Expanding the Collection: Recent Acquisitions

Expanding the Collection: Recent Acquisitions

Expanding the Collection

Collecting is one of the most popular American pastimes. People love to acquire groups of related items, searching out rare and mint examples in pursuit of the elusive goal of assembling a comprehensive and premier collection.

Almost every type of object has its devotees. An Internet search for “collecting in America” reveals websites dedicated to candy containers, beer cans, road maps, and spark plugs, as well as traditional domains of fine art, stamps, and coins. Quilts, too, are another popular collecting area.

In some ways, collecting at a museum is similar to collecting at home. Finding unique and well-crafted items is a goal, as is obtaining examples representative of a certain style or era. Condition and the history of an object—its provenance—are also important.

But museums often have a broader focus than what is practical for private collectors. For instance, here at the International Quilt Museum, we aim to represent quiltmaking and related traditions from all eras and parts of the world. For our curators, this means searching out everything from 16th-century Mediterranean whole-cloth quilts to 21st-century Modern Quilt Guild quilts.

We are always adding to our already outstanding collection of antique American quilts, but recently we’ve had special focus on studio quilts—quilts made by artists to be hung on the wall—and non-Western quilts—pieces from places like India, Pakistan, China, Japan, and Central Asia. Take a look around and see how we’ve been “Expanding the Collection.

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Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Made in Sindh, Pakistan or Rajasthan, India
Circa 1950-2000
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2013. 031.0003

Likely made by the Meghwal Harijan or Mutwa people—two nomadic groups that live in Sindh, Pakistan and Rajasthan, India—this ralli quilt’s ground is made up of two widths of ajrakh, a traditional block-printed fabric. Ajrakh has many uses, including men’s turbans (pagadis), sarongs (lungis), and shoulder cloths. It is also sometimes recycled into quilts, as with this piece. 

With more than 250 objects, the South Asian collection is one of the IQM’s largest sub-collections. Quilts are common and widespread in that part of the world and so, in order to represent all areas of the Indian subcontinent, the hunt for quilts continues.

Quilted jacket
Made in Burma
Circa 1900 - 1950
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2010.056.0001

The Shan people live mostly in the eastern part of Burma and are closely related to other Tai ethnic groups living in nearby China, Thailand, Laos, and India. Many of these groups are known for their elaborate textiles. This Shan women’s jacket, on the other hand, is an undecorated garment made of black corduroy on the outside and a bright red solid cotton on the inside. Lightly padded, the layers are all held together with a diagonal grid of machine quilting. The result is a somewhat stiff, but subtle and attractive jacket.

This is the only Burmese piece in the IQM collection. Southeast Asia is a major area of interest for us and will become a collecting focus as we build our Asian collection.

Quilt Cover
Made in Huangjiang, Guangxi, China
Circa 1950 - 2000
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2011.046.0004

China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities constitute less than 10% of the country’s population. Most of these groups live in the south and southwest and are known for their colorful and distinct textiles, especially costume. But many also make decorative quilt covers, cloth “envelopes” that surround and protect a plain quilt, blanket, or loose stuffing. This appliqued and embroidered quilt cover, probably from the Maonan or Buyi people, features typical motifs, such as coins (for wealth), fish (for abundance), and crabs (for harmony). 

In the last five years, China has become a major research and collecting focus for IQM. We have nearly 40 Chinese ethnic minority quilt covers in our collection as well as other examples of quilting and patchwork from around the country.

Bai Jia Bei
Made by Pan Kai Li
Wang Jian Cun (village), Shaanxi Province, China
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2013.020.0002

In many parts of the world, textile traditions that were once a part of daily life are being lost or forgotten. One way people are reviving these practices is through textile production for tourist markets. Pan Kai Li, a woman from Wang Jian village in Shaanxi Province, northwestern China, has made these patchwork quilts—similar to pieces sold at tourist sites across North China—since the 1980s. The three-dimensional spider, snake, centipede, scorpion, and lizard motifs (also known as the wu du, or “five poisons”) are protective symbols intended to ward off evil spirits. The original quilt tradition that inspired this quilt style is the bai jia bei, or “one hundred families quilt,” a bedcovering made from donated fabrics that represent the support and love of the givers.

An IQM team acquired this piece in Wang Jian village directly from the maker on a May 2013 research trip. Although textiles made for the tourist market are a different type of object than those made for personal, family or village use, they represent the survival and evolution of textile traditions. We will continue to collect select tourist trade pieces, especially those with known makers.

Child’s Cap
Made in Kutch, Gujarat, India
Circa 1975-2000
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2009.052.0001

In South Asia, mirrors (shisha) serve to both decorate a textile and reflect away the evil eye or malicious spirits. Warding off evil is particularly important for children, as they are susceptible to diseases and other maladies. Many tribal peoples of western India and Pakistan make shisha caps for their children to keep them healthy and safe.

An IQM research team collected this piece from a Rabari family in Gujarat, India in 2009.

Made by a member of the Rabari community
Kutch, Gujarat, India
Circa 1975 - 2000
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2012.001.0007

The loops in the corners of this small western Indian piece (two loops are missing) are used to suspend the folded quilt either from the legs of a charpoy (string cot) or from a free-standing frame. This turns it into a child’s hammock, or ghodiyu. Stylized motifs decorate the surface, the most important being the tree of life in the center, which is flanked on either side by peacocks. The peacock is particularly important in the Hindu religion, as many of its deities are closely associated with that bird. The peacock is also the national bird of India.

