Categories
Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Wisconsin Crazy Quilt

Margaret A. Beattie (American, b. ca. 1860), Crazy Quilt, 1883. Silk floss, silk chenille, metallic yarn, and oil paint on silk and silk velvet; 76 x 64 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from Marion Wolfe, Mrs. Helen L. Pfeifer and Friends of Art, M1997.58. Photo by Larry Sanders.
Margaret A. Beattie (American, b. ca. 1860), Crazy Quilt, 1883. Silk floss, silk chenille, metallic yarn, and oil paint on silk and silk velvet; 76 x 64 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from Marion Wolfe, Mrs. Helen L. Pfeifer and Friends of Art, M1997.58. Photo by Larry Sanders.

My grandmother made about a dozen quilts in her lifetime and having them around so much as a kid, I sort of took them for granted.

Before I worked at the Museum as an intern, I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum’s exhibition American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection in the summer of 2010. As many exhibitions of material culture tend to do, the display gave me a new appreciation for artforms that had surrounded me my whole life. I saw my grandmother’s craft in a new way, and as someone who just a few years ago mastered sewing on a button, the awe I feel for the craftsmanship is possibly only outdone by the respect I feel for the artistry of quilt making.

Quilting for America’s earliest settlers was first and foremost a practical endeavor.  A time consuming but necessary task, scraps of  worn-out clothing and bits of fabric were reused to create bedding.  By the late nineteenth century, quilts existed in many styles, some of which were purely decorative, meant for display in the parlor or front room.

One such type was the “crazy quilt,” as seen in this spectacular example from the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection.

Categories
Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Layers of Exhibition Paint

Between each exhibition in the Museum’s Baker/Rowland Galleries, the walls are entirely rearranged. This past weekend, I watched (bringing donuts, getting in the way, occasionally being helpful) as the installation crew moved walls and started spackling and painting in preparation for European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century.

As the team moved large 12 foot x 10 foot x 2 foot wall sections from their American Quilts exhibition layout into the new European Design arrangement, I was surprised at what was revealed behind—layers and layers of paint that colorfully represents our exhibition history.

Categories
Education

“Save Your Opinions For Your Quilt”

American, "Presidents to Jackson" wholecloth quilt, 1829-37. Winterthur Museum, Bequest of Henry Francis duPont.

This month’s book salon found me revisiting a book I first read in college: How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto.  Well, we all know that just as we can never step into the same river, we can never read the same book.  Happily, it did read like a new book–partly because I didn’t have to write a paper about it afterwards– but mostly because I read it surrounded by 40 handmade quilts on display in the American Quilts exhibition. 

Categories
Events Exhibitions Museum Store

Quilt History in the Making

Bruce Seeds, Garden Quilt
Bruce Seeds, Garden Quilt (detail)

The thing I find particularly thrilling about the American Quilts Exhibition Store is that because quilts are such a living medium, a part of everyday lives, they often inspire very personal dialogues as visitors pass into the exhibition store. Every day we meet visitors who are eager to share their sewing stories—they admire the works in the exhibition in a profound way because of a shared experience with those artists. We learn about still-vibrant family traditions of sewing, memories of people’s mothers hand-stitching their clothing when they were children, the various techniques seamstresses develop over time, and the agony and the ecstasy of piecing those wee slippery scraps of fine fabric together.

Categories
Art Curatorial

Painting the Gallery Walls

Preparations for the design of an exhibition begin many months, sometimes years, in advance of installation. For us at the Milwaukee Art Museum, planning for the placement of art in our main exhibition begins the minute the previous exhibition opens. For instance, when Street Seen opened in January, the next week the exhibition designer removed little to-scale black and white photographs from the gallery model, and our team went to work carefully placing pictures of miniature quilts for the summer’s American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection exhibition.