Busy Fingers: Quilts

April 26 – August 28, 2011 —

The exhibition Busy Fingers, Quilts features selections from Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer that showcases excellent examples of 19th and early 20th century design and craftsmanship. The art of quilting has been around for centuries, but quilting as an art has only taken on an appreciation in the last few decades. Quilting has gone beyond its original utilitarian function to become an expressive artistic medium, and quilts today are recognized as unique and valuable pieces of American folk art.

One of the finest examples of quilting in the exhibition is a Swedish coverlet, c.1855, created on solid burgundy silk. The coverlet is not what one perceives as a traditional quilt. The initial impression is one of block color and simplicity, but upon closer inspection, the pattern created by the delicate and intricate handwork is a revelation, and the skill of the artist becomes evident. This coverlet was selected by the Smithsonian Institution for a recent show and documented in the book Going West! Quilts and Community.

A Lone Star quilt from the same period as the Swedish coverlet is more typical of traditional quilting. Created using scrap patterned material of reds, browns, and orange, sewn together to form a lone star variation, the concentric circles are made using specific and consistent material. The overall quilt design is one of the oldest and most recognizable quilt designs.

A viewer can look beyond the idea of a quilt as being only utilitarian. The entire process from selection, cutting, and piecing to the actual quilting takes a great deal of skill and craftsmanship. A quilt can be looked at and appreciated the same way a painting is – through the use of line, color, shape, and texture. This exhibition’s thirteen examples of quilting from the last 150 years illustrate not only the various traditional patterns and techniques, but retain within their fibers the customs of a unique part of American history.