It’s not often that an experience leaves me speechless. But the recent exhibit
“Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts” in New York City was an exception.
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to see this exhibit, but I didn’t completely understand its importance until I stood in the midst of it.
There are no words to describe a 55,000-square-foot space filled floor to ceiling with 651 quilts spanning 300 years and every technique in the book.
On the exhibit’s first day (Friday, March 25) the feeling in this space was reverential—almost as if I was entering a cathedral. There was nothing to do but look, and look, and look some more. This was not just another quilt show hung in rows of pipe and drape.
This installation was designed by the world-class design firm Thinc Design so that the quilts were the stars of the show while also clearly being part of a larger cast of characters: a spotlight on each and every quilt, symbolic lines and shapes in which the quilts were hung, an ingenius lightweight hanging system, a gift shop and cafe, and generous curving benches from which to gaze, at our leisure.
It wasn’t an exhibit so much as an experience.
I went back on another day and spent many more hours; some visitors went back every day, six days straight.
It pulled on my heartstrings. I didn’t want to leave.
In a lecture on Friday evening, I learned about Tom Hennes and the folks at Thinc Design, about Joanna Rose who owns all of the quilts, and a bit about the quilts themselves. Guest curator Elizabeth Warren said that the quilts in general are not “museum quality” pieces but are quilts of the common man. Indeed a large part of the experience was the sheer magnitude of the collection. One hundred quilts is a very nice display. Two hundred is outstanding. But six hundred and fifty-one quilts—is just astounding!
I haven’t cropped the top of these photos; I wanted you to see that every quilt’s backdrop was hundreds more red and white quilts.
The great majority of the quilts were hand quilted.
Everywhere I looked there was exquisite quilting to be enjoyed,
piecing at which to marvel,
a design sense to admire.
My response to this experience has been to begin planning a red and white quilt of my own. It will be hand quilted.
I think it’s likely we’ll see a resurgence of red and white in quilt shows at all levels.
I am so glad I didn’t miss this event. I will never be quite the same.
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You can experience more of the exhibit with these online resources:
The New York Times story
Martha Stewart’s story in video
flickr.com using the tag #650quilts