Over the past few years, quilts and quilting have experienced resurgence in popularity. The appeal of quilts and textile art is as varied as the patterns they employ. Whether it is the bold, bright, and contrasting colors or the strength and diversity of the design, quilts have consumed the interest of contemporary artists and enthusiasts alike.
The origins of quilting are seen in the 17th century when chintz and calico fabrics were beginning to be imported from India. When these fabrics ended their journey to European markets, affluent families utilized them in different ways, from bed covers to drapery. These new patterns and colors introduced by chintz and calico textiles, coupled with the entrenched domestic activities of stitching and needlework taught to women, laid the foundation for American and English quilting.
The industrial revolution brought with it greater access to printed cottons, contributing to a peak in American quilt-making in the 19th and early 20th century. At this time, quilting was predominantly done by women, and only one of a few creative outlets allowed by the confines of their domestic roles. Quilting gave women the opportunity to express themselves artistically in a prohibitive society, creating pieces of functional art.
Today there is significantly more emphasis on the aesthetic merits of quilts than their initial function. Considered objects of folk art, quilts have increasingly been featured in prominent museum collections and exhibitions, both antique and contemporary. Textile artist Faith Ringgold, author of the children’s book Tar Beach, shed light on the art of quilting through her narrative quilts. In 2011, the American Folk Art Museum held an exhibition titled “Red & White Quilts: Infinite Variety,” publishing a catalog of the more than 600 examples. More recently, in 2014, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston put on the well-received exhibition “Quilts and Color.”
These high-profile institutions and artists catered to a modern interest in highly graphic objects displaying color and design. Websites like Etsy have also propagated the revitalization of quilting due to their popularity and expansive reach with the internet. This increased exposure and revamped interest in textile arts has created a greater appreciation for one of many facets of American folk art.
Our Country Americana auction on March 11th includes twenty-seven lots of patchwork and applique quilts.