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Quilt Exhibition for Sale -
"Quilts: A Window to the Past"

S'Star of Bethlehem' quilt from 'Quilts: A Window to the Past' collectionhelly is pleased and excited to be able to offer for sale for the first time an important quilt exhibition created and curated by Victoria Hoffman in 1989.

This small exhibition is a hidden gem. It has traveled in the U.S. and Japan and has been in storage since its last venue at the Hudson River Museum in New York in 2003.

'Quilts: A Window to the Past' Catalogue CoverThe exhibition and accompanying catalogue are both titled Quilts: A Window to the Past. The catalogue was produced by the originating institution, the Museum of American Textile History, now in Lowell, Massachusetts.

It is an educational exhbition complete with quilts, objects, photographs and ephemera (See Contents List). In 1989 this exhibition was revelatory, as it was one of the first to place quilts in a broader context, reflecting their role in the history of American culture. It is a rich teaching resource, and would provide a sound base for any institution’s textile collection, as many different exhibitions and themes can be drawn from the assembled contents. Shelly is representing Victoria Hoffman, a colleague she has known and respected for the past 30 years. For more information please contact Shelly.


Exhibit Installation Photos


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Sample Catalogue Pages

Below are sample pages from the catalogue that accompanied the original exhibit. Please click on corresponding headers to view available sample pages.


 Installation Sample #1

In the beginning of the 19th Century, the bed with its expensive textiles was an important part of fashionable household furnishings, and bed clothes reflected a family's social status. The hangings and coverings also provided essential privacy and warmth. Imported fabrics were available, but costly, and rural families made many of their own household textiles such as bed hangings, sheeting, blankets and quilts, tablecloths, toweling, aprons, and work garments. Spinning, weaving, and sewing took a major portion of a family's time: a simple bed sheet containing six yards of cloth required approximately three weeks of spinning and a week of weaving.

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About the Quilt

Pieced quilt, Indian Meadow, Rocky Glen or Little Sawtooth.
Boston, c. 1835. Cotton; cotton chintz. Plain weave; roller and block-printed. Binding: cotton plain weave; hand woven on a tape loom. 112"x116".

These names have several sources: "Indian Meadow" refers to places where native Americans lived or gathered food; "Rocky Glen" describes the landscape, and "Little Sawtooth" likens the trianglular patches to the teeth of a saw blade. This quilt came with the story that it was made in Boston for a bride in Baltimore. Although there is no documentaiton to support this, the quality of the workmanship and the fine condition of the quilt strongly suggests that it was made for a special occasion and was highly valued by its owners. It is cut out at the bottom for use on a four-poster bed. Fine clamshell quilting covers the body, and the border is quilted with leaves.


 Installation Sample #12

The celebration of the Nation's Centennial at Philadelphia in 1876 set the stage for the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement. Heavily influenced by the Japanese exhibit, this movement glorified the artistic aspects of women's hand work, but rejected traditional patchwork. The Crazy Quilt, with its Japanese motifs, was a direct response to this new decorative style.

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About the Quilt

Pieced, embroidered and appliqued Crazy Quilt with Devil.
New York State, 1885-1895. Silk; velvet; satin; cotton sateen; silk chenille thread; cotton flannel; cotton; 78"x69".

This is a very crazy Crazy quilt. The foundation blocks are of uneven sizes and are poorly aligned. The border of cotton sateen is in conflict with the richer silks and satins in the quilts, and the crude binding of cotton backing brought around to the front is a poor frame for the ornate embroideries and appliques. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting piece. It contains the typical crazy quilt motifs of flowers, horseshoe, owl, swan, basket, butterfly and geometric shapes, all rendered with great skill. But a very unusual appliqued devil holding a serpent, and a black and red dragon are also pictured. Typical crazy quilts have images of Japanese women. This one has two distinctly Chinese men.


 Installation Sample #16

In any society, at any time, traditional ideas are preserved and revived by some, while "modern" developments are extolled by others. Two conflicting trends, the Colonial Revival and the infatuation with ready-made, store-bought goods met head to head at the end of the century. Attitudes toward quilts and hand work reveal this conflict.

