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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Quilts: Masterworks
from the American Folk Art Museum
by Elizabeth V. Warren
Guest Curator

Welcome to the “Year of the Quilt,” the American Folk Art Museum’s celebration of a glorious American art form. This exhibition is the first in a twelve-month series of shows, special events, and educational programming organized by the museum to emphasize the creative contributions of three centuries of talented women. Highlighting textile masterpieces in the museum’s holdings, the exhibition includes recent gifts, bedcovers that have rarely been exhibited, and important cornerstones of the quilt collection. The presentation is in conjunction with a new publication that illustrates two hundred of the museum’s most significant bedcovers.

The American quiltmaking tradition draws from many sources but was first practiced by English immigrants to New England, who used heavy wools to make warm bedcovers. From there, the skills to make quilts spread south and west, changed constantly by influences brought on by waves of new immigrants and their design motifs as well as by climate and advances in technology, including the introduction of new dyes, the cotton gin, synthetic fabrics, and, most important, the sewing machine.

Textiles were among the most valued family possessions until far into the nineteenth century. Given the rarity of the fabrics used in most of the historic quilts in the museum’s collection, the fine workmanship, and the quilts’ well-preserved condition, it is clear that they are examples of “best” bedcovers, saved for use on special occasions or when company visited. Many thousands of everyday quilts from past generations, made from scraps and subjected to hard daily use and the ravages of the washboard, rarely survived.

It is important to consider each textile in the context of the time and place in which it was made. As seen here, for example, quilts made by Amish women differ greatly from those created by their neighbors in non-Amish communities. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when quilts no longer needed to be made for mere warmth, quiltmakers used the form to express their creativity within the confines of popular decorating trends, including the Aesthetic movement and the Colonial Revival styles. In some cultures, however, including African American communities in the South, quilts continued to be made primarily as bedcovers, although many have seen a second life as works of fabric art.

Most recently, contemporary fiber artists have taken the opportunity to transcend time and place, using the historical concept of a quilt as a starting point for their artistic, and often social and political, statements.

Elizabeth V. Warren
Guest Curator

Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum” is sponsored by The Magazine Antiques. Additional support is provided in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir; the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties. This exhibition is supported in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir; the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties.

 

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© 2008 - 2015 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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