23 June 2010

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at the Quilt Museum

Title slide of Prof. Ulrich's presentation.

On June 19, DH and I took in a lecture presented by Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. She presented her work-in-progress for her next book, an in-depth study of an album quilt made in 1857 by women in a Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) community in Utah territory. This object could easily be dismissed as just another another example of the decorative output of women with no other artistic outlet. However, Prof. Ulrich finds linkages between this object and many aspects of American history, including issues of community self-governance, religion and faith, as well as marriage and sexuality.

The women who contributed to the quilt are profiled in Carol Holindrake Nielson's book The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857, which provided Ulrich with invaluable background material for her own research.

The lecture was excellent and I can't wait to read the finished book. I first became aware of Ulrich when she spoke at my town library shortly after the publication of her book
The Age of Homespun, a seminal work in the field of object-centered cultural history. Through impeccable research, Ulrich largely debunks the early American mythology established by such sentimentalists as Wallace Nutting.

Prof. Ulrich speaking.

Prof. Ulrich's book.

This scholarly but engaging presentation is just the kind of activity I look for from the quilt museum. The lecture tied in nicely to the museum's current exhibit, Women's Writes: Signature Quilts and Stories, which presents quilts, often community projects and fund-raisers, featuring the names of contributors inscribed in the quilt blocks. While it's long been assumed that "anonymous was a woman," in these quilts women were encouraged to record their autograph for posterity. Having one's name so visibly recorded, and, indeed celebrated, must have been empowering.

Quilt with inked signatures and partially embroidered signatures.

Redwork signatures.

Mariner's compass with names, barely visible, in the compass center.

This show, which ends July 11, is very well conceived and curated - kudos to the museum!