Craft in America, the Peabody Award-winning documentary series discovering the beauty, significance and relevance of handmade objects and the artists who make them, announces QUILTS, premiering on PBS Friday, December 27, 2019 at 9pm ET (check local listings). For more than a decade, Craft in America has taken viewers on cultural journeys across this nation, honoring the multiplicity of traditions that have come to define our country.
The journey begins at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, to meet Carolyn Ducey, Curator of Collections and Executive Director Leslie C. Levy, who introduce us to the world’s largest publicly held collection of approximately 6,000 quilts from more than 50 countries, dating from the 1600s to today. They serve as our touchstone through the episode. “Quilts are the textile pages of our shared history,” states Levy.
Next up is historian and storyteller, Ken Burns, an avid quilt collector who affirms quilts to be the “simplest and most authentic expression of who we are as a people.” 28 quilts from Burns’ American quilt collection were recently exhibited at the International Quilt Museum. “This is what human beings are required to do, to take raw materials and transform them into something greater than the sum of their parts. And that’s what a quilt is, that’s what art is.”
In Sheep Springs, NM, meet Susan Hudson, a Navajo/Diné artist, taught to sew by her mother who was forced to sew at an “assimilation” boarding school. Hudson’s pictorial quilts honor her ancestors using a crossover style inspired by ledger art. Recounting the history of her people from a Navajo perspective through her quilts has made Hudson an activist storyteller chronicling pain and hardship endured by her ancestors.
New York-based international award-winning quilter, fabric designer, teacher, author and lecturer, Victoria Findlay Wolfe has a fine art degree in painting but found her life’s passion in quilt making. She is known for making quilts that look difficult to make, then teaching quilters to make them. Every new quilt Findlay Wolfe makes pushes boundaries, supporting her premise that creativity requires risk.
Nearby in the historic Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem, Michael A. Cummings, a nationally recognized narrative quilter, lives and works. Self-taught, Cummings brought years of painting and collage skills to his quilt making. Inspired by jazz and the African American experience, Cummings uses his sewing machine to tell stories across historical, cultural, philosophical and mythical realms.
Across the continent, Judith Content uses inspiration from nature and a Japanese resist dye technique, arashi shibori, to create glorious freeform wall quilts in her Palo Alto, CA studio. She dyes then composes fabric into an abstract kimono form and uses her sewing machine as a drawing tool to achieve an evanescent visual haiku that communicates both emotionally and intellectually. These Art Quilts, made to be viewed on walls rather than placed on beds, expand both the definition of the quilt and its place in the art world.
There is a great deal more to share with viewers and the Craft in America websites craftinamerica.org and pbs.org/craftinamerica will be the portal for that expanded journey. There will be additional video clips as well as resources, information about quilt guilds nationwide, lists of exhibitions and shows, interviews with quilters, an education guide for K-12 students, quilting projects and of course, a virtual gallery of quilts.
The Craft in America Center is an exhibition and learning space in Los Angeles. The space gives voice to traditional and contemporary craft through artist talks, workshops, exhibits and concerts. 8415 W. Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048.
QUILTS: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE EPISODE exhibition on view at the Craft in America Center, January 11-March 21, 2020.