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Exhibition of rarely seen American and European quilts on view at the Brooklyn Museum
Victoria Royall Broadhead (American), Tumbling Blocks Quilt, circa 1865–70. Silk, velvet, wood, 64 x 68 in. (162.6 x 72.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Richard Draper, 53.59.1. Photo: Gavin Ashworth.

BROOKLYN, NY.- An exhibition of some thirty-five exceptional American and European quilt masterpieces from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts holdings examine the impact of feminist scholarship on the ways in which historical quilts have been and are currently viewed, contextualized, and interpreted. Only one of these rare quilts has been on public display in the past thirty years. “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts is on view in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art from March 15 through September 15, 2013.

Included are works that span two centuries of quilt making, including superb examples of some of the most iconic quilt designs and techniques, such as the “Barn Raising” or “Log Cabin” style, the “Garden Basket” style, “Double Wedding Band” designs, the “Rose of Sharon” pattern, the Amish “Sunshine and Shadow” style, a variety of album quilts, and examples of the “crazy quilts” that were in vogue in the late nineteenth century.

The exhibition explores the social history aspect of quilting through pieces such as an early nineteenth century patchwork “Liberty Quilt” with an American eagle at the center, attributed to Elizabeth Weltch of Warren County, West Virginia, that exemplifies how women used symbols of the American Revolution in quilts. Among the examples of the crazy quilt pattern is an extraordinary work by Mary A. Stinson, intricately made with the vibrantly colored textiles that were newly affordable at the time of the quilt’s making, and featuring an elaborate floral border.

In addition to examining the role of feminism in the popular medium of quilting, the exhibition also explores the merits of quilts as art, and the medium as an aspect of material culture with significant social and political implications. Included in the exhibition are historical installation photographs depicting a variety of quilt display techniques; newspaper clippings; sample pieces of quilts; and other ephemera relating to the history of quilts.

The term “workt,” featured in the exhibition title, cites the archaic spelling of “worked,” and the phrase “workt by hand’ is common in historical quilting literature, where it indicates the distinctive and personal nature of an object produced by a skilled craftsperson. “Hidden labor” references the considerable creative energy women have used to create quilts, which often went unrecognized by a society that valued individually creative activities undertaken by men.

“Workt by Hand” was organized by Catherine Morris, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

In the adjacent gallery in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist art, celebrating its sixth year, is the permanent installation of The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s iconic masterpiece celebrating the achievements of women throughout history through craft forms associated with the domestic, or feminine, realm. Each table setting, unique to the woman whose life it honors, includes a hand-painted china plate, ceramic flatware and chalice, and a napkin with an embroidered gold edge. The settings rest upon elaborately embroidered runners, executed in a variety of needlework styles and techniques taken from the periods in which these women lived.

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