Profile: Gwendolyn Ann Magee (1943-2011)

Gwendolyn (Gwen) Ann Magee was an African-American fiber artist. Learning to quilt in the middle of her life, Magee quickly became known in the world of fiber art for her abstract and narrative quilts depicting the African-American experience.

Biography

Magee was born Gwendolyn (Gwen) Ann Jones in 1943 in High Point, North Carolina. As a child she was exposed to art, craft and museums by her adoptive mother, a schoolteacher named Annie Lee Jones. Her parents subscribed to the 24-volume The Metropolitan Seminars in Art series by John Canaday and the 30-volume Art Treasures of the World, published by Harry N. Abrams, and Magee was drawn to the volumes featuring Van Gogh and Gauguin because of the artists’ vibrant use of color. Graduating in 1959 from William Penn High School in High Point, she entered the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in nearby Greensboro. UNC was in its fourth year of desegregation, and Magee was one of five African Americans in her class. During her time at UNC, Greensboro was a center of civil rights activities, and Magee became active in local demonstrations against segregation in the community, an experience that would later influence her artistic work.

Following her graduation in 1963 with a B.A. in sociology, Jones continued graduate study in social science at Kent State and Washington universities, working as an assistant with various research projects. She never earned a graduate degree, but did assist with many fieldwork studies. It was during one of these studies in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, that she met Dr. D. E. Magee, an ophthalmologist. The two married in 1969, and after Dr. Magee completed his residency in Philadelphia, the couple moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where they established careers and raised their two daughters, Kamili and Aliya.

Magee died in Jackson in 2011 after battling a long-term illness. She was 67 years old.

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