Quilts and the World
by Laura Chapman
The International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln boasts the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection. The pieces on display at 1523 N. 33rd St. represent five centuries, more than 50 countries and the scope of quiltmaking styles.
The museum’s 2020 exhibitions calendar reflects the depth and breadth of its collection.
Old World Quilts, on display through July 12, transports visitors back to the 17th and 18th centuries featuring the oldest quilts in the collection. Dating from the 1600s and on, these quilts are on display for the first time at the museum.
“What is most compelling is that these quilts show the connection between Asia, South Asia and Europe that occurred as early as the 17th century,” said Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections. “The design elements we see later in American quilts are the result of global trade that began in the 1600s.”
The two earliest quilts included in the exhibition probably were made in the Mediterranean region of Europe around 1600 and feature yellow silk tops, red backs and ornate designs stitched into the material. While there is little information available about these quilts, they are similar to six other known pieces that survive from the period.
Exhibiting these quilts created unique challenges for museum staff. To prevent further damage to the fragile pieces—and to ensure they survive for future generations—the team used a variety of display techniques, including flat mounts, slant boards and rolls.
This exhibition has also created an opportunity for the museum to educate visitors about the care required to preserve textiles. For example, it keeps its galleries and storage facilities at a steady temperature and humidity level to prevent environmental damage. The museum asks visitors to help fulfill its mission of preservation by giving these rare and historical pieces plenty of distance while touring.
In 2020, the museum will also feature a recent acquisition of Russian quilts in Glasnost and Folk Culture: Russian Quilts of the 1990s. In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian women were taught quiltmaking skills by a group of American teachers. These quilts are the result of those lessons, depicting images of Russian fairy tales, folk objects and traditional architecture.
The exhibition presents American-style quilts with distinctly Russian imagery—products of an era when Russia-U.S. relations were quickly thawing.
In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, the museum will reprise Partisan Pieces: Quilts of Patriotic and Political Persuasion, May 1 – Nov. 1. Most of the works in this exhibition were made before the amendment passed, when many women used quilts as a way to display patriotism and express political sentiments.
During the exhibition’s run, the quilt museum will partner with local organizations to develop programs around the centennial commemoration.
In addition to showcasing gems from its own collection, the museum will host exhibitions by visiting artists and makers.
Nancy Crow, a leading artist of the studio art quilt movement, will hold her second solo exhibition at the museum July 31, 2020 – March 7, 2021. Having explored quilts and their visual elements since the 1970s, the works in this recently made exhibition are explorations of color, form and texture composed of hand-dyed and mono-printed fabrics with intense machine quilting.
Crow deliberately uses a large format, reacting against a move toward smaller works that she’s seen evolve over the past four decades.
“The large size is one of the most dynamic attributes of quilts,” Crow said. “It gives them presence. It’s seminal to the energy of the visual impact. When a large quilt hugs the wall, floor to ceiling, it is serious about grabbing your attention.”
Crow was elected a fellow of the American Crafts Council in 1999 and received The National Living Treasure Award from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 1996.
In Diana Harrison: Traces in Cloth, on display through April 26, the United Kingdom artist’s work shows the variety of techniques she uses to transform found objects in patchwork and quilted art. Harrison, a senior lecturer in textiles at the University for the Creative Arts, School of Crafts and Design in Farnham, uses stitching, dyeing, shrinking, bleaching and printing processes to transform them into a new textile, while still retaining traces of their original form.
Eliza Jones’ Song Quilts, appearing April 14-Sept. 20, are visual interpretations of folk music from four regional traditions in the United States and Russia. Jones, a classically trained musician, transforms field recordings into quilts via a notation method that transposes rhythm into shape and pitch into color. Song Quilts celebrates folk music and quiltmaking, two traditions women have used to sustain and build their cultures for centuries.
For more information about these and other exhibitions and programs at the International Quilt Museum—and to plan your visit—go to internationalquiltmuseum.org or follow the museum on Facebook and Instagram.
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