Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!
Happy St David's Day to all of our Welsh readers! To celebrate Wales, today we're exploring the power of Welsh quilts across both sides of the Pacific...
The Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter, Ceredigion, is the first purpose designed gallery and museum in the country devoted to Welsh quilts. A passion project of American quilter Jen Jones, it was converted by her husband, architect Roger Clive-Powell, from its earlier incarnation as town hall and law court. There you can see the cream of Jones's collection. Her choice is graphic and strong, a tribute to the landscape and the skills of local women.
Jones, an acknowledged expert, lectures, writes and campaigns for her beloved Welsh textiles. Her dream – thirty years in the making – of creating a centre in the heart of Wales that would give her textiles the status of art objects was achieved in 2009, opening with a display of quilts in a jewel-like setting. The effect, with lighting worthy of a stage, is of the Rothko Gallery at the Tate. Here blacks and reds in geometric flannel quilts dominate, side by side with cubist flashes of colour in patchwork. True quilt fanciers look for single-colour whole cloth quilts with exquisite stitching in low relief on matt surfaces. This is where expert lighting and hanging are essential so that the raised surfaces and fine stitching may be studied. ‘Always look sideways,’ is Jones's advice.
There are intriguing echoes of Amish quilts as so many Welsh emigrated to the Pennsylvania area in hard times. Pioneering women shared their skills and as Sheila Betterton, former textile and needlework specialist at The American Museum in Bath once said: ‘What is an American quilt but a pattern that once emigrated from Ireland or Wales and Scotland?’
Image: Amish Floating Bars Quilt, featured in Issue 105 Checks & Stripes
Jones, an American who travelled the world with her diplomat father, is a graduate of Bennington College. She became an actress, married a writer and emigrated to Wales. She began dealing in bric a brac and, with an eye trained by her family's American quilt collection, began to take notice of the then marginalised Welsh quilt. A determined person, she succeeded in making the Welsh quilt as highly regarded as its American counterpart and in giving the ladies of the valleys a pride in their once overlooked sewing skills.
It was while driving round the valleys of Wales, peering into farmyards and byres, that Jen found her calling in the early 70s – the rehabilitation of Welsh quilts. Newly married with a young daughter, Jen needed to earn a living and began dealing in local artifacts. "My bed at home (in Massachusetts) was covered in a beloved American quilt. These pieces were revered. Imagine my horror, when driving the lanes of Ceredigion, seeing a perfect patchwork quilt on an old tractor or a wholecloth protecting the potato bed from frost!" Traditonal Welsh quilts had fallen out of favour and fashion. Among the images Jen treasures is a snap taken years ago, of a proud farmer and wife with a beautiful local quilt draped over their best cow. "The salvage operation took over my life," she says.
Jen wrote articles, talked on radio and TV, toured the country researching, studying and persuading people to see the light – and restore their quilts. She alerted Welsh Americans to what was happening to "the handiwork of their ancestors".
Her enthusiasm is contagious: now Welsh women bring their quilts for her attention – "It was found under a mattress... "and proudly supply photos of the women that made it. Jen is used to having an effect on people, Roger sums it up: "When Jen moved in with her bright textiles and mirrors, her six year old – and we had a new baby – it was an explosion!" But he’s still there in their cottage... along with a poodle, a cat and thirty ducks. "I get up smiling," Jen claims.
The public is beating a path to the door of her centre on the pennant stone High Street in Lampeter. The airy listed building offers changing exhibitions, quilts, shawls and blankets for sale, together with local designer fashion, Jen's books, bric a brac and hand sewn replicas of early geometric patchwork sewn by a woman's group in Ethiopia, a favourite charity of Jen's. There's even a café on site offering visitors delicious locally grown food, Welsh cakes included...
Extract from the article Centre of Attention: Welsh Quilt Expert Jen Jones' New Gallery in Issue 33 Quilt.
The Welsh Quilt Centre will be re-opening in 2022 with a brand new exhibition, The Magical Quilts of Wales, a dazzling display of Welsh patchwork, wholecloth and appliqué quilts, dating from 1800-1945, from Jen Jones’s private collection.
Groups of over five people are encouraged to book a visit as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. For group visits it is also possible to book a guided tour with Jen Jones. To book please email: email@example.com
The Magical Quilts of Wales opens on Saturday 19th March 2022.