After a tip in church on Sunday (thank you Julie), I kidnapped my husband and daughter for an excursion today without telling them where we were going. Our life is so busy, when do we have time for fun? You’d think being self-employed and homeschooling we’d be the image of flexibility, but not exactly! I had to forcibly assert this adventure into our week, since spontaneity hasn’t been much of a priority lately. And oh my gosh, I’m so glad I did! This show was beyond amazing and I’m totally inspired.
We dipped into New York City for two delightful hours at the “Infinite Variety: 300 Hundred Years of Red and White Quilts” show. All 651 of these quilts were in one woman’s collection. When Joanna Rose was asked what she wanted for her 80th birthday, she said she wanted to see all of her quilts in one place, and to share this gift to her as a free gift to New York City. The show was held in the Park Avenue Armory, which is an enormous, cavernous place, and it was indeed free to the public. They obtained proposals from design firms regarding how to display the quilts, and the team that won the contract was Thinc Designs, who are the same firm that is doing the September 11 Memorial and also designed the pavilion for the Beijing Olympics.
The quilts were amazing on their own, with such a huge variety all within the constraints of red and white. But the way they were displayed – taking full advantage of the height of the space, the darkness of the ceiling, and the consonance between pieces – was absolutely breathtaking. Their imaginative rigging of this show involved as much engineering as design and it was flawlessly organized to go up quickly from a pulley system operated from the floor. All this careful planning and staging helped you take in the juxtaposition between the quilts, contrasting and layering them as individual design elements, much like each separate square does for an overall quilt. It was brilliant.
This show had many other innovative touches other than the quilts themselves, or the fashion in which they were shown. Instead of a wand where you can punch in a number to hear about an item, this exhibit utilized the fact that most people have cell phones. There was a telephone number to call at each spot if you wanted more information in a particular location. Also, by letting them hold ransom a photo id and a credit card, they would loan you an iPad where you could view an app (it is free to download for anyone) which had on it every quilt, so you could zoom in and see up close even those quilts forty feet above you.
Each quilt in itself represented a community since many of these had been made by multiple people. Then these quilts brought together as a collection became a community. Furthermore, it took a community of efforts to put this show on: Joanna Rose’s family got the American Folk Museum on board to help in this too. But then there were especially the community of admirers who came out to see the show: all of whom were uniformly eclectic, appreciative, wonderful people. Strangers chatted together like old friends about how the quilts were done, or how to call the cell numbers, or where to get the iPads. When my husband mentioned we had come in specifically from Connecticut to see this show, the other woman commented that she had come all the way from Chicago to see it!
But this show was not just about design or community. It was about faceless women finding a creative outlet and kindred community in a way that freed them from the drudgery of their hardworking lives. The quilts were red and white because Turkish red (synthetically produced in America as early as 1868) was the most light and color fast. These practical women were not going to put all their work into something that faded or bled! But could they have imagined their efforts being viewed as important centuries later? This show is akin to a tomb to an unknown soldier. These unheralded artisans were finally getting their due, honored, respected and validated anonymously and posthumously. I can not only relate to this, but find it thrilling: I am one of these unsung women. This show says to us that there is hope that our worth will be at some point recognized, even though we may never know it. And if I was burdened by endless drudgery before I came to this exhibit, I realize mine doesn’t even begin to compare with what these women dealt with. Also this show provided a complete pattern interrupt for me, catapulting me back to a mindset where my myriad responsibilities are a joy and a privilege. Such is the dignity and power of anything hand made and it’s ability to transport you!
I took gobs of photos, many of which can be seen below. The opportunity for composition when trying to record this event was mind boggling. After all, this is by far the biggest quilt show ever in the history of New York City! Not only the quantity of images, but the dimension added by other elements peeking from behind each one, the interesting perspectives coming from every angle, the comparison and contrast between neighboring pieces, all lent to a delicious smorgasbord of pattern and concord: fascinating fodder to photograph! Tomorrow, I will show closeups of individual quilts, but in this post, the photos will focus on how they work in concert to form a grand symphony. Joanna Rose will be donating 50 quilts after this to the American Folk Museum. I don’t know whether she or they will choose the ones donated, but I’m wondering as you look at these photographs, which fifty would you choose?
On the way out of the exhibit, there was a book in which to thank Mrs. Rose, and wish her a happy 80th birthday. I wrote to her about my appreciation for showing me the infinite possibilities available to us even within our respective constraints, and how vital it is to allow ourselves permission to occasionally suspend the demands impinging on us, and do something we want to do that nourishes our soul. There are so many more possibilities than we explore; how thrilling of a discovery is that? My dear husband wrote her that, while the exhibit was marvelous, she was even more so for sharing it with us.
I left literally skipping down Park Avenue, radiantly happy. I felt like I had been rewarded by seeing prayer flags at the top of a mountain that had been difficult to reach. And the grand vista before me was exhilaratingly!
Red and White Quilt Show: