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

Quilt Historian Interview with:
Richard Cleveland
Quilt Bureaucrat

The text is provided by each interviewee and is unabridged and unedited.

Contact Information:

Richard Cleveland, Chairman
Vermont Quilt Festival
(See update at end of interview.) 

1) How do you prefer to be described, within the field of textile history?
If you have a business, please tell us about that.

“Quilt Bureaucrat - but because of my passion for antique quilts, I also think of myself as a textile detective.”

2) When and where did you begin your serious interest in the history of quilts, textiles or garments?

“Probably on Labor Day weekend, 1979, when I photographed the quilts before we hung them in our 3rd annual show. From that point on, I went to every quilt show in Vermont (and there were a lot in the early '80s) and photographed antique quilts. I took pictures of any quilt made prior to 1960, and by the time we did our first appraisals in 1981, I'd collected slides and written records on almost 350 quilts.”

3) What “known” individual (or group) influenced you most and why?

See number 4.

4) Who became your personal mentor as you began your learning?

“Karey Bresenhan, founder of the Houston Quilt Festival and Market, whom I met in Vermont in the summer of 1980. I spent time with her going through my slides, showing her the quilts at the Vermont Historical Society, and talking about antique quilts. We corresponded about quilts, and about our fledgling show, and she offered to come do appraisals of antique quilts to help us raise money (the show was a project of the Northfield Historical Society for its first six years). She was our appraiser for six years, and gave our team the basic training we needed to set out on our own in 1986. By the time we launched our statewide documentation project, the Vermont Quiltsearch, in 1989, we were as good as any team in the country.

“Another teacher to whom I am indebted is Nancy Halpern of Natick, MA, which will surprise people who know her only for her own wonderful quilts. However, Nancy knows a lot about the history of New England quilts, and was the curator in 1984 of our first major special exhibit, "Wool Quilts of New England". Her knowledge is quite broad and deep, and she's never failed me in a pinch.

“Currently the documentation team is being tutored by Gerald Roy, formerly of Oakland, CA, half of the team of Pilgrim/Roy. Jerry lives in New Hampshire now, and for three years has been a member of the VQF Board of Trustees. His knowledge of antique quilts is encyclopedic, and his presence at our appraisal and documentation days is always a source of new information.” 

5) What aspect of study were you most passionate about at first? How has this changed over time and why?

“I was trained to be a history teacher, and history has always been my favorite subject. I want to see as many antique quilts as I can, to know as much about them as possible, and to see them preserved for generations to come. In this my focus has not changed from the first quilt I photographed. Sometimes when I find a quilt I especially like, I run the tips of my fingers gently over its surface, willing it to tell me its secrets. I ask the six questions of every reporter - and historian: Who, what, why, how, when, where. Alas, most quilts never disgorge this information to us, and perhaps their mystery is part of their attraction for me.”

6) What is your current “pet project”?

“Establishing a 'Fund for Vermont Quilts' with which I hope to enable the Vermont Historical Society purchase significant Vermont quilts. In two years, the VQF, two Vermont guilds, and a generous private donor contributed $5,200 to help the Society acquire a dozen quilts with Vermont provenances. The Society is moving into new quarters this summer, and this is the ideal time to set up such a fund. I plan to make the rounds of Vermont guilds to beat the drums for this in the months ahead. I'd like to see the fund grow large enough to provide funds for conservation as well as for purchase.”

7) What aspect of your research or contribution to textile studies has satisfied you the most?

“For research and writing, the publication of our book, Plain and Fancy: Vermont's People and Their Quilts, which I wrote with Donna Bister. However, I feel the most important thing I ever did was to arrange the exhibition of the Plain and Fancy quilts at the Vermont State House on July 4 and 5, 1991. That was the summer the book came out, and the exhibition was the weekend prior to the 15th annual Festival. Most of the owners were present for the State House opening, and for most it was the first time they realized just how important their quilts were, how much their quilts were a part of Vermont history, and the degree to which other people cared about them.”

8) Within this arena, what would you like to do, but haven’t done yet?

“If I could do anything I wanted to for the next ten years, it would be to rummage in the historical societies and small museums of New England to find out what's there in the way of textiles and quilts from the period prior to 1900. I'd love to photograph dresses and other clothing, sample books, furnishing fabrics and other fabrics, and compare them to quilts to see what repeats. And, then, of course, having done that, there'd be a large book in full color showing the results.”

9) Any further comments are invited.

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "There is no room in us for two passions," a statement with which I whole-heartedly agree. I've had lots of enthusiasms over my adult life, but only one real passion, and that's antique quilts.”

Please list the contributions you have made via books, exhibits, presentations, contests, articles, fabric lines, research papers and the like.

Plain and Fancy: Vermont's People and Their Quilts, with Donna Bister, Quilt Digest Press, 1991

Article, “19 Crises in Search of a Quilt Show,” Lady's Circle Patchwork Quilts, October 1983

Article, “VQF's Secrets of Success,” Lady's Circle Patchwork Quilts, July 1988

Curator, “Chintz Quilts: Pieces of Luxury,” New England Quilt Museum, Lowell, MA, 1998 (?) check date

Review, “Northern Comfort: New England's Early Quilts,” in Vermont History, Winter/Spring 2001

Slide show, “New England Quilts, 1760-1900

Slide show, “Plain and Fancy: Vermont's People and Their Quilts.

Thank you so much, Richard, for sharing yourself with us, and for the Vermont Quilt Festival you put on each year.  We antique quilt lovers so appreciate the inclusion of the great variety and number of antique quilts each year.  We have gained knowledge because of your efforts in this field, and I’m sure your exhibits have started others on this path of knowledge and passion.  Continued success to you.


Press release: 


The founder and Chairman of the Vermont Quilt Festival, Richard L.
Cleveland, has resigned.  The resignation was announced August 26 by the
Festival Board of Trustees.

"When I started the Quilt Festival in 1977 as part of my work with the
Northfield Historical Society, I couldn't have imagined how the show would
grow," said Cleveland.  "Now, after 25 years as Chairman, it's time for me
to step down and try my hand at something different.  I know the Board is
committed to continuing to run a high-quality show, and I wish it well in
its endeavors."

Cheryl Krull Marsden, Vice-Chair of the Board, said, "Richard's legacy
includes founding the Festival, guiding its growth and development for 25
years, initiating our statewide quilt documentation project, the Vermont
Quiltsearch, and co-writing the book, Plain and Fancy:  Vermont's People and
Their Quilts.  Under his leadership, the Festival has become the largest
quilt event in New England and one of the premier quilt events in the
nation.  The Board will miss Richard's energy, enthusiasm and vision."

The Board appointed Vice-Chair Marsden to run the Festival on a day-to-day
basis as planning continues for 2003 and beyond.



* Women (and Men) at Work

© 2002 - 2016 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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