Monday, September 17, 2012

Quilt Adventure Weekend!

Fans Variation, early 20th century - coming soon to my collection!!
Last weekend was Quilt Adventure weekend, and I had a blast! On Saturday I was in Bellingham for the Quilt Adventure with Julie Silber, Joe Cunningham and Bob Shaw. The event was at the Whatcom Museum, location of the "American Quilts, The Democratic Art" exhibition. On Sunday, I was in Bellevue and saw the "Bold Expresions" exhibit at the Bellvue Arts Museum. 

Bob Shaw talks during the gallery tour
My quilt :)
The exhibition at the Whatcom Museum is based on the book of the same title by Bob Shaw, author of several wonderful books about quilts and other collectibles such as duck decoys. I'd never met Bob, Julie, or Joe in person, and it was great to finally meet them. It was also great to finally see my "New York Beauty" quilt on display since I missed the opening, and great to see the Fans Variation quilt from Laura Fisher at Fisher Heritage in New York. That quilt will be part of my collection after the exhibition closes. If it looks familiar, that's probably because it's on the cover of Bob's book.

It's a great honor to be part of the exhibition, and I loved listening to Julie, Joe, and Bob talk about quilts. Fun to see old friends and meet new friends from Facebook and elsewhere. I was drained at the end of the day, and made my way down to Bellevue, where I stayed overnight at the Westin. When I got to my room, it was one of the special Westin Fitness suites, with a two ton treadmill in the middle of the room, and an exercise station with weights, exercise ball and yoga mat. 

After I got done rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, I realized I'd gotten enough exercise to order room service- fried calamari with Romesco sauce, Kobe bacon burger with cheddar, and two cold beers. When they forgot the French fries, which I couldn't have eaten anyway, I got the whole meal for free. We won't say anything about the calamari crumbs on the treadmill.

The food was gone in ten minutes, and an hour later I was out like a light
On Sunday, I went to the Bellevue Arts Museum for the "Bold Expressions" exhibit of quilts from the collection of Corrine Riley. The quilts were wonderful, visually engaging works of art. But there was a problem. The quits were supposed to be African American, but only one quilt in the exhibit of more than 50 quilts was attributed to a specific maker. The quilt (pictured below) was made by known quiltmaker Sarah Mary Taylor, and features a wonderfully wonky American flag.  

Bellevue: only one quilt was attributed to a specific maker
It's a great quilt, but not enough reason to call the whole collection African American. Even more problematic is the suggestion that there is a definitive, recognizable style of quilt that we can call African American based on its appearance. In other words, if it looks like a Gee's Bend quilt, it must be African American. 

Nice space, beautiful quilts, murky attribution
I do not accept that thesis. It promotes a stereotype, one Cuesta Benberry and other scholars worked tirelessly to debunk. In a nutshell, I feel the collector clearly has a great eye for quilts, but the murky attribution really dragged down the exhibit. Call the quilts what they are - Southern improvisational quilts, scrap quilts, or even utility quilts - but don't call them African American if you don't know who the makers were. In 2012, we can do so much better than that.

When I got home, one of the two quilts waiting for me was a so-called African American quilt from an eBay seller in Texas. It looks like one of the Gee's Bend quilts, the iconic Bars and string pieced columns by Jessie T. Pettway, which was featured on a U.S. postage stamp, pictured below (bottom row, second from the right). The temptation to call it African American is real, but there's no maker's information. So, I am calling it a Stacked Bars quilt, c. 1950. (see how easy that was?)

All in all, a great weekend full of new friends and old, and dozens of wonderful quilts. I can't wait until my next quilt adventure!


  1. Thank you so much for your comments about this subject. There are so many style names that make so much more sense. I always enjoy your blog and the information you share.

    1. Whatever the subject of an exhibit, if it is associated with a specific race, religion, culture or group, I expect to read about the people and see their names. Otherwise, it lacks substance. The exhibit was wonderful, visually, but it gave me the feeling that the collector hadn't had much interaction with quilt historians. Glad you enjoy the blog. :)

  2. I love that the only exercise you got in that fancy room was munching! lol And I'm so glad to hear your comments about the attribution of African American quilts. It makes me a little crazy to look on ebay, and there are dozens listed, but none with any maker's name attributed to them. Argh! It's like a catch phrase, to boost their sales. Makes me crazy!

    1. Not only does it boost sales, it gets attention. There is a seller who comes on to the facebook page to promote sales, and we had a whole discussion about attribution and documentation, but nothing changed. Quilts are still being listed as African American without proper attribution, and even the word "antique" is being misused. Something made in the last 25 years is not an antique. So, yes, it makes me crazy, too. But like I said in the blog, I basically drop that information from my description of the quilt.

  3. Love the cover of the book. Interesting word choice, democratic vs. domestic, in the title. Gee's Bend quilts and those they have inspired never disappoint! Never seen a fitness suite! What a great idea! Glad to hear it was fun! I enjoy your blog!

    1. Everyone should have that book. It's just amazing. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Bob and his work. He has an interest in late 20th century and early 21st century quilts. I often feel like the Southern improvisational quilts of the first half of the 20th century opened the door to those "Art" quilts made in the last half of the 20th century.

  4. Thank you for this post. I agree it is so important to accurately attribute the quilt to its maker and not promote stereotypes. The quilts in the "Bold Expressions" are very pleasing examples of improvisational quilting. We have come a long way in the study of quilts and we must make efforts to properly attribute the quilt to its history and origins as well as maker. Thank you.
    As to Robert Shaw's book, I ended up with two copies. I love his title. Having spent many hours thinking and discussing the art versus craft argument, I think his title aptly describes quilts as democratic art.

  5. We have three of the ROFL! objects in the lobby of the athletic department. They showed up last week.

    I'm not going anywhere near them, I think they eat people.

    And they are far more complicated than a sewing machine to operate.

  6. I agree with you when it comes to labeling quilts "African American". I would think a museum would do it's research and call it what it is.
    I've been going back and forth about whether to make a trip to the Whatcom Museum and Bellevue and have finally decided it is too far for the amount of quilts being shown.

  7. African American is used to sell.... it has been so over used that I don't think it creates the same attention it use to... the museum show would probably have attracted more attention with a title you suggested.

    I believe nothing - nothing that I read on ebay and have marveled that you have not been disappointed more often by your purchases. Ebay folks can call their stuff anything they want and that is that. Vintage - not available at Target today. Antique - was in mom's house. Thank goodness for pictures!

    And these labeling comments have neglected to focus on the three souls that you heard talk quilts. Three great folks sharing their life's collection of observations, etc. THAT is what is great about this post.

    As always,
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. fabulous to get to see the three musketeers and all these fab quilts. As always, agree with you completely on the attribution thing. grr. love mimi's description above re antique and vintage.

  9. Thank you for your comments on attribution. It is such bull hockey to say something "looks" like it was made by a certain ethnic group.