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.