The techniques of piecing, patching, and appliquéing fabrics and then binding layers with stitches—the fundamental elements of quiltmaking—have been known to exist for centuries in different locales and cultures. From providing warmth to documenting family histories to decorating homes and storefronts, quilts offer nostalgia, sentimentalism, and symbolism through detailed craftsmanship.
Although quilts have been made around the world for centuries (dating as far back as Ancient Egypt and China), it is in the United States where quiltmaking has become ubiquitous, considered by many to be the quintessential American folk art. The quilting methods used in early times and disparate locations have carried forward to the present, and quiltmaking continues to be an engaging art form for local craftspeople and acclaimed artists alike.
The Sum of Many Parts: Quiltmakers in Contemporary America presents 14 quilts in varying styles, created by artists who are actively producing work today. Hailing from 14 different states, the artists featured in the exhibition boast diverse backgrounds and paths that led them to textile art. Some began quilting and sewing in their youth, while others did not pursue the art form until adulthood. Many learned the craft at home, creating practical blankets for their families. Others are academically trained artists who chose textiles as their primary medium.
Bonnie LeBeau for example, is a Native American artist based in South Dakota who creates traditional, hand-crafted star quilts. The artistry of the star quilt was first introduced to Northern Plains Indians by missionaries in the late 1800s and ultimately led to the replacement of the sacred buffalo robe used for tribal ceremonies and special occasions. Star quilts are often intended to honor and protect the person for whom they are made. LeBeau’s hand-crafted designs, including Ano Peta (Morning Fire), which is featured in the show, reflect the techniques, stories, and symbolism that were passed down from generations before her.
Erick Wolfmeyer of Iowa, on the other hand, attended art school and was professionally trained in photography before taking on quilting later in life. Merging utility with beauty, Wolfmeyer’s works reinterpret traditional quilt patterns and are inspired by the landscape and colors of the rural Midwest.
Longtime fiber artist Dottie Moore, who resides in South Carolina, describes her nature-inspired quilts as “visual conversations with fabric and thread to explore the mysteries of earth and sky.” Moore’s pieces, which are completed without the use of sketches or pattern, often feature trees, pathways, and mountains. On display in The Sum of Many Parts is Moore’s Metamorphasis, a striking quilt that took 10 years to finalize by combining layers of hand-painted fabric, cotton batting, and machine embroidery.
As a whole, the exhibition highlights a range of quilting styles and techniques while providing an opportunity for assorted audiences to connect with American culture through our shared love of textile arts.