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Historical Quilts on Exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts Dec. 20, 2013–April 27, 2014

Nov 18 2013

Exhibition highlights changing perceptions and presentation of historical quilts in relation to American identity.

WASHINGTON—The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) presents “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts, an exhibition that explores the presentation, contextualization and interpretation of historical quilts. On view Dec. 20, 2013–April 27, 2014, this exhibition showcases 35 18th–20th-century quilts from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection. Revealing this medium’s shifting cultural status, “Workt by Hand” explores issues specific to quilting practices such as anonymity, authorship and collectivity as well as questions the conventional view of quilts as craft rather than fine art, all through a contemporary feminist lens.

The exhibition presents examples of iconic quilt designs and techniques while providing new insights into the different interpretive methods used to understand historical quilts. Spanning two centuries of quilt making, patterns in“Workt by Hand” include the “Barn Raising” or “Log Cabin” style, the “Garden Basket” style, “Double Wedding Band” designs, the “Rose of Sharon” pattern, and the Amish “Sunshine and Shadow” style as well as album quilts and “crazy quilts.”

The term “workt” featured in the exhibition title is an archaic spelling of “worked,” and the phrase “workt by hand” 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 have used to create quilts. The labor often went unrecognized by a society that valued individually creative activities undertaken by men.

“Quilt making was among the most significant forms of artistic production historically available to women,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “This exhibition helps to reveal wider truths about the status of women’s creative efforts in American society during the past 150 years and the relative value placed on their work.”

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