“Visual impact, design, sculptural quality, and fabrics are characteristics of antique quilts that guide collecting today,” according to NYC Americana dealer Laura Fisher. Design-astute individuals view quilts as art, not simply craft. They especially seek examples of innovative design and compositional vitality that resemble modern art but are pieced together of fabric, not painted on canvas. Quilts’ historical context is a bonus but not the sole reason to collect anymore, because they step up the impact of any interior.
Graphic quilts are the focus of a special collection assembled by Laura Fisher of FISHER HERITAGE at the Hayes Fine Arts Storage Building during NYC Americana week activities. Hayes is at 305 East 61st Street (Second and First Avenues) See them Monday through Friday, January 16-20 and January 23-27, 2012, from 10-4:30.
19th and 20th century quilts to seek out include rustic utilitarian quilts, African-American quilts, and quilts from various cultures. All were previously ignored in antiques scholarship but now are exhibited and studied worldwide. Formerly a higher premium went only to quilts from the hands of a skilled or an identified maker, but now collectors’ dollars endorse edgier, linear, graphic, anonymous antique and vintage examples.
Especially critical given the current economy, antique quilts are an ever more practical art investment. According to Fisher, “graphic quilts offer wall coverage inch by inch that is visually compelling for a fraction of the money that paintings of similar size and graphics sell for today; quilts are thousands, not millions! Many have a dynamic energy that buoys an environment and adds unique personality and originality to an interior.”
“Today, sought-after quilts have abstract designs, non-traditional patterns or materials, and a long distance graphic impact to dispel the old mental image of ‘quilt’ as a charming relic from granny's house," says Fisher. "Many geometric quilt designs pre-date 20th century art movements like Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Minimalism and Pop Art. How eye-opening to discover that similar visual effects arose decades earlier from quilt makers who were unschooled in art theories. While their patterns and materials may have an historic component, quilt visuals can be appreciated without knowing a thing about their context."
"Quilt designs have parallels in works by 20th-century artists whose multi-million-dollar paintings are now revered and even iconic. The compositions of Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt, Victor Vasarely, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Bridget Riley, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol and Sean Scully, for example, so resemble some antique pieced quilts in their geometry that we have to wonder whether this was merely the spontaneous generation of ideas, or whether 20th century artists were influenced by the works of anonymous quilt makers preceding them."
“For example, Amish quilts of the early 20th century, originating in a culture celebrated for minimalist icons such as Diamond in the Square and Bars, were among the first quilts to be collected by admirers of modern art. Josef Albers in his Homage to the Square color exercises explored tonal relationships in a way that Amish quilt makers intuitively juxtaposed color-saturated wool fabrics for their quilts. ‘Sunshine and Shadow’ variations find counterparts in Victor Vasarely’s orchestrated squares.”
Major impact graphics are Log Cabin quilts. By varying the juxtaposition of light and dark colors in square blocks pieced of narrow strips, larger scale designs emerge with evocative titles like Barn Raising, Straight Furrow, Courthouse Steps, Windmill Blades. When hung on a wall their graphics pop so that one can appreciate from afar the skillful manipulation of color and line. Frank Stella’s linear paintings, for example, astonish quilt admirers for their log cabin look.
Thanks to changes today in approaches to interior design and collecting, quilts from various eras find a home in even the most modern rooms. Traditional boundaries no longer limit interiors as designers reject pure period re-creations in favor of an eclectic, personalized approach.
Fisher’s modernist quilt choices include:
’STRIP BARS’ ANTIQUE PIECED QUILT a Tennessee wool suiting parallel to Sean Scully’s work
‘LOG CABIN’ VARIATION ANTIQUE PIECED QUILT of imprinted labels from clothiers and manufacturers, black with punch using text as a design element
DENIM ‘BRITCHES’ QUILT a nearly monochromatic abstraction
MONUMENTAL ‘X’ PATTERN ANTIQUE QUILT, Pennsylvania Mennonite/ Amish monumental linear graphic
‘CHEVRONS’ PATTERN ANTIQUE QUILT in Victorian era silks
‘TARGETS’ VINTAGE PIECED QUILT- circles of folded layered triangles resembling a Sonia Delauney
NINE PATCH PIECED VINTAGE QUILT PIECED of twill uniforms work clothing made by African American factory workers
24 FLAGS CIGAR FLANNELS PIECED ANTIQUE QUILT, repeating the. American flag across a quilt surface in pop art fashion
‘DOTS’ PIECED VINTAGE QUILT, a Bowtie variation that anticipates Damien Hirst
‘GATHER UP THE FRAGMENTS’ ANTIQUE QUILT using text as the design element - rows of pieced words from the Book of John describing the Passover feast
LOG CABIN BARN RAISING concentric diamonds from narrow strips of solid wool in an optical illusion