Made in Bhusura, Bihar, India
Circa 2008
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2012.001.0003

In an effort to save rapidly disappearing traditional handicrafts, many non-governmental organizations in India have formed cooperatives to produce and sell modern versions of time-honored textiles. In Bihar, in eastern India, women have revived the making of sujani, quilted textiles that often illustrate daily life and local flora/fauna. The scene on this quilt is of village life. The women in the border are collecting mangoes. The woman in the house in the top left is cooking while the women outside draw water from a hand-pump well.

Although these new, cooperative-produced quilts are not identical to the ancient tradition, they represent the survival and evolution of needlework practices in eastern India. It is important IQM collects both antique examples as well as these new versions so we can tell the story of how textile traditions change over time.

Time for Supper
Eiko Okano
Tokyo, Japan
Dated 2007
Gift of the artist, 2012.038.0003

Japanese quiltmaker Eiko Okano was a student of the influential artist/teacher Chuck Nohara, one of the first in Japan to embrace American-style quilts in the early 1970s. Okano went on to start her own school, publish several books in Japan, and show her quilts internationally. Her work has also been included in the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival every year since it began in 2002. This is what Ms. Okano had to say about this piece, “Time for Supper”: 
“I drew Japanese food with fabric by using an applique technique. Since Japanese cuisine is simple, at first I thought it was going to be challenging to make it, but I am surprised that I could express how wonderful the Japanese cuisine is only with fabric and thread. I hope viewers of this work will enjoy our food culture such as sushi, lunch box (bento), fish, etc.”

In 2012, Ms. Okano donated eight pieces to IQM, representing 13 years of her work, from 1994 to 2007. We continue to build our Japanese collection and aim to add quilts and patchwork from all eras and genres.

Probably made in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan
Mid-20th c.
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2011.040.0008

Across Central Asia, patchwork is made for daily use as well as for special occasions like weddings and births. Tushtuks like this one are generally hung as decorative curtains in traditional nomadic dwellings, such as yurts (round, insulated tents). Patchwork, especially the repeating triangles you see here, are considered auspicious symbols, guarding against the evil eye.

IQM has worked closely with scholar Chris Martens to add pieces from the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan to our collections. For the past three summers, Ms. Martens has traveled across the region, meeting artisans, documenting their work, and acquiring typical examples of Central Asian patchwork.

Quilted robe
Possibly made in Syria
Circa 1900
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2011.001.0001

Quilted robes are common across Central Asia, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa. Robes like the one you see here, many of which can be found in museums around the world, are thought to originate in the Levant, the region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Many of them bear identical or similar quilting designs, often alternating rows of chevrons (zig-zags) and quatrefoils (four-lobed medallions). The majority of known examples are neutral colors, like this one. These robes were probably worn by men during informal occasions, possibly during bathtime.

IQM has five of these quilted robes. Three are an off-white or grey color, while one is chartreuse and another is rose-colored. Four of the robes are adult-sized, but the remaining piece is clearly meant for a child.

Beginning and Beyond
Diana Harrison
United Kingdom
Acquisition made possible by the Robert & Ardis James Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 2007.018.0001

Diana Harrison’s monochromatic quilt was created through a unique combination of dyeing, layering, stitching and overprinting, and distortion of the cloth through shrinking and stretching.  The end result is virtually a new textile, with a tactile appeal heightened by the lack of color. The subtle curve of the center shape, formed by repetitious vertical lines evokes nature— a newly plowed field, the solid bark of an aged tree trunk, or the curves of a path stretching forward to the horizon.  

The IQM international collection of studio/art quilts expands the definition of what a quilt can be, even as these new pieces remain true to the basic layered structure of a quilt. Artists around the world are exploring new techniques, new materials and creative new ways of bringing the traditional quilt into the twenty-first century.

Event Horizon
Joy Saville
United States
Dated 2008
Gift of Joy Saville and members of her high school class, 2011.005.0001

Joy Saville explores the emotive quality of color in her abstract quilts, in which she pieces odd-shaped bits of different fabrics together to create a dimensional space. Event Horizon is vibrant with passionate orange, red and purple hues, expressing the depth of the artist’s emotions after the death of her husband, Dudley. Saville’s son, Alex, suggested the title, describing an event horizon as “the surface of a black hole where light and objects can pass through...but no light can come out." Saville felt the description perfectly expressed the essence of her loss.
With this acquisition, we celebrate both Saville’s Nebraska roots—she was born in the state and is a graduate of the University of Nebraska—and the world-wide acclaim she has gained as a textile artist.

Garret Windows 2000
Carol Falk
United States
Dated 2000
Gift of Margaret Ferguson, 2012.017.0001

Star of Bethlehem
Probably made in Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Circa 1830 - 1850
Gift of the Robert James in honor of Patricia Cox Crews, 2013.001.0001

Sue Benner
2013.047.0001, Gift of Friends of IQM

Works in the Exhibition

Gallery Photos

Gallery Photos
Gallery Photos
This exhibition was made possible through funding from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov for more information.
Event Date
Friday, December 6, 2013 to Sunday, August 31, 2014