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About the Quilt

Pieced quilt, Birds in the Air.
Indiana, 1890-1920. Cotton; plain weave. 82"x76".

The coloring of this quilt is typical pf the post 1890's to late 1920's period. Brown has disappeared and is replaced by black, blue, red, wine and grey calicoes. The scattering of red draws the eye to different parts of the quilt, while the tips of the triangles seem to point in every direction at once. The effect is intensely dynamic, and it eloquently captures the image of the pattern name - Birds in the Air. This is almost certainly a scrap quilt; the poor workmanship indicates that is was made either by a very inexperienced quilter or a very elderly one. Perhaps it is an example of the decline of quilting skills around the turn of the 20th century. Nevertheless it is a wonderful example of naive art, and was an enormous endeavor, containing approximately 10,000 pieces.


 Installation Sample #18

The Great depression forced families to return to earlier pioneer values of thrift and self-reliance. Women recycled grain and feed bags into clothing, towels, pillow cases, curtains, tablecloths, and quilts. This practice was so prevalent that Bag companies, competing for women's business, replaced plain bags with attractive printed sacks. Bags were traded among women at "bag parties" where a premium was placed on bags from distant towns. Even the smallest fragments from cut bags were saved.

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About the Quilt

Pieced quilt Spinning Triangles.
Found in New Hampshire, c. 1935. Cotton; plain weave. 77"x69".

This is an eye-dazzling example of an optical illusion quilt. Two patterns are combined, with what may be an original result: the tiny patches create the spinning triangles, while the blue and pink arms of the "Job's Troubles" seem to float on top of this kaleidoscopic sea. For good measure the maker added an ice cream cone or petals border with a scalloped edge. It seems likely that the triangles are made up of scraps of fabric, while the blue and pink may have been purchased. Perhaps the quilter felt she had been thrifty enough using up her scraps for the triangles, and could splurge on some bought fabric for the rest.


Letter from Exhibit Curator


When Quilts: A Window to the Past, an antique quilt exhibition, was conceived in 1989, American antique quilts were already hung on the walls of museums, viewed as art objects. Most exhibitions at that time focused on the aesthetic value of quilts. My goal in creating Quilts: A Window to the Past was then, and still is today, to show the public that quilts should also be placed in a broader context because they reflect the history of American culture.

Additional objects in the exhibit visually augment the viewer's understanding of this concept. This exhibition represents 10 years of research into and collecting of quilts, objects, photographs and ephemera. Quilts and related ephemera have been collected avidly for three decades and it would be extremely difficult to replicate such an exhibition today. This collection has been exhibited internationally and at several well-regarded American museums: four venues in Japan and four museums in the United States, before being retired in excellent condition in 2003.

This is an unparalleled, visually appealing and educational exhibition. It is easily understood by the public on a variety of levels. Revealing how quilt styles and popularity were affected by such factors as the impact of war and technology on women's roles, the power of beauty in ordinary lives, and the development of commercialism and consumerism, it stimulates viewers to look for such connections in other areas of history. It offers myriad educational opportunities, providing tools for students to explore a wide range of issues such as: women's roles in the home, politics, and the workplace; the impact of industrialization and urbanization on the structure of American families; changes in aesthetic standards and values; the development of black identity; the power of grass-roots political action, and changes in our understanding of child development.

The exhibition has been designed to follow an historical timeline. However it can be re-organized to focus on one or more of the areas described above. This exhibition is also flexible enough to allow the removal of items without reducing its clarity or effectiveness. Conversely, it can absorb additional objects from your own collection, especially if you wish to highlight, for example, an aspect of local history. And if you want to add contemporary quilts made by area quilt-makers (as was done by the Stonybrook Museum), or others from a traveling show (as at the Hudson River Museum), the final section linking the past with today’s quilt-making provides a natural and effective transition.

Interest in the material culture approach to the study of American quilts is greater today than ever. Consequently this is the right time for Quilts: A Window to the Past to become part of the collection of an institution that will be committed to its future, as I have been committed to its creation and stewardship. The complete exhibition is currently offered for sale. None of the objects from this exhibition have ever been for sale previously.

Victoria Hoffman


 For more information please contact Shelly.