Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon

c. 1930. Image (c) Faith and Stephen Brown
Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown.

Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) explores the phenomenon of Amish quilts and the people who have loved them during the last half-century. Appealing to both scholarly and popular audiences, this book interprets its subject with a wide-angle lens, examining the viewpoints of Amish families, antiques dealers, art collectors, multinational corporations, fashion designers, tourists to Amish country, and Hmong needleworkers.

By exploring the relationship of Amish quilts to the individuals who made, bought, sold, exhibited, and preserved them during the last half of the twentieth century, this book investigates intersections of art, craft, fashion, globalization, religion, ethnicity, and consumer culture. I argue that both Amish and non-Amish individuals, influenced by understandings of theology, Modernism, connoisseurship, nostalgia, “Amishness,” consumerism, and authenticity, crafted the value of Amish quilts during this era. This value was of course monetary, but also aesthetic, emotional, and cultural.

Quilt for sale at The Amish Village, Lancaster Co., PA.

Although aspects of this story are relatively recent history, I tell it with an historical approach following a loosely chronological narrative. I examine how these bedcovers—once solely objects made and used in Amish homes—emerged within 19th-century Amish homes in the midst of the industrial revolution and colonial revival, and then became first works of art worth a lot of money and second, commodities made in home-based Amish industries and sold to tourists. I use historical analysis of archival and published sources, examination of quilts, and oral history interviews to tell this story.

What others say

“This book is a landmark not only in the field of quilt history but also in American social history, The author traces the cultural biography of Amish quilts from the hands of their makers to the hands of their collectors, with many stops in between. The extraordinary color plates reveal the beauty of Amish quilts, while the impeccably researched text reveals the complexity of this craft tradition.” — Janet Berlo, University of Rochester, author of Quilting Lessons (2001) and co-editor of Wild by Design: Two Hundred Years of Innovation and Artistry in American Quilts (2003).

“Janneken Smucker offers a comprehensive study of Amish quilts in context, placing them beyond the Brethren communities into the wider world of commerce and culture. She insightfully explores the Amish quilt and its role among critics and galleries, dealers and pickers, hired seamstresses, folkart gurus, and American mythmakers.” — Barbara Brackman, quilt historian, author of Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts

“Janneken Smucker has woven together facts about a fascinating and complex people—their history and their quilts—and has completely pulled back the curtain (or should I say quilt?), like no one else before to reveal the inside history about collecting and commerce of these prized objects. This is a book many of us have been waiting for.”—Roderick Kiracofe, author of The American Quilt: A History of Cloth and Comfort, 1750–1950

“Smucker’s excellent book is beautifully written and will significantly advance the scholarship in quilt studies and, more broadly, material culture studies and art history. This is the book that will stand as the authoritative text on Amish quiltmaking.”—Marsha MacDowell, Michigan State University Museum



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