Watch CBS News

Black History Month: New Jersey artist Bisa Butler celebrates Black life in America through intricate quilts

New Jersey artist Bisa Butler highlights African-American experience through quilt-making 02:33

NEWARK, N.J. -- As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, CBS2's Maurice DuBois met Bisa Butler, an artist who's elevated quilt making to the walls of some of our finest museums.

She does it at her home in Essex County, where's she's making history and teaching it one stitch at a time.

Butler's artwork has a way of stopping people in their tracks.

Her life-size portraits look like they're from the strokes of a painter's brush, but Butler is a quiltmaker, weaving fabrics of all kinds into celebrations of Black life in America.

"I always want my portraits to be life-sized, to look the person in the eye and to grab them," Butler said.

Butler says she is often inspired by historical photos, like one taken in 1940 of a North Carolina family fleeing the Jim Crow South. In seven months, she transformed their story onto fabric.

WATCH: Extended interview with Bisa Butler.

Extended version: New Jersey artist Bisa Butler highlights African-American experience through quilt 03:05

"What about this photo jumped out at you?" DuBois asked.

"That this family was so unified and coming so far and that they were seeking better," Butler said.

She learned to sew from her mother and grandmother and started out as a school art teacher. Now, her work graces major magazine covers, and last year, she had her first solo show at the famed Art Institute of Chicago.

"Does it feel like you're filling in a gap in history that was just left out?" DuBois asked.

"Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel like our history has often been either concealed, deliberately erased or ignored," Butler said.

It took Butler eleven months to create her most recent quilt, commissioned by the Smithsonian, depicting the Harlem Hell Fighters, an all Black infantry that fought in World War I.

"They hoped that if they fought valiantly in Europe, that when they came back to the U.S., they would be treated differently. They were not," Butler said.

A life mission stitching together the African-American experience one portrait at a time.

Butler's piece called "The Warmth of Other Sons" is currently on display at the Newark Museum.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.