Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning

From March 7, 2018 — September 2, 2018

At center of this exhibition, the monumental installation Birth of a Nation (2014) represents a black woman nursing a white infant against the backdrop of the first official flag of the United States. Suspended above a mound of earth, the quilt is surrounded by Towns’s Story Quilts (2016–2018), a cycle of seven works in luminous fabrics and glass beads that narrate the life of Nat Turner and the 1831 rebellion he led against slavery. A pair of quilted oval portraits of Nat and Cherry Turner (2018) adds a significant dimension to this narrative, considering the role of a marriage in historic events. Towns’s quilting practice delves into the perspectives of women and people of color and draws on that knowledge to interrogate the institution of slavery in American history.

Trained as a painter with a BFA in studio art from the University of South Carolina, Towns (American, b. 1980) has also developed a rigorous, self-taught quilting practice. Towns draws visual inspiration from medieval altarpieces, nineteenth-century photography, and Dutch wax print fabrics, in addition to African American story quilts. His work has been exhibited at Arlington Arts Center, Galerie Myrtis, Gallery CA, and Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery, among other venues. Towns won the inaugural travel prize of the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City in 2016, traveling to Ghana and Senegal to visit historical sites that mark the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He was the recipient of a Ruby Artist Project Grant in 2015.


This exhibition is curated by Cecilia Wichmann, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition is generously sponsored by the Estate of Margaret Hammond Cooke and the Jean and Allan Berman Textile Endowment Fund.

  • Stephen Towns. Birth of a Nation. 2014. Natural and synthetic fabric, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, coffee and tea stain, acrylic paint. 90 x 66 in. (7.5 x 5.5 ft.). Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist

    Stephen Towns. Birth of a Nation. 2014. Natural and synthetic fabric, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, coffee and tea stain, acrylic paint. 90 x 66 in. (7.5 x 5.5 ft.). Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist

  • Stephen Towns. Special Child. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 36 1/2 × 28 1/4 in. (92.7 × 71.8 cm.). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2017.144. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

    Stephen Towns. Special Child. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 36 1/2 × 28 1/4 in. (92.7 × 71.8 cm.). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice and Franklin Cooley Fund, BMA 2017.144. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

  • Stephen Towns. The Prophet. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 37 x 28 1/2 in. Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

    Stephen Towns. The Prophet. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 37 x 28 1/2 in. Private Collection. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

  • Stephen Towns. The Baptism of Ethelred T. Brantley. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, acrylic paint, acrylic fiber medium, resin buttons. 29 1/2 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist

    Stephen Towns. The Baptism of Ethelred T. Brantley. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, acrylic paint, acrylic fiber medium, resin buttons. 29 1/2 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist

  • Stephen Towns. One Night at Cabin Pond. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 35 x 28 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

    Stephen Towns. One Night at Cabin Pond. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 35 x 28 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

  • Stephen Towns. The March to Jerusalem. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads. 30 x 38 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist

    Stephen Towns. The March to Jerusalem. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads. 30 x 38 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist

  • Stephen Towns. The Revolt. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads, metal button. 34 1/2 x 27 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

    Stephen Towns. The Revolt. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, crystal glass beads, metal button. 34 1/2 x 27 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

  • Stephen Towns. Black Sun. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 35 x 27 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

    Stephen Towns. Black Sun. 2016. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 35 x 27 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Joseph Hyde

  • Left: Stephen Towns. Let Not Man Put Asunder: Portrait of Nat Turner. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist. Right: Stephen Towns. Let Not Man Put Asunder: Portrait of Cherry Turner. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist

    Left: Stephen Towns. Let Not Man Put Asunder: Portrait of Nat Turner. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin buttons. 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist. Right: Stephen Towns. Let Not Man Put Asunder: Portrait of Cherry Turner. 2018. Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, metallic thread, crystal glass beads, resin and metal buttons. 30 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist

Installation view, Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning. Photography by Mitro Hood.

Installation view, Stephen Towns: Rumination and a Reckoning. Photography by Mitro Hood.