Abigail Kokai is a story teller. But this talented artist from Ohio does not use pen or paper as her medium. Rather, she sews intricate quilts that capture her characters and memories with fabric and thread.
On April’s First Friday, Bunnell Street Arts Center unveiled its latest exhibit, a collection of quilts and patchwork by Kokai, 32. She explained how these tactile illustrations each tell a story.
“Every single one of my quilts is a memory of mine, or a story of something that happened to me or someone I know. Each one tells a story from Savannah,” said Kokai, who lived in Savannah, Ga., for five years.
Originally from Ohio, Kokai earned her bachelor of fine arts from Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She earned her master of fine arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011.
Living in Savannah provided Kokai with a wealth of memories and stories to draw from.
Rather than focus on earth-shattering or life-changing moments, Kokai tries to capture the mundane strangeness of everyday life. One quilt piece features rambling words etched into speech bubbles, while another focuses the orange light cast from a headlight down a street on a dark night in Savannah.
Kokai explains her work by digressing into stories. She recalls a blind neighbor who was convinced nothing was wrong with him besides his sightlessness. On her quilt, she depicts her neighbor sitting on a porch with his self-aware words spiraling out from his image.
Each quilt is a representation of stories like this — intricate and charming tales whose punch lines are captured vividly in Kokai’s sewing and arrangement.
Every quilt is carefully assembled, and structured to present these stories. Once sewn together they make a spread that reflects on a community and the people and memories that inhabit it.
Kokai begins by laying out the top layer, made up of the illustrative patchwork. A layer made up of filler fabric is then sandwiched between a backing fabric and the top layer. Finally, with everything assembled, she stitches through all the layers to keep them together.
During her stay in Homer, Kokai will share her talents and hold quilting workshops every Sunday during April from noon to 4 p.m. at the Bunnell Street Arts Center.
Kokai sees these workshops as a chance to help Homer share their talents and stories.
“Everyone has a story, and what I’m really interested in is finding out Homer’s story. What makes this place special and different from anywhere else in the world,” Kokai said.
The quilt pieces made at the workshop will be made into a larger quilt as a tactile image of Homer.
Her quilts based on her Savannah memories capture what it was like to live there at the time.
“When I was living in Savannah each day was another, once-in-a-lifetime kind of day,” Kokai said. “I kept running into people or seeing things and thinking ‘Where else could this happen?’”
Kokai has been traveling since October, filling various artist residencies.
According to Kokai, each quilt and each story holds a moment unique not only to her, but to the community that surrounded her.
Kokai expects the quilt made from the workshops will reflect the same of Homer. Residents are invited to participate and contribute their own image of life by the Kachemak Bay.