Photo Essays

A New Book Argues Quilts Are Art

Quilt Book Cover
Four Centuries of Quits by Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)

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.

Bed Quilt Adapted from floor spread
Maker Unknown, “Bed Quilt Adapted from a Floor Spread, Deccan Region, India” (1730-1750), Cottons; Silk and metallic embroidery threads, 11-12 backstitches per inch 114 x 96 in. (290 x 244 cm), Museum Purchase, 1959-250 (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)
TC2003-400
Ruth Bower Swinney Ogden and Friends and Family, “Delectable Mountains Album Quilt Blocks, Organized and assembled by Ruth Bower Swinney Ogden Bridgeton, New Jersey” (1839-1847), Cottons; ink inscriptions, 7-8 running stitches per inch, 102 x 100 in. (259 x 254 cm), Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Purves and Helen Ogden Barnard (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)
TC1994-377
Maker(s) Unknown, “Baltimore Album Quilt, Baltimore, Maryland, Region” (ca. 1850), Cottons; ink inscriptions; cotton tape; silk embroidery threads, 10-12 running stitches per inch, 90½ x 91½ in. (230 x 232 cm), Gift of Foster and Muriel McCarl (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)
TC2009-0001
Probably a member of the Moore Family, “Lyres and Swags Quilt, York County, Virginia” (1845-1860), Cottons, 8-9 running stitches per inch, 92 x 92 in. (234 x 234 cm), Museum Purchase (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)
TC2008-5
Member of the Richter Family, Possibly Anna Richter Sunman, “Tulip Cross Crib Quilt, Ripley Country, Indiana” (1850-1860), Cottons; cotton embroidery threads, 8-11 running stitches per inch, 45⅛ x 35⅛ in. (115 x 89 cm), Museum Purchase (Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)
Lone Star Quilt
Indiana Bendolph Pettway, “Lone Star Quilt, Gee’s Bend, Alabama” (ca. 1970), Cotton, polyester, 3-4 running stitches per inch, 80 x 79½ in. (203 x 202 cm), Museum Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. T. Marshall Hahn Jr. Fund (Image courtesy of (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Association with Yale University Press)

Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey’s Four Centuries of Quilts is available at Yale University Press and Amazon.

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