Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts

June 12 – August 29, 2021
Quilts are a narrative art form, featuring themes that are political, spiritual, communal, and commemorative. Infused with history and memory, quilts map out intimate stories and legacies through a handcrafted language of design. Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts is an invitation to read quilts as maps, tracing the paths of individual histories that illuminate larger historic events and cultural trends. Spanning the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, this insightful and engaging exhibition presents eighteen quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The quilts represent a range of materials, motifs, and techniques, including traditional early American examples and contemporary sculptural assemblages. Handstitched Worlds demonstrates how this often overlooked medium balances creativity with tradition and individuality with collective zeitgeist. A visible kinship between quilt-making and cartography is evident, from seams and roadways to quilt blocks and city blocks. The choice of fabric and design reveals insights into the topography of a quilt maker’s world and that individual’s place within it. The motif in Nora Ezell’s Star Quilt, for example, evokes the celestial navigation used by slaves on the Underground Railroad. The quilt’s traditional eight-pointed Star of Hope pattern is drawn from the artist’s knowledge of the legacy of slavery, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction in the Jim Crow South. Like roadmaps, these unique artworks offer paths to a deeper understanding of America’s cultural fabric.

Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts was organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

Exhibition Highlights

Artist unknown, India, Soldier’s Quilt, 1850-75, wool, probably from military uniforms with embroidery thread, rickrack, and velvet binding; inlaid, layered-applique, hand embroidered, 67 x 66 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; gift of Altria Group, Inc.; photo by Gavin Ashworth
Jerry Gretzinger, Michigan and New York, Jerry's Map (E1/N1, Generation 11), 2009-12, felt-tip pen, colored pencil, acrylic, tape, and plastic clippings on cardboard, 8 x 10 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; gift of the artist; photo by Adam Reich
Artist unknown, “Ella” Crazy Quilt, 1922, suiting woolens with cotton embroidery, 84 x 68 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; gift of Frances S. Martinson; photo by Gavin Ashworth
Nora McKeown Ezell, Eutaw, Alabama, Star Quilt, 1977, cotton and synthetics, 94 x 84 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; photo by Scott Bowron
Lucy Frost, Dubuque, Iowa, Abraham Lincoln Flag Quilt, ca. 1886, cotton with cotton applique and embroidery, 61 x 75 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; gift of Florence W. and Joe P. Rhinehart; photo by Gavin Ashworth
Artist unknown, Virginia, Map Quilt, 1886, silk and cotton velvets and brocade with embroidery, 78 3/4 x 82 1/4 in.; courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum; gift of Dr. and Mrs. C. David McLaughlin; photo by Schecter Lee

Thanks to the members, donors, grantors, and sponsors who support exhibition and programs. Exhibitions and programs are supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Marketing supported in part by City of Wausau Room Tax funds. Support for hands-on art-making supplies comes from Wilmington Trust and the M&T Charitable Foundation.

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