One who continues to thread his grandmother’s needles
Sunshine Joe Mallard provides a motivational lecture coupled with a visual art presentation of his famous quilts.
For nearly 50 years, Fiber Artist Joseph Mallard also known as Sunshine Joe has chronicled world, national, and local events through his vibrant and intricately detailed thread collages. Born of brilliantly-colored embroidery floss, denim, canvas, patience and time, Mr. Mallard’s body of work remained largely unknown until recently.
Born in 1943 and raised in Summit, Mississippi, Mr. Mallard learned needlecraft at the feet of his great-great grandmother Mandy Green, a woman born into slavery in the Deep South. He recalls threading his grandmother’s needles because her failing vision prevented her from doing so herself. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Mallard covered his clothing with artistic stitches to demonstrate his creativity and independence. He was further inspired and encouraged when he saw former Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Rosie Greer doing needlepoint on the Mike mDouglas Show. During one of his presentations to a fifth class, a young girl called him Sunshine Joe. She said, “The sunshine brings light and you do too”. He sent President Jimmy Carter a denim shirt meticulously stitched with references to Mr. Carter’s political life from Plains, Georgia to the White House. Other famous personalities that have received his work: ballet virtuoso, Mikhail Baryshnikov, comedian/civil rights activist Dick Gregory, former Louisville Mayor and County Judge/Executive Harvey Sloane and others.
Although Mr. Mallard continued to transform clothing into art throughout the 1980s, he began working in a larger format the day his youngest son was born. A large framed piece incorporating references to national and local events during the first 21 years of his son’s life hangs in his home. This piece is a testament to Mr. Mallard’s patience, perseverance, and dedication to his craft.
In 2012, Joe was honored with the ArtsReach Living the Vision Award at the ceremony for Keepers of the Dream: A Community Arts Celebration of Dr. King’s Vision.
Following his retirement from corporate America in 2013, Mr. Mallard travelled across the country meeting with groups of quilt makers about his work in general and Tie Quilt specifically. He was introduced to Dr. Pearlie Johnson, a professor at the University of Louisville’s Department of Pan African Studies. Dr. Johnson studies African American quilt makers in Kentucky and conducted an oral history interview with Mr. Mallard. She is featuring Mr. Mallard’s “Tie Quilt” in her research about African American Quilts in Kentucky. The Tie Quilt is another large-scale piece that incorporates neckties stitched to a 52” x 66” canvas background and is finished in the style of a traditional quilt.
Because Mr. Obama is the first African American President of the United States of America, Mr. Mallard thought it would be important to capture events that happened around the world during the first four years of his administration in the format of a quilt.
Now Sunshine Joe’s exquisite body of work is gaining national and international recognition. His tapestry-quilts, sometimes taking years to complete, pulsate with color, energy, and joy. He uses quilts as a teaching tool in classrooms, community centers, homeless shelters, senior citizens facilities, libraries, juvenile detention centers and quilting guilds.