Amish Quilts and Recent Acquisitions at the Textile Museum

Megan Holloway Fort Exhibitions

When the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was founded in 1997, an important aspect of its mission was to promote scholarship by exhibiting its vast collection at institutions throughout the world. Tomorrow a group of the center’s Amish quilts goes on view at the Textile Museum in Washington in the exhibition Constructed Color: Amish Quilts, which emphasizes the visual connections between these quilts, which often feature large single color areas, and mid-twentieth-century painting.

This is certainly not a new approach to the material. The art world took note of some of the similarities between quilts and modern art when the Whitney Museum exhibited a group of pieced quilts on its gallery walls in the 1971 show Abstract Design in American Quilts. Sixty of the quilts included in that exhibition are now in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, part of a 2003 gift of more than four hundred quilts from the collector and author Jonathan Holstein.

Many of the Holstein quilts are included in this exhibition at the Textile Museum, which highlights the differences between the quilts made in the Amish communities in Lancaster and Mifflin Counties in Pennsylvania and those by the midwestern Amish. For instance, classic Lancaster County Amish quilts typically include flat planes of saturated colors—rich blues, browns, and tans in unusual combinations. Midwestern examples, in comparison, usually have dark backgrounds and repeating patterns, and are often made of polished cottons, giving the fabric a noticeable sheen. Mifflin County is home to three different groups—Nebraska Amish, Byler Amish, and Renno or Peachy Amish—each with its own quilt-making tradition. Nebraska Amish quilts normally incorporate brown, blue, purple, and gray fabrics in specific patterns. Byler Amish groups use many of the same patterns but also include pink, yellow, orange, and blue colors. Renno quilts are similar to many midwestern examples, but are distinguished by their black backgrounds juxtaposed with bright yellow, blue, purple, and green fabrics. In spite of their differences, quilts and quilting served the same roles for all the groups-not only practical, but also as vehicles for socialization, relaxation, and community building.   

Also on view at the Textile Museum is an exhibition of nineteen recent acquisitions. The diverse pieces—clothing, bags, rugs, and furnishing fabrics drawn from several continents—have been added to the permanent collection within the past five years.

Constructed Color: Amish Quilts · Textile Museum, Washington · April 4 to September 6 · Recent Acquisitions · Textile Museum · to January 3, 2010 ·