Shelly Zegart's love of American quilts began in the mid-1970s when she was inspired to hang quilts with other art on the walls of her newly built contemporary home. Since then, she has been a passionate collector, curator, author and lecturer on both antique and contemporary quilts. Her lecture topics have been as diverse as «Quilts as Women's Art», «Political Quilts» and «Misperceptions versus Reality in the World of Old Quilts.» She has helped to build quilt collections around the world, and her personal collection of extraordinary nineteenth- and twentieth-century quilts was acquired by The Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. Those quilts were the core of the Art Institute exhibit Exploring Quilts: Art, History, and Craftsmanship (March 17-September 12, 2004). Access to many of these exceptional quilts was enhanced by her buying and selling activities over the years.
Raised in quilt-rich western Pennsylvania, in 1968 Zegart moved with her family to Louisville, Kentucky, another state well known for its quilt heritage. A zealous advocate for quilt scholarship, Zegart was co-founder and the driving force behind the Kentucky Quilt Project, an effort initiated in 1980 to survey the state's quilts. The first project of its kind, it set the standard for all the state, regional, and national quilt projects that followed. The seeds planted by the Kentucky Quilt Project have flourished not only nationally but also internationally and culminated in more than 50 such projects in the U.S. and abroad, yielding both catalogues and exhibitions.
In February 2007 Zegart was featured in "Quilting Transformed: Leaders in Contemporary Quilting in the United States – The 20th Century and Beyond" (Jacqueline M. Atkins; Nihon Vogue Co., Ltd.) The book is described as «a celebration of contemporary quilting, from its experimental beginnings at the beginning of the twentieth century to the expansive and innovative position it inhabits in the quilt world today, and to the people and events influencing its progress.»
Zegart is among eight individuals highlighted as «people who have been key to promoting an understanding of contemporary quilting through their exhibitions, collections, and publications, and through their tireless efforts in gaining recognition and respect for the art and craft of quiltmaking in today's world.»
She has curated many exhibits U.S. and abroad, most recently an exhibition of antique Log Cabin pattern quilts for the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival January 2008, sponsored by NHK (Japanese Public Television). Zegart also curated exhibitions for the Tokyo festivals in 2007 (Basket pattern quilts) and in 2005 (Schoolhouse pattern quilts).
"Shelly Zegart -Passionate About Quilts: Challenging Assumptions, Creating Changes, Making Connections," a retrospective exhibition of her more than thirty years of work with quilts was featured at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, Kentucky (September and October 2008). A catalogue accompanied the exhibition.
Her lectures have been popular with Japanese and other international quilt aficionados since she first appeared as an invited lecturer at World Quilt '98 in Tokyo.
Zegart traveled to Martainville, France, in 2003 for "Mosaic Textiles: In Search of the Hexagon," an international comparative exhibition representing nine countries, for which she served as project consultant for more than ten years. She also wrote part of the catalogue.
Her first international project was a 1987 exhibit of Kentucky quilts for the Women's Committee of the National Trust of Australia in Sydney.
Zegart has been a consultant on the Quilts of Gee's Bend publications and Quilters' Collective since 2001. In 2005 Zegart curated the exhibition "Three Faces of Gee's Bend" for the three mid-town Manhattan lobby galleries of the Durst Organization. In 2007 and 2008 Zegart was a consultant, lecturer, docent trainer, and funder for the Speed Art Museum's showing of the traveling exhibition "Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt."
Her first Durst Organization project was the 2001 exhibit and catalogue "A Heritage of Genius: American Master Quilts Past and Present," held in three Durst building galleries in Times Square, New York, New York.
She was a panelist to select the "100 Best Quilts of the Twentieth Century" exhibition and publication produced by Primedia in 2000. Three antique quilts from Zegart's collection were among those selected.
In 1997 she wrote "American Quilt Collections: Antique Quilt Masterpieces" published by Nihon Vogue. Zegart was the sole consultant to the author and publisher of the 1999 Phyllis George book "Living With Quilts." In 1998 she curated "Kentucky Quilts: Roots and Wings," a traveling exhibition and catalogue organized by the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead University that examined the Kentucky quilt mystique past and present.
Articles by and about Zegart have appeared in Country Home magazine, Country Living magazine, Travel and Leisure, the Louisville Courier- Journal newspaper, and other publications. Her article «Myth and Methodology: Shelly Zegart Unpicks African-American Quilt Scholarship» appears in the January / February 2008 issue of Selvedge, a British textile magazine. In 2007 and 2008 she wrote three articles for the Japan Handicrafts Instructors' Association Magazine on Schoolhouse, Basket and Mariner's Compass pattern quilts. In 2005 Zegart wrote an article for Selvedge titled «Quilt Collecting: Exhibiting Antique Quilts in the 21st Century.» Her article on the state and regional quilt projects, «Affairs of State – Documenting the Past for the Future,» appeared in Quilters Newsletter Magazine in 2004. Her two-part article «Understanding Appraisals,» written for the IQA Journal, International Quilters Association, Houston, Texas, in 1997, set a standard for the field.
A member of the Appraisers Association of America for more than twenty years, Zegart has appraised quilts for insurance, charitable donation, business, and estate evaluation purposes. She has appraised quilts for a number of not-for-profit institutions and private collections across the country. She was a seminar panelist for «Appraising Quilts: from Antique Quilts to Art Quilts," Great American Quilt Festival 4, Museum of American Folk Art, New York, May 14, 1993. In the fall of 2005 she presented a breakout session, «Misperceptions vs. Reality in the World of Old Quilts,» at the Appraisers Association of America's National Conference in New York. Zegart has lectured on the topic of appraising quilts at New York University and for the national conference of the Appraisers Association of America as part of a panel on «Art in Volatile Markets.» She was a panelist at the seminar «Appraising Your Quilts: From Antique Quilts to Art Quilts» at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 1998.
Successfully completed a 15-hour course and examination on the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), the Congressionally-reorganized set of appraisal standards promulgated by The Appraisal Foundation: completed on May 18th, 2010, effective through May 18th, 2015.
In 2005, she served as a panelist at the «Collectors, Collecting and Collections»
symposium organized by The International Quilt Study Center.
Zegart's discerning eye and boundless energy in the service of quilt scholarship has engendered a greater public understanding of quilts and their history. She was an organizer and producer in 1991-1992 of «Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt,» a group of events, exhibitions and publications planned to illustrate and further the developments in the field over the then-twenty years since the beginning of the current quilt revival. The Quilt Index originated at a conference at this event.
In 1993 Zegart was a founder of The Alliance for American Quilts, a nonprofit organization that she served as Board President from 2000-2006. She led the efforts of its university and museum partners to preserve and share the nation's quilt heritage through projects such as «Quilt Treasures» and «Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories» and The Quilt Index, a searchable database of images and records (50,000 by the end of 2008) that can help to inspire and inform the work of quiltmakers, aficionados and scholars now and for the future.
For more than fifteen years (1980-1995) Zegart was a member of the Board of the Louisville Visual Art Association, a not-for-profit contemporary art center where she served as Chair of the Board and headed several of the standing committees. She served several terms on the board of St. Francis School in Goshen, Kentucky. She was a member of the Class of 1985 of Leadership Louisville. In 2004, Zegart was honored by being named a Woman of Distinction by the Center for Women and Families in Louisville, Kentucky, and an Associate Fellow of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2007 she was elected to the board of the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Zegart holds a B.A. in Education from the University of Michigan.