Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas


Quilts! Imported Fabrics, American Treasures
  • Quilts! Imported Fabrics, American Treasures
  • 25-May-2004 - 26-Sep-2004
  • North Balcony, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Featuring quilts from the Spencer's permanent collection, this exhibition considers the role of imported fabric in the history of American quilt making. Quilts grow from the fabric available, making them truly an art of the found object--the object being yard goods. Unless she can dye, print, or weave her own, the quilt maker relies on what is fashionable, practical and still on the shelves. In the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, American quilters looked to foreign countries for their cottons. The United States had the raw material--the cotton--but not until after the Civil War did American textile manufacturers produce cotton prints equal to those printed abroad.

After the Revolutionary War, most American mills focused on making simple cotton cloth, bleached, plain-colored or woven into checks and plaids. In the early nineteenth century, New England mills began to specialize in calicoes, simple small-scale prints good for everyday dresses. Quilters who wanted fabrics with more detail, more color and more style paid a premium for European fabrics. Quilts are often considered a distinctly American folk art, but these quilts illustrate the link between the American quilt maker and the fabric and dye mills of the old country. The exhibition features 15 quilts from the Spencer's collection of more than 200. The quilts on view were selected to highlight cottons and dyes imported from English, Scottish, French, Dutch, German and Swiss mills.
In addition to the quilts from the Spencer's collection, four contemporary quilts by esteemed local quilters Barbara Brackman, Georgann Eglinski and Roseanne Smith will be on view in the Study Gallery. These quilts all employ recent fabrics that are reproductions of the antique, imported ones featured in the exhibition. This exhibition also celebrates the upcoming publication of Brackman's newest book, America's Printed Fabrics 1770-1890 (C & T Publishing), which inspired the theme of this exhibition.