“A Celebration of American Quilts” is a small exhibition accompanied by a very large reference volume, “Four Centuries of Quilts”. The DeWitt Wallace Art Museum, one of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, is showing only a small number of quilts from their large collection (12 quilts). The real gem is not the exhibit, however, but the large reference volume written by curators Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey, with 356 pages and over 300 color illustrations.
The history of quilting fabrics is a long one. Early warriors and fire fighters wore garments of heavily quilted cotton and other fibers for protection. Quilted cloth was a protection from the elements and was also used as padding. Quilts, as bedcovers, did not originated in the US, although quilting has been extremely popular in this country. Fabrics introduced into Europe from the east were made into bedcoverings as well as whole cloth quilts of wool and other local materials. These, then, were introduced into the newly populated US in the 17th and 18th centuries. Once valued only for their utilitarian purposes, quilts today are regarded as artistic expressions. The skill of the makers in creating images of color and pattern is not the entire process, however. The real story lies in the history, thoughts and emotions sewn into the textiles by their makers.
There are many folk tales about magic and supernatural powers attributed to textiles, especially bedcovers, which protect against cold but also evils that might befall those at rest. These stories about the quilt makers are unfortunately often lost, as many of these textile works of art were neither dated nor signed.
“Four Centuries of Quilts” catalogs the museum’s collection of nearly 180 quilts and the authors have attempted to relate the stories of the quiltmakers, bringing their efforts into our world today.
Four Centuries of Quilts, Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Yale University Press
Linda Baumgarten is the curator of textiles and costume. She is also the author of “What Clothes Reveal”. Kimberly Smith Ivey is the curator of textiles and historic interiors.
A Celebraton of American Quilts can be seen through May, 2016