Art Term Tuesday: Quilt

Kaitlin Binkley, Marketing Coordinator

Opening soon at FWMoA is an exhibit from our permanent collection of American Quilts. Remember in our very first Art Term Tuesday when we discussed our definition of ‘art’ and how we appreciate technique and skill, along with aesthetic beauty and historical context? I’d like to explore an example of how we use that definition to bring well-deserved attention to different kinds of work.

Traditional quilting is the layering of fabrics, a top cloth, a batting or wadding middle, and a bottom cloth, all stitched together by hand or machine. The earliest known depiction of a quilted garment is on a statue of an Egyptian pharaoh from around 3400 BC. The earliest quilted material found was discovered in Mongolia, dated between 100BC and 200AD. Our collection of quilts is not quite that ancient, but are still old and treasured for the history they tell.

The majority of our collection is from a single collector who focused on “Amish Quilts” from the early 20th century, though our earliest quilt is from 1876. Amish quilts have two definitions: quilts made by Amish or Mennonite quilters, or quilts made using traditional Amish techniques and fabrics. Amish Quilts have a distinct style and that style persists to today’s Amish quilters. A dark base color, striking geometric designs, and fantastically intricate hand stitching are hallmarks of Amish quilts, though of course not the only techniques found in these types of quilts. Quilting is often a community project, one in which many friends and family members gather to work together to create a single quilt. Mothers would teach their daughters from an early age what she knew.

The Lone Star quilt pattern is made up of a star with a 8 points. This quilt features multiple colors.
Lizzie Ann Bontrager, Amish American. Lone Star Quilt. Cotton,1940. Museum Purchase, 1922.22.11. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

While the community was strong, the creativity could be considered slow. The style of American quilts in general was growing in leaps and bounds, but Amish quilts were always slow to change, which might be understood as a factor of these communities insulated from much of the outside world. Amish quilts are valued for their handwork and craftsmanship, as well as the simple yet bold geometric designs. These quilts are excellent examples of the work of those who may not think of themselves as artists, but today’s audience for these works cannot deny the skill, talent, and heart inherent to these creations.

Want to see the quilts in person? Quilts will be on display in American Quilts from the Collection, located in Gallery One from September 8, 2018 to October 21, 2018.

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