This exhibition traces the evolution of American quilts from colonial objects of luxury, to utilitarian bedcovers providing warmth, to contemporary works of art intended to be hung on the wall.
The majority of the quilts featured in this spotlight exhibition are pieced quilts, with compositions created by sewing small pieces of fabric together edge-to-edge. Quilts serve as markers of family memory, documenting special life events such as marriages and births. They were used collectively to record community events such as political elections and church fundraising. See examples of a Whig political quilt, a Mennonite wedding quilt, a tithing quilt from a church in Brewerton, New York and many more.
Traditionally, quilts were considered functional items that were produced by women for use in the domestic realm. It was not until the art quilt movement, influenced by a larger craft revival of the 1970s, that quilting was reconsidered as a category of fine art. Because quilts had historically been viewed as a domestic craft overseen by women, many of the names of many of these accomplished makers are not documented. Nonetheless, quilting is essential to the story of American art.
“I have concentrated on collecting and researching pieced quilts since my wife Gail van der Hoof and I curated our first quilt exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1971, Abstract Design in American Quilts. We were fascinated by the resemblances of many American pieced quilts of the mid-19th century and later to modern abstract painting. After curating scores of exhibitions here and abroad over the years, I am now only doing exhibitions that tell us something about quilt history, our social history, and aesthetic history. Thus the categories of this exhibition, and my thoughts about them, reflect this medium as a collectively shared American identity. While the histories are interesting and important, ultimately this exhibition is about the aesthetic power of these unique creations. I am particularly gratified to be doing such an exhibition, which honors the amazing work of many unknown women quilt artists, during the year in which we celebrate all women’s rights. I hope you enjoy it.”
Jonathan Holstein, Guest Curator