I’m about to say something scandalous.
I’m not really that into quilt shows.
I know, I know. As someone who sews, and as someone who quilts, that is just wrong. Right? But the truth is, I don’t know the last time I’ve seen a quilt show that’s really excited me. Of course, there’s always something wonderful about so much handmade work all in one spot. But most quilt shows tend to be more traditional, and my taste in quilts leans way more modern. And so that’s why, when someone says quilt show, my mind tends to wander.
But when a friend invited me to Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC this past weekend (otherwise known as The Red and White Quilt Show), she assured me it was something I couldn’t miss. The truth? I hadn’t done my homework on the show, didn’t know what I was in for, and agreed to go more for the company than for the quilts.
I didn’t expect much.
And then? I had my mind blown into a million little pieces.
First I have to say, my pictures don’t do this justice. (All I had was my camera phone. What a shame.) Second, keep in mind that the venue for this exhibit was at least as big as a football field, and maybe four stories tall inside. The scale was enormous. Look how little the people are.
So. This is the sight you saw when you first walked in the door. A towering spiral of red and white quilts surrounded by more and more quilts that floated in the air behind it, seemingly into infinity.
I gasped, broke out in goosebumps, and almost cried.
Surrounding the center spiral were a series of huge hanging cylinders of quilts. The pieces were hanging from simple cardboard tubes (each tube double-hung so that there were two quilts hanging from each one, both with their right sides facing out), and the tubes were all joined together, both vertically and horizontally, with thin cable. It created a beautiful metaphor for the connectedness that’s inherent in quilting. It made me think of quilting bees, of quilting circles, of women joining together to make these creations and of families who passed them down.
Every time I looked up close at the detail on one of the quilts, I got a lump in my throat just thinking about the women who made all those painstaking stitches. I wonder if they worked by candlelight, or sitting out on their porches, or gathered in a church hall?
At the very back of the hall was a wall of quilts hanging in a sweeping arc.
Every single quilt — all 651 of them — was perfectly lit, creating brilliant spots of red and white floating on a black background. It was so beautiful.
Most amazing of all? This show is only open for six days. That seems almost cruel. If it had been open for even one more weekend, I would have demanded that my mom cancel whatever she was doing and come see it. (And that you do, too.)
This collection, amazingly, belongs to one woman. Joanna Semel Rose has been collecting red and white quilts for decades. She has amassed over one thousand pieces, and says she made the collection by memory, never checking to see if she already owned a pattern before buying each new quilt. This exhibit is only half of them. Can you imagine that? Where did she store them all??
When her husband asked her what she wanted for her 80th birthday, she said she wanted to share her quilts with the city of New York. And this is what happened. (Hello, awesome. I hope my 80th birthday is at least this remarkable!)
The stunning, modern concept for how the quilts were displayed was the work of NY-based design firm Thinc. (Also cool: the display is designed to be completely recyclable. It’s just cardboard tubes and metal cable. Brilliant.)
And here’s a great New York Times article about the exhibit and Mrs. Rose, and some cool photos of the exhibit as it was being hung.
Sigh. What more is there to say? As far as quilt shows go, the bar has been raised.
And, I think I want to make a red and white quilt.