University of Michigan Museum of Art

Ann Arbor, MI




Amish Quilts 1880 to 1940 from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown

July 8 - September 10, 2000


A new exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art brings into sharp focus the bold, rich colors and striking shapes of historic Amish quilts. The quilts in the exhibition, organized by the Museum of Art, are drawn from the extensive collection of Faith and Stephen Brown, U-M alumni, who have spent about twenty-five years collecting and studying Amish quilts. As the Browns have chosen to focus their collection on the aesthetic complexity inherent in Amish quilts, rather than on solely cultural or historical considerations; the quilts on view this summer reveal particularly strong graphic qualities and intense color combinations. But they are also from many different regions--Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kansas, and Indiana--and give the viewer an opportunity to revel in the vibrant diversity of Amish quilting styles, and also to trace the development of this rich artform from region to region.

Amish women began making quilts around 1850, much later than their non-Amish neighbors. In keeping with Amish principles, they worked with simple designs embellished only with ornate quilting. At first, the colors they used were deep blues and reds, often combined with rust, olive, gold and other earth tones. After 1900, the colors became more jewel-like. The years 1880 to 1940 are widely regarded as the "classic" period of Amish quiltmaking. During this time, Amish quiltmakers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other settlement areas created a unique body of work that reflected the spiritual values of their fundamentalist communities, while at the same time displaying distinctive approaches to abstract design and color usage. With patterns descriptively -- and poetically -- named Broken Star, Birds in the Air, Broken Dishes, and Crosses and Losses, these quilts are evidence of a deep creativity wedded with practicality and religious devotion. They are also powerful icons of the Amish community and its worldview, which is steeped in concepts of simplicity, humility, and separateness. (left: Maker unknown, Amish, probably Holmes County, Broken Dishes (crib quilt), c. 1930, cotton and cotton sateens, 37 x 32 1/2 inches, Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown)

Guest curators Robert Shaw of Quilts Inc., and Julie Silber of Quilt Complex--two of America' s leading Amish quilt specialists--have collaborated with the Museum of Art's Curator of Western Art Annette Dixon, to organize the exhibition. Accompanying the exhibition is an extensive, full-color catalogue, featuring an introduction by Robert Shaw; an essay by master quilter and author Joe Cunningham on the visual aspects of the quilts; and an essay by Amish quilt scholar Eve Granick on their cultural context. Following its showing in Ann Arbor, the exhibition travels to the Smithsonian American Art Museum' s Renwick Gallery.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/18/11

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