gallery on a chartered bus with directions to a restaurant on Main Street, Bridges did what any conscientious community booster would; she took them down the street to Becky’s/ Mary’s instead.

That’s part of the story of Washington Street: a small act, an intervention for the better. That’s community: one person’s piece in larger fabric of mutuality.

And that’s why the quilts are so beautiful, too: Each piece is impeccably placed, not randomly but also not fixed to a uniform pattern. Each selection demonstrates care and attention to detail.

Quilters call it “auditioning fabric.” “They’ll take a piece and lay it down, turn away from it, walk away from it,” said Veronica Hicks, a member of African American Quilters of Durham, NC. “Then you come back to it and view it from a different perspective.”

WANNA go?

The African American Quilt Exhibit will be on display at Yalik’s Modern Art, located at 710 E. Washington St. in High Point, through Dec. 31. For more information, call 336.989.0047 or visit yaliksmodernart.com.

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