“Workt by Hand”

  • Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
    Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
  • Bars Quilt, Pennsylvania, ca. 1890; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Peter Findlay; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
    Bars Quilt, Pennsylvania, ca. 1890; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Peter Findlay; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Bars Quilt, Pennsylvania, ca. 1890; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. Peter Findlay; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
  • Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia, Medallion Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Roebling Society; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum
    Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia, Medallion Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Roebling Society; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia, Medallion Quilt, ca. 1830; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Roebling Society; Photo Gavin Ashworth 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

“Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts on view December 20, 2013–April 27, 2014

Over time, quilts have been revered as nostalgic emblems of the past, hailed as examples of American ingenuity, and dismissed as women’s work. This exhibition breaks new ground by examining these categorizations through the lens of contemporary feminist theory. In an innovative display, “Workt by Hand” showcases 35 18th–20th-century quilts from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection. Revealing the shifting cultural status of this medium, the exhibition explores issues specific to quilting practices, such as anonymity versus authorship and the conventional view of quilts as craft rather than fine art.

Quilt-making was among the most significant forms of creative expression historically available to women. The term “workt” featured in the title, an archaic spelling of “worked,” is common in historical quilting literature, indicating the distinctive and personal nature of an object produced by a skilled craftsperson. “Hidden labor” references the considerable creative energy women used to create quilts—labor that often went unrecognized by a society that placed greater value on creative activities undertaken by men.

The exhibition examines the historical designation of quilts as crafts rather than art objects, as well as the Modernism-influenced shift during the late 20th century toward an appreciation of quilts as works of abstract art. This shift, and its implications for the way quilts have been seen and understood, will be explored by presenting them both vertically—as they are now frequently shown in museums and galleries—and horizontally, as though on the beds for which many were originally designed.

Spanning two centuries, “Workt by Hand” features examples of iconic quilting designs and techniques, including the “Log Cabin” style, “Double Wedding Band” designs, Amish “Sunshine and Shadow” style, album quilts, and “crazy quilts.” Within thematic sections, the exhibition emphasizes the intriguing and ever-changing interpretation of quilts.


Related Programs

January 812–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Curator’s Choice
January 134:30–7:30 p.m.Teacher Workshop: Beneath Quilts
January 1512–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Curator’s Choice
January 2212–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Textiles in Art
January 2912–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: “What’s going on in this quilt?”
February 1212–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: For the Love of Quilts!
February 125–8 p.m.NMWA Nights: Wine, Twine, and Valentine
February 1912–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Curator’s Choice
February 2112–1:00 p.m.Curator Talk: “Workt by Hand”
February 2312–5:00 p.m.In-gallery Demonstrations
February 2312–5:00 p.m.Workshop: Catch the Quilting Bug
February 2612–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: The Power of the Quilt
March 512–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Fabulous Functionality
March 1212–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Complicated and Creative Crazy Quilts
March 1612–5 p.m.Free Community Day & In-gallery Demonstrations
March 1612–5 p.m.Workshop: Catch the Quilting Bug
March 1912–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Must You Be So Formal
March 2112–1 p.m.Curator Talk: “Workt by Hand”
March 2612–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: “Workt by Hand”
April 212–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Curator’s Choice
April 510–2 p.m.Workshop: Catch the Quilting Bug
April 510–5 p.m.In-gallery Demonstrations
April 912–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: Textiles in Art
April 1612–12:30 p.m.Gallery Talk: “Workt by Hand”
April 1812–1 p.m.Curator Talk: “Workt by Hand”
April 2412–12:30 p.m.Curator Talk: “Workt by Hand”

“Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts is organized by the Brooklyn Museum. Its presentation at the National Museum of Women in the Arts is made possible through the generous support of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Arkansas State Committee of NMWA. Additional funding is provided by the Coby Foundation and the members of NMWA.