Profile: Michael Cummings (1945-)

Michael Cummings is an American artist and quilter who lives in Harlem, New York.

Early life

Cummings grew up in Los Angeles, California, and earned a BA in American Art History at Empire College. He moved to New York in the early 1970s to take a position with the Department of Cultural Affairs for New York City. He worked with event planner Karin Bacon. Cummings spent his early artistic career as a part-time collage (Romare Bearden was a mentor) and paint artist. 

After a work project to create a cloth banner for an exhibition in 1973, Cummings discovered his love for working with fabric and taught himself to quilt by studying the works of local quilters and how-to quilt magazines and books.

Cummings was in a pilot program that created the Studio in a School program in the 1970s. Philanthropist Agnes Gund funded the program and visited the artists many times.

Cummings also worked at the New York Council on the Arts for many years before retiring.

Quilting style and career

Cummings quilts in the narrative, story-telling tradition and is one of a few nationally known male quiltmakers. His work often features bright, colorful African themes and African American historical themes. Major quilt series include the “African Jazz” series (1990), the “Haitian Mermaid” series (1996), and the “Josephine Baker” series (2000).

The U.S. State Department has posted several of Cummings’ quilts in its embassies (Rwanda and Mali) through its Arts in Embassy program. Brands such as Absolut Vodka and HBO have commissioned his work, and his quilts appear in the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Designs in New York. Whoopi Goldbergand Bill Cosby collect Cummings’ quilts.

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