Saturday, August 22, 2015

The New Vintage

crazy block quilt, Hawaii, c. 1970s
Two years ago, I wrote a guest blog for "Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics" called The New Vintage. It was about collecting quilts made more recently than those typically sought by other collectors. My focus was my childhood years, the 1970s, and in the blog, I told the story about the first quilt in my 1970s collection.

"Back in November 2010, I found a flannel-backed, tied spread, crazy block pattern, full of hot colors and wild fabrics from the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. It was visually exciting, and way outside the box. It was the kind of thing you might find wadded up in a ball under a table at a tag sale, or used to wrap furniture when moving. But I felt it was better than that, much better. Would people laugh at me for thinking it was so great? Did I care?"

Starting with the vibrant, crazy block quilt in 2010, I quickly built a collection of more than 100 1970s quilts. Articles appeared in several magazines, and a research article on polyester quilts was recently published by the American Quilt Study Group in its quarterly newsletter, Blanket Statements.

Twenty quilts were exhibited at QuiltCon 2015 in Austin, Texas, and several others recently appeared in an exhibit at Modern Domestic PDX. Now, 22 quilts are on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon, part of the biennial Quilt County celebration. The exhibition runs through October 3rd.

QuiltCon 2015, Austin, Texas
My guest blog about The New Vintage pointed out characteristics of 1970s quilts, reasons why the quilts were relevant in today's world, and the closing comments briefly compared yesterday with today.

"Just like the quilts of other historical periods, quilts of the 1970s usually have a very specific look and feel. They are bold, bright, quirky, and made to be used. Not surprisingly, these quilts inform the work of the Modern quilters- a group that certainly embraces the new vintage. Back in the 1970s, the growing interest in quilts was very much a rediscovery of quiltmaking in America. Today, it’s more like a passing of the torch, and there’s something really great about that."

The biggest difference between the 1970s and today is the quilt industry. In the 1970s, there were no rotary cutters. Dress calicoes accounted for most of the scarce cotton fabrics available, but stores were stocked with polyester double knit. Only one publication, Quilters Newsletter, specialized in quilts. There was really no such thing as a "sewlebrity" in quilting.

Aesthetically, there are remarkable similarities between the quilts of the 1970s and today's Modern quilts. There are also significant differences. Comparing quilts juried in to QuiltCon 2015 with the vintage 1970s quilts on display in the same arena, there are similar tendencies in color and design, but not in materials and finishing. The quilts share the free-spirited use of color and sense of adventure, but the new quilts look a lot more polished.

Owls, c. 1970s, Ohio
The correlation between collecting and quiltmaking is intriguing. Do we collect things that inform what we make? The thought has crossed my mind. Owls are popular right now. They were also popular in the 1970s. Old quilts captured the imagination of American folk art collectors in the 1970s. Millions of people started making quilts around the same time. A select group of those quilts made their way to me.

Quilts of the 1970s caught my attention around the time The Modern Quilt Guild was gaining recognition among quilters. I'm sure it was no coincidence.

"Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" is now on display at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. One of the quilts in the exhibition is the first one, that 1970s crazy block from Hawaii, subject of The New Vintage blog. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.

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