Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Year of the Quilt--American Folk Art Museum

I recently had the opportunity to view exhibits for "The Year of the Quilt" at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The museum has a twelve-month series of exhibitions, educational programs, and special events "to highlight the creative contributions of three centuries of talented women through spectacular textile masterworks."

I got to see both the "Quilts--Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum, Part I" and "Super Stars--Quilts from the American Folk Art Museum." The "Masterworks, Part I" exhibit is available for viewing at the museum on West 53rd Street until April 24, 2011. The "Super Stars" exhibit is available for viewing at the branch location of the museum at 2 Lincoln Square till September 25, 2011. I just missed the "Infinite Variety--Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts" exhibit. It started a few days after I was in New York.
I got lots of pictures from both exhibits. (Remember, you can click on the picture to get a better look at it.) I'll start with the "Masterworks" exhibit. I was interested to see what type of quilts they would have on display, and I have to say that I don't think they had enough representation of contemporary quiltmaking. They only had two quilts they labeled "contemporary." Hmmmm.

I was excited to see this next quilt top in person. It is a piece I have admired for quite some time. Actually, I had purchased a book ("The Flowering of American Folk Art (1776-1876)" by Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester) with this textile on the cover many years ago. It was that quilt top that prompted my purchase. It is called the "Bird of Paradise" quilt top. The artist hasn't been identified, but they think it came from the vicinity of Albany, New York. It is made of cotton, wool, and silk with ink and silk embroidery between 1858 and 1863. The quilt top is in pristine shape--amazing as old as it is. Don't you just love a quilt with a story? I thought the story of this quilt was very interesting.

The templates for this quilt top included the figure of a man, however he does not appear anywhere on the quilt top. (The woman is located towards the top right of the quilt. Traditionally, the figure of the man would appear next to the woman.) What do you think happened? Was this quilt top made for a wedding that never took place? Is that why it was never quilted? 
The figures on this quilt top were made using templates cut from newsprint and other papers dating from 1858-1863 that were handed down with the textile. The many symbols of union and fertility on the quilt top--the pairs of animals, the nesting birds, the fruits and flowers--add weight to the supposition that it was made either by or for a bride-to-be. The elephant identified here as "Hanible" was part of a number of traveling circuses, but from 1860 to 1863 local ads advertised Hannibal as performing in the Van Amburgh traveling circuses in New York City and throughout the Hudson Valley, reinforcing the quilt top's association with that area.

I included a close up, so you could get a better idea of the detail on this piece. It was behind glass (a lot of the quilts weren't), so it was hard to get a great picture. 
Another quilt on display was the Indian Wedding Ring or Pickle Dish Quilt. The artist is unidentified. The machine quilted cotton quilt was made in the United States between 1935 and 1945. I was interested to find that the quilt was machine quilted.
There was only one wholecloth quilt in the exhibit. The "Tree of Life Whitework Quilt" was made by an unidentified artist in the United States around 1796. It is made of cotton and linen with cotton fringe. I thought the fringe was an interesting addition. The raised patterns on this bedcover were created by stuffing and cording, a technique that is sometimes called "trapunto work"--a reference to a possible Italian origin for the tradition. In order to create the elaborate motifs seen here, the seamstress could add the extra padding either before or after her regular quilting. The designs on elegant whitework bedcovers such as this are usually based on a central medallion format and include motifs that may be derived from Indian palampores and/or Jacobean embroidery, such as Tree of Life and other fruit and floral designs. The hand quilting on this piece was beautiful.
The appliqued "Sunflower Quilt" was made by an unknown artist and is believed to have been made in Pennsylvania between 1860 and 1880.
This is a close up of the "Sunflower Quilt." The hand quilting was fabulous.
I have lots of other pictures to share. I'll be posting those as soon as I can.

I'm heading to the International Quilt Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, this week. The first quilt show of the season is always VERY exciting. Anyone else going? I'll be posting about that too. Check back.

1 comment:

SewHappyGeek said...

Wow. I'm sooo jealous! I love quilt exhibits. I am now off to research the American museum of London for quilt displays :)