museum exhibitions

We offer the following fully packaged exhibitions:

Off the Wall: Maverick Quilts
Like with folk sculpture or painting, there’s a sense of play and infectious fun in these quirky, eccentric, and very personal antique Maverick quilts.

Mark My Words: Textiles and Text
Political, religious, factual, memorial, and affection expressed in letters and words on 19th century quilts. Text IN textiles!

American Quilts: The Democratic Art (1750 -2008)
An exhibition based on the upcoming book of the same name by Robert Shaw. This major exhibition tells the “Big Story” of American quilts and quilt makers. Provides and in-depth look at the art, history and cultural importance of American Quilts. Co-curated by Shaw.

True Blue: Antique Indigo Quilts
The renowned Al and Merry Silber Collection featuring indigo and white quilts made between 1820 and 1900. These “True Blues” were among the favorites of America’s early quilt makers.

Please contact us for more information. back to about museum exhibitions


Quilts are central to the story of America. As a democratic art accessible to anyone who can sew, quilts and quiltmaking have been a major form of expression for American women and an important part of this country's cultural landscape since the late 1700s.

The best quilts also are significant works of art. The noted art critic Hilton Kramer has called quilts "the most authentic visual articulation of the American imagination," adding, "For a century or more preceding the self-conscious invention of pictorial abstraction in European painting, the anonymous quilt-makers of the American provinces created a remarkable succession of visual masterpieces that anticipated many of the forms that were later prized for their originality and courage."

For American women, quilts have always been more than bed coverings and more than works of art. Quilts hold lives within them—the stories of the women (and yes, a few men) who made them and the people who lived with them. Women in every strata of society have poured themselves into their quilts—even a woman who could not read or write could create a kind of autobiography in cloth. Quilts are essentially communal objects. They are about sharing, and their meanings bind family, friends, and neighbors together.

Our foremothers made quilts for themselves and their families; they also often gathered together in their homes, granges, and churches to create quilts for special social and community occasions and causes. They made quilts for many reasons—certainly as warming covers for the beds of loved ones, but also as a means of expressing their thoughts and feelings, as gifts for friends and community members, as a way to commemorate important events such as births and weddings, and as fund raising pieces to support political and religious causes and local projects.

Quilts are comforting and often beautiful, but they are also important and fascinating for the deep personal and community meanings and historical information they contain. Indeed, because they reflect so many otherwise unrecorded aspects of women's’ lives, quilts are often now studied as historical documents. The fabrics a quiltmaker used can tell us approximately when a quilt was made and often reveal her social and economic standing.

Similarly, her choice of pattern and the quilted designs she used to join and decorate the layers of her quilt can also offer information about her life, her family, her community, and her times. Dates, signatures, and inscriptions, while rare, can offer even more intimate details, placing a quilt in time, giving it a personal context, perhaps even identifying a child or loved one for whom it was made.

Even more important is the collective, cumulative information that quilts can offer when studied together, information that can paint a picture of a family, a community, a region, or even a culture.

Unlike many other traditional arts, quiltmaking is vibrantly alive today and continues to grow and change. There are now 20,000,000 quiltmakers in the US alone, and they spend more than two billion dollars a year on fabric, thread, sewing machines and other supplies, and many academically trained artists have taken up the quilt as their medium of choice in recent years. However, despite this vitality and great public interest, no exhibition has ever covered the entire scope of quiltmaking in America.

Organized by Robert Shaw and Julie Silber, two of America’s most respected quilt experts, American Quilts: The DemocraticArt is the first exhibition to tell the whole story of American quilts and quiltmakers, providing a visually stunning, in-depth study of the art, history and cultural importance of American quilts, from their European origins to the present day.

The exhibition also explores the great visual and cultural diversity of American quilts, including the quiltmaking traditions of all regions of the country as well as those of Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Hawaiians, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican-Americans.

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