Saturday, September 2, 2017

Four Centuries of Outstanding Quilts

middle 19th century masterpiece quilt from Kentucky
I started collecting in 1989, when I was 23, so I have collected quilts for more than half my life. My collection includes four centuries of outstanding quilts, with examples from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

late 18th century wholecloth blue resist quilt - a rare find
 The 18th century quilts are hardest to find, and it took me a long time to develop an appreciation for them. The quilts are often elegant, such as the blue resist wholecloth quilt made in the 1760 to 1800 period. Others are rather drab but include exquisite quilting designs such as the wholecloth wool quilts found in New England.

late 18th century wholecloth wool quilt from New England
Quilts of the 19th century were my primary focus when I began collecting. These quilts are 100 years old or older, bona fide antiques.

middle to late 19th century quilt from Kentucky
At first, I was mostly interested in pieced quilts and focused on the motif known today as New York Beauty. I wrote all about it in my first book, "New York Beauty, Quilts from the Volckening Collection" (2015 Quiltmania, France).

As the collection grew, it evolved. Still, after 20 years of collecting, very few people knew what I'd been doing. I looked for unique things, especially because the quilts functioned as wall art in my home. Seek, and you shall find!
Victorian period silk pieced quilt, eastern United States
late 19th century hexagon pictorial quilt, Pennsylvania
At a certain point, I ventured into appliqué quilts, and found some really great ones. I am always struck by the beauty of the botanical motifs and the level of sewing skill. Much originality, too.

middle 19th century masterpiece album quilt from West Virginia
middle 19th century appliqué quilt from Kentucky
After seeing the Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibition at the Whitney in 2002, I started looking at more improvisational quilts, and eventually turned my attention to the 20th century.

wool quilt dated 1937, eastern US (possibly Pennsylvania)
One of my first acquisitions from the 20th century was a wool airplanes quilt, dated 1937. It is on the cover of my second book, "Modern Roots, Today's Quilts from Yesterday's Inspiration" (2016, Stash Books), along with a stunning new quilt made by Christine Turner.

Christine Turner's quilt, inspired by the quilt in my collection
From the beginning of my time collecting, I had an eye on modernism. It was what initially drew me to the quilts...the graphic visual qualities of the objects. The people who made these quilts, mostly women, may have had ordinary lives, but their work was extraordinary. I felt like I was like looking at modern art predicted.

strikingly modern late 19th century quilt found in Texas
late 19th / early 20th century quilt, also incredibly modern
In more recent years, my focus has been a nearly legendary period in American quiltmaking, the 1970s. More than 150 quilts in my collection are from this period. Many of them are offbeat and made of ultra modern materials, such as polyester double knit. Since barely anyone else was collecting these quilts at the time, I had a field day. I found the best stuff, because I was looking.

1970s polyester quilt from Louisiana
1970s polyester quilt from Oregon
Everyone loves a good spinoff, and there was an important one with the 1970s quilts. It was a whole regional tradition, completely unexplored and untouched by researchers and quilt historians. It was also a mythbuster.

1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt
Scrap quilts from Hawaii were part of quilt history. Telling people about it was one of the highlights of my incredible quilt journey. The myth about Hawaiians making one distinct style of quilt was officially busted. The austere, symmetrical, botanical, two-color applique quilts were not the only quilts made by Hawaiians.

1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt
1970s Hawaiian scrap quilt
The thrilling thing about the Hawaiian scrap quilts was the manner in which they busted the myth. These quilts looked nothing like the applique quilts, but they were certainly Hawaiian looking in every possible way. The sense of color and pure exuberance was unmistakable, and the search for these quilts took me to Oahu in January. I've only just begun to talk about Hawaiian scrap quilts.

1990s quilt by Andrea Balosky
Coincidentally, Hawaiian born artist Andrea Balosky gave me an appreciation for the work of quiltmakers in the last two decades of the 20th century. I have not collected much work from this period, but recently acquired a stunning quilt made in 1984 by master quilter Libby Lehman.

1984 quilt by Libby Lehman
The 21st century was and is new territory from a collector's point of view. What quilts will be collectible 50 or 100 years from now? It's really anybody's guess, but if you asked me, I would say it boils down to originality and spirit.

a 21st century medallion made by officers of Portland Modern Quilt Guild
Probably the best thing about collecting today's quilts is knowing the people who made them. That is exactly the case with the medallion quilt I won in a Portland Modern Quilt Guild holiday raffle. The women who made the quilt ran the guild that year, and each one is a gem.

Modern Domestic's Row-By-Row block
Cath Hall was one of the creators of the PMQG medallion. She also had a big hand in the Modern Domestic Row-By-Row block with the water glasses. One fine day, she graciously handed me the store sample she made. I adore her.

Green Cross series quilt by Gail Weiss
Speaking of people I adore, Gail Weiss, also a member of Portland Modern, made me weak in the knees with her Green Cross series. I had the good fortune of photographing all five of them in my studio. Even luckier, I own one of them.
"The Best" Yvonne Porcella
Quilts are memory objects, too. I met Yvonne Porcella at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles in 2013, when the museum was filled "New York Beauty" quilts from my collection. I was full of joy because I got to meet Yvonne. And now that she's passed away, I am grateful to have one of her quilts from a Quilt Alliance auction a few years ago.

"Spirit of Forgiveness" by Carolyn Mazloomi
Quilts have the power to tell stories, and that's exactly what this recent addition to the collection from Carolyn Mazloomi accomplishes. It is called "Spirit of Forgiveness" and tells the story of the atonement of Adriaan Johannes Vlok. I blogged about it here

"Fruity Beauty" by Bill Volckening, quilting by Jolene Knight
So, that is a quick tour through four centuries of outstanding quilts. With more than 450 in my collection, it is hard to pick favorites. Every once in a while, I make a quilt, too. The ones in this blog represent an amazing journey, and it's not over yet. Where will it lead? Who knows? But it'll sure be colorful and full of love.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Bill. I am going to share it on my Facebook page. Everyone should read it. It makes me want to go into my studio right now and make a 21st century quilt!