18 November 2011

Quilts at Newark Museum

Sunburst, made about 1840-1860, maker unknown.

In November, Jay and I were in New York City, paying calls on offspring. While in the Tri-State area, we ventured to the Newark Museum, a short drive from Manhattan. I learned about this exhibit at the American Quilter's Society website, a good source for the latest happenings in the quilt world. The AQS calendar of events can be found here: http://www.americanquilter.com/quilt_world/

Patchwork From Folk Art to Fine Art
is an exhibit of 30 quilts drawn from the Newark Museum's collection of 150 quilts, an unusual number for a small municipal museum. The museum's founder was a socially progressive polymath named John Cotton Dana, a sort of anti-Babbitt. Many thanks to the Librarian at the Newark Museum, Dr. William Peniston, who made me aware of a new biography of Dana, A Matter of Class: John Cotton Dana, Progressive Reform, and the Newark Museum, by Carol G. Duncan, and published by Periscope Publishing, Ltd., in 2009.

The exhibit runs through December 31. Learn more about the Newark Museum at http://www.newarkmuseum.org/

Left: the buildings that comprise the Newark Museum.
Right: interior details.

Wedding album quilt made in 1864 for
Mary Nevius Potter, Pottersville, New Jersey.

Quilts are material objects reflective of the time and place in which they were made. In the Potter Album quilt, above, a pieced and applique flag fits proudly, if somewhat incongruously, with conventional album blocks made by a community of women related in some way to the bride. The flag indicates their solidarity with the Union cause; these women couldn't vote, but they made their views known nonetheless. The blocks are not as fine or fancy as Baltimore album quilts; this may reflect a certain wartime pragmatism.

Left: Delectable Mountain, made between
1840 and 1860, maker unknown.
Right: Princess Feather variation,
made between 1840-1850, Catherine Fitzgerald.

Dana purchased the quilt on the left above in 1919, as he build up the Newark collection with objects made by ordinary, but gifted, people who were outside the Western fine arts academy tradition.

Hurley Family Album, 1867, members of the
Hurley farming family of Monmouth, New Jersey.

The central wreath of the Hurley Family quilt features small ink cartouches with the names of the six Hurley children. I wonder if it was a gift to their mother for a special birthday, or some other occasion.

Detail, Crazy quilt, ca. 1920, Mrs. Barbeau, Louisiana.

The quilt above was purchased by the Museum in 1998, and was made by an African-American woman who embroidered the names of her three sons, Alex, George and Henry, on the quilt. The elephant image, with its three-dimensional ear, is just one of the imaginative motifs on this quilt.

Detail, Chanticleer, 1935, made by Anna Phelps, New Jersey.
Pattern by designer Margaret Hays.

According to the exhibit label, the quilt was made from a commercial pattern purchased for ten cents from The Newark Evening News. Mrs. Phelps made this quilt, and matching sham, for her daughter's childhood bed; the daughter donated the ensemble to the museum. It would be interesting to track down the original pattern for comparison and to see if Mrs. Phelps personalized the design - she did a great job with the colors of those animated roosters.

Star quilt, 1984, Nellie Two Bulls.

I have read about the introduction of quilting by Anglo-American settlers to Native American women in mission schools, but hadn't seen a tribal quilt in person until this show. The women of the Sioux/Lakoda nation turned cultural imperialism on its head, and incorporated the pattern Star of Bethlehem into the Lakoda tradition of depicting stars in beadwork and paintings on animal hides. The star, an important symbol in Lakoda iconography, is a gift from the Great Spirit. Star quilts can be seen (and purchased) at websites such as http://shopping.aktalakota.org/browse.cfm/star-quilts/2,14.html

Child's quilt, Bibijan Ibrahimsahib,
India, 2004-2005.

The curator, a man with the wonderful name Ulysses Grant Dietz, has included two quilts from India made by members of the Siddi ethnic group, people descended from African immigrants to India. This underscores the international scope and pervasiveness of quilting. The quilts are made from sari and other scraps, and the actual quilting on these pieces suggests a less formal version of Japanese sashiko stitching, which also evolved from a tradition of fabric re-use. Find more information about the history of Siddi quilts at http://handeyemagazine.com/content/stitching-history

Phantoms in a Chinese Restaurant, Debbie Lee,
New Jersey, 1991-2.

The exhibit included contemporary quilts by Michael James and Teresa Barkley, and the quilt above, by Debbie Lee, a piece evocative of the Chinese restaurants in which so many immigrants worked upon their arrival in America. The back of the quilt, which is meant to be seen, utilizes a large rice grain sack as part of the composition. It was refreshing to see a quilt which depicted and celebrated the experience of working people, as do the murals of Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Left: Kitchenette. Right, top: Kefi,
Right, bottom: Sated diners.

Of course, art wasn't the only item on the menu, so to speak, during our trip, and I can recommend two new (to me) restaurants: Kitchenette (we ate at the one in Battery Park City) whose diner-style comfort food everyone likes, and Kefi, a Greek restaurant on the Upper West side. Kefi's Greek cuisine is not the stick-to-your-ribs slab of moussaka style, but lighter and quite good.

Kitchenette, http://

Kefi, http://kefirestaurant.com/