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|QUILT SHOW REVIEW: Georgia
Georgia Quilts: Piecing
"Before Monet, Picasso, & Matisse there were Mabel, Harriett, & Gladys." So goes the headline on the promotional flyer for "Georgia Quilts: Piecing Together History," the current show at the Nicholson Gallery of the Atlanta History Center. The last quilt show of note at the Nicholson Gallery was the marvelous traveling African-American quilts exhibit curated by Roland Freeman. Before that, the Olympic Games Quilts (http://planetpatchwork.com/oqfront.htm ) were featured in this relatively small gallery prior to the 1996 Atlanta games.
The Atlanta History Center is made up of several restoration dwellings, including The Swan House and the Tullie Smith House, with attendant gardens, and a museum featuring a variety of rotating exhibits. The center specializes in folk art, and has its own collection of about 200 historical quilts, including the Civil War quilt, written up in TVQ #26. It is one of the best tourist venues in Atlanta because of the unique, lively way it presents history, and not least because it is not well-known and therefore not crowded most days. It also has a fine restaurant.
The 80 quilts in this exhibit do not come from the museum's archives, however. They are borrowed from the owners of quilts documented in the Georgia Quilt Project. From 1990 - 1993, this grass roots movement measured, photographed, and documented 8,100 Georgia quilts, including 1,300 from the nineteenth century. Nine of these quilts were certified as having been made by slaves.
The pieces represent a wide variety of styles and each one has a story. Respecting the importance of this provenance, the exhibit tells many of these stories, and brings to life the people behind the quilts. One postage stamp quilt was entered in a contest by its owner, and won her a pump organ, a photo of which is displayed. Another log cabin utility quilt, sent with soldier Asbury Hargrove to battle in the Civil War, was used to wrap his body when it was returned to his family. Yet another, a tumbling blocks, was made by Anne Winter after the death of her husband in 1861, when she was 35. Left to raise five children alone, she cut up her fancy Paris wardrobe of satin and velvet to make the quilt. She never remarried.
A "possum quilt" made up of a series of blocks depicting possums (in honor of the maker's husband's love of possum hunting) is represented only by a photograph because the quilt itself could not be located by its owner.
The curators of this exhibit have also, as mentioned above, made an effort to recognize the contributions of African-American quilters, featuring quilts made by both free and slave black women.
Consistent with its educational mission, the museum takes the opportunity with the exhibit to present several "lessons" in quilting for the benefit of those not familiar with the craft. Miniature displays called "What is quilting?", "What is Piecing?", and "What is Applique?" give viewers an insight into the techniques involved in the construction of quilts. One clever display used plastic triangles and squares to demonstrate piecing. This is particularly popular with small children, who are able to manipulate the plastic pieces like a puzzle. These little displays are actually quite interesting, even to those of us familiar with the materials and techniques of quilting.
Surprisingly, the museum allows flash photography of the quilts, but the lighting inside the gallery is often too dim to really see the quilts well. They are interestingly hung, with large dramatic quilts on the walls and many others hung over quilt racks on the floor. Photos of their makers and other archival images of quilters in earlier days add to the historical aura. An alarm system, rigged to go off if anyone tried to touch the quilts, kept sounding, and became a nuisance after a while.
Besides the main exhibit room, there is a hallway outside which features some more contemporary quilts, so be sure not to miss it. There is also a fine gift shop, which sells quilt books and other craft items and, in the spirit of the occasion, raffle tickets for a quilt on display in the hallway (a dollar a pop). I was disappointed that there was not an exhibit catalogue available, but soon discovered that one is in the works. Unfortunately it will not be available until late this year, but it's being done by Rutledge Hill Press, one of the finest small publishers in the south.
Over the period of the exhibit, the museum is sponsoring several special quilting events, including a quilt preservation workshop on February 27 and a celebration of Georgia Quilt Day on March 28.
If you plan to be in Atlanta between now and Labor Day, put this exhibit on your itinerary. Wander through the fragrant gardens, tour the houses, and find out how folks lived in the 19th Century. And plan to have lunch at the Swan Coach House! It beats the heck out of Six Flags.