Thursday, August 4, 2011

Beauty Secrets: My First Quilt

I love to tell the story about how I got my first quilt. I was living in New York, going to grad school at NYU, and dating a young lady from Germany who was a Fullbright exchange student at F.I.T. Ulrike, or "Uli" as she liked to be called, really wanted to make the most of her experience in New York, and she always had ideas about where to go and what to do.

One day, she had a postcard invitation to a private showing of antique American Quilts. I have no idea where she got the invitation, but we went to an upscale, uptown brownstone apartment that afternoon to see quilts. Uli had heard about our nation's tradition of patchwork quilts, and wanted to return to Germany with a bona fide antique American quilt.

Before that day, I had never heard the name Shelly Zegart, but that's who greeted us at the door. Over the years, Shelly has continued to be a guiding light. There were very few people who influenced me during the bulk of the 22 years I've collected, but Shelly's been there since day one.

There were dozens of amazing old quilts draped over the furniture, all over the apartment, and Shelly blew me away that day. She was clearly passionate about quilts, very bright, and brimming over with information and stories about the quilts. Uli found an indigo and white Drunkard's Path quilt, and we giggled about the name since we invariably ended up at the Irish pub on the corner of 23rd and Lexington most evenings.

I was studying photography at the time, and art history was always part of my college curriculum. Shelly made me realize that quilts should be considered part of art history. Quilts were works of art. I fell in love with this New York Beauty quilt, and couldn't really afford it, so I left empty handed. But I think Shelly could tell I was smitten, so she kept in touch and worked with me on a payment plan. A few months later, I owned my first quilt.

At a lecture in Lebanon, Oregon. You can see the batting inside the quilt.
The plan was to display the quilt on the wall, but I was moving around a lot, wasn't exactly sure how to display it, and was afraid of what my mom would say when she saw it. How could I justify such an extravagant purchase? So, I hid the quilt from Mom for a number of years.

She finally saw it one day, when visiting my new apartment in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. She and Dad had come to see where I was living, and I had the quilt draped over a rack in the corner of my bedroom. Mom made a beeline to the quilt, and I realized I had to explain myself. After I fessed up, she said the quilt was the best thing I've ever spent my money on.

This quilt is currently on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon, as part of "Beauty Secrets: 150 Years of History in One Quilt Pattern" through October 1st. The exhibit is part of Quilt County, a biennial, countywide celebration of quilts. An 80-page, full-color printed catalog is available in limited numbers at the museum, and online through Blurb. To preview or purchase the catalog, click here.


  1. I agree Lori! Love it that your mom agreed with your purchase after you hiding it for so long!