Schwenke Auctioneers - Anniversary Fine Estates Auction - May 22

Great American Quilts Come Together in 'Pattern and Purpose' Exhibition

  • OMAHA, Nebraska
  • /
  • September 30, 2018

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Unidentified maker, Applique Roses and Tulips Quilt, 1840-1860, cotton, 90 x 87 in., Collection of Shelburne Museum, Museum purchase, 1959-176.2. Photography by Andy Duback.
Ellen Fullard Wright, Applique and Pieced Star of Bethlehem and Ships Wheel Quilt with Baskets and Birds, late 19th century, pieced, appliquéd, and quilted cotton, 95 x 73 in., Collection of Shelburne Museum, Museum purchase, 1991. Photography by Andy Duback.
Unidentified maker, Pieced Boston Commons and Double Nine Patch Variation Amish Quilt, 1890-1920, cotton and wool, 80 x 80 in., Collection of Shelburne Museum, Museum purchase, acquired from Elaine Hart, 1988-52.6. Photography by Andy Duback.

Shelburne Museum was the first American museum to exhibit quilts as works of art, a testament to the trailblazing vision of museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) and her passion for fine, folk, and decorative arts. Fascinated by design elements of color, pattern, line, and construction, and eager to recover a quintessentially “American” style of material culture, she established the core of Shelburne’s collection through the personal gift or purchase of over 400 historic bedcoverings in the 1950s. Pattern and Purpose pulls back the covers on these everyday household companions that can transcend the commonplace.

Pattern and Purpose is organized by Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont. The exhibition opens to the public at Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha on Saturday, October 6, and continues through January 6, 2019.

Throughout the history of quilt-making, the finest pieces were often made to be admired rather than used. Brought out of cupboards and trunks on special occasions, highly-prized bedcovers linked family and community histories, bridging the gap between domestic life and public display. Young women often created quilts as part of their dowries, and quilts were gifted as expressions of friendship, devotion, or charity. By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were increasing public venues for their display, including state and county fairs, where adept quilt-makers competed for prizes and local renown. Today, quilt-making is recognized as an art form in its own right, revealing creative expression through their thoughtful design and careful execution and carrying the unique hand of their makers as clearly as a painting or sculpture might.  

Bringing together thirty-two masterpieces made between the first decades of the 1800s and the turn of the twenty-first century, Pattern and Purpose ranges from early whole-cloth quilts created for warmth and utility, to carefully-pieced Lemoyne stars, embroidered botanical “best quilts,” and contemporary art quilts. Bold in design and pattern, they reveal the skill of their makers, from complex geometric designs that would feel at home in a gallery of Pop Art, to delicate patterns drawn from nature. By placing these quilts on the museum wall, we gain an expanded sense of what art can be, and recognize how invention and discovery can be found in the most familiar of places.

Visit the Pattern and Purpose page at

Tags: folk art

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