I remember when it happened. In 1971 The Whitney Museum of American Art did something that sat the “Art World” on its ear. They displayed quilts in a museum setting: Abstract Design in American Quilts “bestowed institutional recognition of the artistry inherent in these humble textiles.”
Quilts have existed, literally, throughout history. While they are made from fabric, and therefore examples are hard to find before Roman times, scraps from that period have been found in digs. The Middle Ages hold many examples of quilted fabrics being used under the metal armor used by knights to shield their bodies from sharp edges and protect them from blows against the metal.
As a child, I remember quilts in wedding chests and on beds in country homes. They were often cherished and handed down by families. I also remember seeing exquisitely hand stitched quilts thrown in the trunks of cars by uncaring family members, and used under cars for changing oil. Quilts often, literally, “got no respect.”
I remember my first quilt show, at the local county fair. I worked for hours on end to stitch a Bargello quilt in all shades of reds. I very carefully chose all my fabrics, carefully matching thread colours to blend, not only to my top but to the floral background I oh-so-very-carefully chose to go with the top. I was soooo proud of that quilt!
Imagine my dismay when the judge, an elderly woman with a tight, lemon-pucker face, said, “You know, you could have won, if you hand just used the proper thread. Quilts are always quilted with WHITE thread!” As I looked at my much loved quilt, I gave up in tears. White thread?!?! All you would see would be the thread!! It would totally take away from my quilt! I gave my quilt away, and didn’t quilt again for years.
A few of the quilts hanging in the Whitney
Things have changed since then. Quilts ARE Art! And isn’t it wonderful? What used to be three layers of fabric (COTTON ONLY!!) batting (COTTON ONLY) and fabric (COTTON ONLY) bound together by thread (WHITE cotton only) to be shown only at the county fair, if you showed them at all, have now become magnificent art forms. And Art Quilts of the Midwest Linzee Kull McCray showcases the works of many of the premiere quilt artists of today. As a writer covering textiles, art, and craft, Linzee Kull McCray wondered just how deeply fiber artists were influenced by their surroundings. Focusing on midwestern art quilters in particular, she put out a call for entries and nearly 100 artists responded; they were free to define those aspects of midwesterness that most affected their work. Just as with any other art form, these artists are influenced by their surroundings, their time period, and their materials, much like the quilters of Gees Bend, Alabama were influenced by theirs. From the functional to the fantastic these 100
The stunning asymmetry and colour use of one of the Gee’s Bend Quilts. All the quilts are made of ‘found’ or cast off fabrics, worn clothing, feed sacks and sometimes, just sometimes, purchased fabrics.
artists work in fiber, certainly, but how they handle their materials is wide-ranging and exciting. All sorts of fibers are used – but how it is handled is deeply based in the idea of quilt as art. From new ways to utilize symmetry and repetition to new forms of dying, painting, uses of three dimensional forms and uses of non-fiber materials such as metals and jewels, the old has become new again, while still hearkening back to its historical roots, philosophy and culture.
Sewing a Quilt. Gee’s Bend, Alabama, 1937 Photo by Arthur Rothstein/Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
If you are interested in art as a whole, or in quilts in particular, this is a beautiful book to add to your collection, whether as a coffee table book to browse at your leisure over a cup of tea, a fount of ideas for your own quilt, or a paean to beauty, this is a gorgeous book to add to your library.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own.
Linzee Kull McCray
Linzee Kull McCray grew up in California and resides in Iowa. After nearly thirteen years as a writer and editor for the University of Iowa, she is a fulltime freelance writer with a focus on textiles, art, and craft. She is a contributing editor at Stitch magazine and her work appears in Etsy’s blog, UPPERCASE, American Patchwork and Quilting, Quilt Country, Quilt Sampler, Modern Patchwork, O magazine, and numerous other print and online publications.
Photo credit: Jenny Gordy
Marilyn Ampe, St. Paul, Minnesota
Gail Baar, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Diane Nunez, “Twisted”
Sally Bowker, Cornucopia, Wisconsin
Peggy Brown, Nashville, Indiana
Shelly Burge, Lincoln, Nebraska
Shin-hee Chin, McPherson, Kansas
Sandra Palmer Ciolino, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jacquelyn Gering, Chicago, Illinois
Kate Gorman, Westerville, Ohio
Donna Katz, Chicago, Illinois
Beth Markel, Rochester Hills, Michigan
Diane Núñez, Southfield, Michigan
Pat Owoc, St. Louis, Missouri
BJ Parady, Batavia, Illinois
Bonnie Peterson, Houghton, Michigan
Luanne Rimel, St. Louis, Missouri
“Knowledge” by Luanne Rimel, St. Louis MO
Barbara Schneider, Woodstock, Illinois
Susan Shie, Wooster, Ohio
Martha Warshaw, Cincinnati, Ohio
Erick Wolfmeyer, Iowa City, Iowa