INSIDE ISSUE 105: FABRIC OF A NATION
Order by 15 February to receive this issue
American Quilt Stories, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The association of quilts with comfort and “loving-hands-at-home” crafting long dismissed them from any serious consideration by art critics. This situation began to change slowly in the 1970s with the seminal exhibition Abstract Design in American Quilts at the Whitney Museum (1971). While many exhibitions, including those at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston*, have since focused particularly on the aesthetics of quilts and considered them within the context of abstract art and formal art criticism, Fabric of a Nation takes a different—and important—approach. A quotation from quilt artist and scholar Carolyn Mazloomi (whose work, Strange Fruit, is included) opens the exhibition: “When people think of quilts, they think about warmth and security. So they can be a kind of soft landing—a way to tell the story of difficult topics.” The curators of Fabric of a Nation take full advantage of that idea. In this display of 400 years of American quilts and bed covers—nearly all from the MFA’s own collection—this exhibition explores the history of the United States through deep examination of the objects, from the fibers to the overall designs, made by unknown hands as well as recognized artists in order to give voice to groups that traditionally have been ignored or actively suppressed. In the process, the curators show that quilts have embodied our complicated and multi-racial history since the seventeenth century.
It’s a dramatically beautiful exhibition, showing the artistic and expressive vigor of anonymous and known quilters alike. The introduction asks “What is American?” and “Who is American?” to set the stage for its presentation of the diversity of American stories through quilts. The first textiles seen—all in some way representing the American flag—reveal the broad consideration of the topic: the 1975 “Vote” quilt made by Irene Williams of the African-American Gee’s Bend community, a Late Classic Chief’s blanket made by an unknown Navajo woman, and the “Hoosier Suffrage” quilt made in support of the 19th Amendment that gave American women the right to vote. The following six sections are thematic and roughly chronological, exploring the colonial and early national periods, the Civil War and its aftermath, the quilt as art, and then modern tensions surrounding sexuality, race, domestic and international terrorism. ... by Lynne Zacek Bassett