Wednesday, November 17, 2010

American Folk Art Museum's Super Star Quilts Opened Yesterday

Stars, some of the most important elements of the natural world, are also a beloved and enduring motif in American quilts. Stars appeared in pieced bedcovers as early as the eighteenth century and remain popular with quilt artists today. The "Super Stars" exhibit illuminates one theme in the textile masterpieces from the  American Folk Art Museum's collection that is on display in the NYC 2 Lincoln Square location  from November 16 to September 25, 2011.

Stars do not make a major appearance in American quilts until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when they were increasingly used as a pieced field motif. This was no doubt a response, at least in part, to the design of the flag of the newly formed United States. Conceived as a “new constellation,” the canton featured white five-pointed stars against a cobalt background, evoking once again the moral certitude of the heavenly canopy, as well as the strength of America’s victory. By this time, stars were also a strong element in the neoclassical lexicon. Their presence on quilts allowed the tenets of the classical world to resonate with the new republic in a highly fashionable manner.
It was not until the turn of the nineteenth century that a single eight-pointed star moved front and center in whole-cloth quilts, usually pieced in a solid-color glazed wool known as calimanco. But with the invention of the kaleidoscope in 1816, art and science took an unanticipated and dazzling turn. Quiltmakers, especially, embraced the refracted imagery produced by the kaleidoscope. Large single stars now blazed across cotton quilt tops, pieced from multitudes of diamonds that scintillated in rings from the center to the points. Staggered rows of repeated stars danced across the surfaces of bedcovers. By the Victorian era, the aspect of stars changed once again with the influence of exotic ideas from the Near East. Star motifs were interpreted for a new age in silk, velvet, and brocade show quilts.

"Super Stars" , curated by Stacy Hollander, highlights the dazzling diversity of this variable pattern as interpreted through more than one hundred years of quilt artistry. The museum has published a book of 200 of their most significant bedcovers in their collection to coincide with the exhibit. If you can't make the exhibit, get the book;  Quilts, Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum or give it as a gift.

 I have long pointed to the the museum's first quilt book, Glorious American Quilts,  as one of my  most prized books on the subject of quilt history. Beautifully written and photographed, it gives so much information helping me learn about the periods and influences on American quilt making.  I learned how to date quilts in part because of this book.

Given that the same author, Elizabeth V. Warren , and former curator of the museum, also authors their new book, it must be fabulous as we know more than we did in the early 1990s when Glorious was written (published in 1996). Also the museum has added about 100 bedcovers to its collection, including a  late 18th century patchwork quilt made with the Hewson panel in the center.  And yes,  it will also be on display for a time during their Year of the Quilt, in the Masterworks Quilts exhibits. (more on that in another blog post.)

Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum  By Elizabeth V. Warren, with a preface by Maria Ann Conelli, a foreword by Martha Stewart, and an introduction by Stacy C. Hollander. New York: Rizzoli International Publications in association with the American Folk Art Museum, 2010. 336 pages.

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Maribeth Schmit said...

I just got this book out of my public library system yesterday. It is wonderful, fabulous, over the top. Each and every photo is eye candy in the extreme. What a joy to peruse!
Maribeth Schmit
NQA Certified Quilt Judge

One Second Needle said...

Thanks for your post about the American Folk Art Museum's Super Star Quilt exhibition. The interesting behind stars in quilts is quite fascinating.

Kimberly Wulfert, PhD said...

Thanks for telling us about your experience of the book Maribeth. Yummy! How wonderful that you could get it from your library.

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