Saturday, June 10, 2017

seeing the future

"I can envision a whole museum space full of them, 
and the effect it would have on viewers." 
                                                                    -blog post from 2011


Yesterday I came across an old blog post from 2011, written around the time I started actively collecting 1970s quilts. In the post, I envisioned "a whole museum space full" of the quilts.

How did I see that? It was a silly idea at the time, not even a goal, but the last decade created the perfect storm for a widespread appreciation of 1970s quilts.

The quilts of the 1970s began surfacing in the marketplace at some point during the last ten years. They were popping up a lot more starting around 2011, and I didn't feel like it was because I was looking for them. It was hard not to notice them. When scrolling through pages and pages of quilts on eBay, the polyester quilts were so vivid, they jumped out.

As a side-note, 1970s quilts appeared well after the vintage and collectibles marketplace for mid-century modern objects was established, and they were definitely outside the style box. They were anything but sleek, and their space-age materials looked rather dated 40 years later. Interestingly, they still fit in with mid-century modern decor. It makes sense if you think about it. The quilts are essentially made of plastic, but they have soul.

Looking at quiltmaking in America today -- a multibillion dollar industry with more than 20 million people involved -- many of the stories started in the 1970s when the industry got a big kickstart, and millions of people tried making quilts for the first time. Forty years down the road, batons were ready to be passed, but to whom?

"Catenary" by Carolyn Friedlander, Lake Wales, FL
The arrival of "Modern" quilting shored up the future of quiltmaking. The movement and later the Modern Quilt Guild organization mobilized people globally. Many of the new quilters had creative experience but not necessarily quiltmaking background. A new aesthetic emerged, and with it came an expressed desire to break from tradition. Soon it would become clear, tradition was difficult to escape.

photo: the Modern Quilt Guild, 2013 QuiltCon
Quiltmaking tradition appeared in a number of ways during the formative years of modern quilting. At the first QuiltCon in 2013, Roderick Kiracofe shared a select group of "Modern Historical Quilts" from his scheduled release at the time, "Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000". The vintage quilts spoke to attendees, who were especially fond of improvisational style.

photo: the Modern Quilt Guild, 2014 Portland SewDown
Then, it was my turn. In 2014, I connected the dots between vintage and modern with a lecture at the Portland Sew Down, where I showed a group of surprisingly modern looking quilts made between 1810 and 1970. Maybe, just maybe, quiltmaking tradition was worth a closer look!

I followed up with a special exhibit of 1970s quilts at QuiltCon in 2015, and articles in QuiltCon Magazine this year and last. Modern quilters, especially the younger people, had a distinct sense of nostalgia for the quilts of the 1970s. They grew up with those quilts. The special exhibit got a lot of attention. It included quilts that looked remarkably similar to quilts juried in to the show. Some of the similarities were so uncanny, it seemed the quilts of the 1970s foreshadowed modern quilting.

Seeing the future is possible. It takes a tremendous amount of determination and effort, and the stars need to align, but stranger things have happened. In my original blog post from 2011, I refer to puzzled expressions when I first showed a polyester quilt at a guild meeting. Many of those expressions are now smiles. Thats how I know we accomplished something.

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