Bisa Butler was born in Orange, NJ, the daughter of a college president and a French teacher. She was raised in South Orange, the youngest of four siblings. Butler’s artistic talent was first recognized at the age of four, when she won a blue ribbon in an art competition.
Formally trained, Butler graduated Cum Laude from Howard University with a Bachelor’s in Fine Art degree. It was during her education at Howard that Butler was able to refine her natural talents under the tutelage of lecturers such as Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Jeff Donaldson and Ernie Barnes. She began to experiment with fabric as a medium and became interested in collage techniques.
Butler then went on to earn a Masters in Art from Montclair State University in 2005.
While in the process of obtaining her Masters degree Butler took a Fiber Arts class where she had an artistic epiphany and she finally realized how to express her art. “As a child, I was always watching my mother and grandmother sew, and they taught me. After that class, I made a portrait quilt for my grandmother on her deathbed, and I have been making art quilts ever since.”
Bisa Butler was a high school art teacher for 13 years; 10 in the Newark Public Schools and 3 at her own alma mater, Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Butler’s work was most recently the focus of a solo exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York that will subsequently travel to the Art Institute of Chicago. Her works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Newark Museum of Art; The Toledo Museum of Art and Orlando Museum of Art, among others.
In 2019 Butler was a finalist for the Museum of Arts and Design Burke Prize. Her portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai was featured as a cover for Time Magazine’s special issue honoring the 100 Women of the Year in 2020.
Fiber artist Bisa Butler uses the traditional craft of quilting to create incredible portraits of Black stories. This week on the My Modern Met , we interview Bisa about the meaning behind her portraits and how she brings lost histories …