Traveling

Prolific film-maker and documentarian Ken Burns loves antique American quilts.

To him, each of these textiles represents a moment in time and American history—a nexus of individuals and geography and culture that can never be fully recovered, but which is nevertheless represented in these strikingly graphic compositions. Burns is less concerned with the provenance and genealogy of his quilts than with their gestalt—both their visual impact on the viewer, and their implicit connections to life stories.

Patchwork holds a special place in the folk art of Central Asia. In this region of diverse people, cultures, and landscapes, the act of sewing pieces of cloth together can be both sacred and commonplace. Everyday objects gain beauty through the display of plentiful fabrics, but they also acquire a mystical quality. As in other parts of the world, these meaningful objects help mark both momentous and mundane occasions in family and community life. Explore the many forms—some novel, some familiar—that quilts and patchwork take in this vibrant part of the world.

Some people document their daily experiences with journal entries, photo snapshots, or social media posts. Eiko Okano chronicles everyday life with cloth depictions of her meals. Her stylized illustrations are spontaneous and loose. Despite their impressionistic qualities, however, her fish seem freshly caught, her vegetables appear recently picked, her sushi looks expertly crafted.

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Throughout western India, people make quilts for practical reasons: to have something to sleep under, to hang in doorways, to augment dowries, to sell. They make quilts for personal reasons, as well: to document daily life, to offer as gifts, to signal group affiliation or individuality. The quilts in this exhibition were made by women and men from towns and villages across the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. These craftspeople come from varied geographic, economic, and social backgrounds, but all value quiltmaking for the creative outlet it provides.

Derived from several different plants in the indigofera family, indigo dye produces a multitude of colorfast blues, from pale sky blue to deep midnight blue. Its range of long-lasting colors made it wildly popular and highly valued when it was first imported from India to Europe in the late 1400s, resulting in the nickname Blue Gold. This exhibit traces the history of indigo dyeing and brings one of America’s favorite colors to life.

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From pieced block to Crazy style to Colonial Revival, as well as one-of-a-kind creations, the full array of style and design appears in this exhibition covering seven decades of quiltmaking. Quilts reflect the times in which they are created, often mirroring societal shifts and transformations. Rapid change, bringing conflict between technological progress and nostalgia for a simpler time, impacts today’s culture.

Fifty years ago, no one bothered pairing the adjective Amish with the noun quilt. Few people outside Amish settlements knew there was anything distinct about the types of patchwork bedcovers Amish families kept folded in cedar chests or displayed on their guest beds. Yet in the intervening years, Amish quilts have shifted in status from obscurity to sought-after artworks. Amish women have been making quilts since the late 1800s, but only in the 1970s, when art enthusiasts began comparing Amish quilts to abstract modernist paintings, did Amish quilts become “cult objects.”

 
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