Does quilting count as art? In Four Centuries of Quilts, an expansive new survey published by Yale University Press, authors Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey say yes. “Many quilts actually take the viewer into the sublime,” they write. “They make you feel something you might not have felt otherwise. This is what makes quilts a form of art and not simply a craft with the function of providing warmth.”
The book presents a powerful case. It features 150 intricate quilts from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, an institution in Virginia that boasts one of the country’s finest quilt collections. Most were created by women whose lives were largely ignored by history, even while their handiwork transcended race, religion, and culture. These include embroidered silk quilts from India, calico ones from Europe, and appliquéd examples from Hawaii. There are nine-patch quilts sewn by rural Amish communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as star quilts pieced together by African American women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. These richly informative textiles connect us to the past, other cultures, each other. Sounds like art to me.