Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon
Published with Johns Hopkins University Press in Fall 2013, I take a wide-angle view of Amish quilts from their 19th-century origins within Amish homes, to their gallery debut in 1970s New York City, to their role as a newfangled cash-crop in Amish settlements, to their status as commodities within global markets. With over 100 high quality color images, the book is a visual treat, serving as inspiration for artists and quiltmakers, and as a great addition to your coffee table.
Goin’ North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia
The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Migration, one of the most significant historical transformations of the twentieth century. Between the First World War and early 1970s more than six and a half million African Americans fled the American South for northern and then western cities in a great mass exodus that transformed America and helped lay the ground work for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
In fall 2014 and Spring 2016 Charles Hardy and I taught “Digital Storytelling and the Great Migration to Philadelphia,” a combined course teaming West Chester University graduate students in my seminar in digital history with undergraduate Honors College students and history majors enrolled in Charlie’s special topics course. Over the course of the semester, students worked closely with twenty-two oral history interviews archived at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries with southern Blacks who migrated to Philadelphia in the early 1900s and Black Philadelphians who witnessed their arrival, creating Goin’ North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia, built in Omeka and featuring oral histories indexed with OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer). The project has won the following awards:
- American Historical Association, Roy Rosenzweig Award for Innovation in Digital History, 2016
- Oral History Association Award for Best Non-Print Project, 2015
- Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, C. Herbert Finch Award, 2015
- West Chester University Holman Award for Innovation in Teaching, 2015
- West Chester University Student Research and Creativity Awards, 2015
I am proud to serve as board president for this national non-profit dedicated to documenting, preserving, and sharing the stories of quilts and quiltmakers. My colleagues on the board are leaders in the quilt industry, educators, museum professionals, and artists, with the shared goal of keeping quiltmaking and its history alive and well. Be sure to read our blog here and watch our 2015 annual report below.
Quilters’ S.O.S. — Save Our Stories (QSOS)
The Quilt Alliance’s core oral history initiative, QSOS is a grassroots oral history project that records the stories of living quiltmakers for posterity. As someone who has long wished that old quilts could talk, I am thrilled that we are capturing the diverse stories of today’s quiltmakers, so that future historians will not have to speculate as much as I have. We’ve expanded this project thanks to a generous grant from the Robert and Ardis James Foundation, focusing on curating projects drawing on the collection of over 1300 interviews, internationalizing the project, and taking advantage of new digital tools to make the project more engaging and easier to join.
I am leading a pilot project to produce OHMS indexes of QSOS interviews, curating the content by adding descriptions, metadata, images, and GPS coordinates. Explore the index I created for Denyse Schmidt’s interview, and contact our oral history project manager if you love quilts and stories as much as I do and would like to get involved as a volunteer.
Go Tell It at the Quilt Show!
The Quilt Alliance also has a short form oral history–Go Tell It!–centered on one person talking about one quilt for three minutes. We’ve captured over 300 of these engaging videos at quilt shows, museums, and Quilt Alliance events. We are in the process of developing a way for anyone to contribute a Go Tell It! video with a few simple clicks. Every quilt has a story tell, and we want to preserve and share yours! I kind of love all Go Tell Its, but here is one that I think says something really important about quilts:
The Quilt Index
A partner project of the Quilt Alliance, MATRIX, and Michigan State University Museum, the Quilt Index is an online quilt repository featuring quilts from private and public collections worldwide. In addition to showcasing images and metadata (YAY! metadata), the Quilt Index hosts curated exhibits and essays written by fellow quilt experts. I contributed a gallery called, “Beyond Diamonds and Bars: The Cultural Production of Amish Quilts.”
A New Deal for Quilts
My current research project explores intersections of gender, poverty, craft, and politics in the New Deal era through the lens of quilts and quiltmaking. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the nostalgia-fueled Colonial Revival emerged, impacting museum practices, everyday interior design, and consumer culture. In addition, it altered the values with which Americans tried to live in the present, as many looked longingly to the imagined simplicity of the pre-industrial past. Within the worldview of the Colonial Revival, an enduring myth centering on America’s quintessential female craft emerged: the “scrap-bag” myth incorrectly posited that impoverished colonial-era women lovingly stitched together scraps of fabric to make quilts to keep their family members warm. By the time the Roosevelt Administration began combatting the Great Depression, the quilt had become an emblem of how to lift one’s family out of poverty, piece by piece. I argue that federal programs—including the Farm Security Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Federal Arts Program, and the Tennessee Valley Authority—embraced quilts as a political tool to demonstrate the efficacy of these programs, show women how they could contribute to their families’ betterment, and symbolically draw on myths of colonial era fortitude and self-sufficiency as a means of overcoming poverty.
International Quilt Study Center & Museum
In collaboration with IQSC&M staff, I served as co-curator and lead editor of World Quilts: The American Story, which disseminates authoritative content on the history of quilts to a wide, international audience. The project draws on IQSC&M’s world renowned collection of quilts and synthesizes the best research on America’s favorite bedcoverings.
Opening in October 2016, I guest curated Amish Quilts and the Crafting of Diverse Traditions, drawn from my years researching the cultural context of Amish quilts. In addition to visually stunning examples of historic Amish quilts drawn from IQSC&M’s nearly 400 Amish-made quilts, the exhibit features unexpected Amish quilts that exemplify the diversity of the Amish quiltmaking tradition, including a brand new “Harmony A-Hmong the Cultures” quilt from Witmer’s Quilts in New Holland, Pennsylvania, incorporating Hmong paj ntaub (reverse applique) in an Amish Center Diamond setting. In addition, with IQSC&M staff I developed and curated World Quilts: The Amish Story, a digital project accompanying the physical exhibition which launched in fall 2016.
I also serve as an Associate Fellow of IQSC&M.