Learning, NYC

Two colors, infinite variety

Warning: once again, I’m a little light on the knitting content, but fear not! I’ve got LOTS of quilt pictures to make up for it! (and the knitting is always happening in the background)…

I was fortunate enough to catch the “Infinite Variety” quilt show hosted by the Folk Art Museum in NYC this past week. Held at the Park Avenue Armory, it showcased 650 quilts of Joanna Semel Rose, a collector of red and white quilts. Mrs. Rose’s husband asked her what she’d like to receive for her eightieth birthday and she responded with “something she’d never seen before and something that would be a gift to New York City.” The exhibition was his gift: a free show to the public that displayed an infinite variety of quilting styles, techniques, fashions, and patterns. As to why the collection included only red and white quilts, the exhibition’s brochure noted that this was due to the colorfastness (and therefore reliability) of fabric dyed with Turkey red dye and its synthetic alternatives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Mrs. Rose herself admits that the quilts are “not the prizewinners at fairs nor ones that have been passed down in families,” but are instead “ordinary coverings, their creators largely anonymous, their provenance obscure, not meant for company beds or ‘best use.'” To me, this was the charm of the show – a woman collected quilts for their intrinsic value and out of respect for the time and effort that another woman put into her own surroundings. It speaks volumes of how even the most ordinary/necessary tasks of the day can be imbued with creativity, imagination, and even a sense of humor. And it reminds us that even a little bit of crafting in our lives can engage our own ideas, dreams, and experiences.

Entering the exhibition was a bit of a sensory overload, as the quilts were displayed to resemble playing cards hovering in midair. Everywhere you turned, there were more and different quilts. It was an incredible sensation and a bit of genius, I think. And naturally memorable, too: it was the biggest quilt show ever assembled in NYC.

Having learned from my mother how to quilt as a child/teen, I saw a lot of familiar, traditional patterns (Log Cabin, Ohio Star, Flower Basket, Barn Door, Pinwheel, etc.), but one different theme that I enjoyed was the repeated use of diagonal lines or lattice-type designs:

Another variation on the theme that I particularly liked was the creation of mostly red quilts with white fabric used as accents – these two quilts (the flag-type design at top and the Ohio Star quilt at bottom) were hung together at the back of the show and both used star motifs to great effect.

Still another stunning theme was the sheer amount of piecework and/or embroidery that some of the quilts displayed – you can just imagine the fortitude that went into finishing each of these!

Look closely to see the yellow fabric used sparingly - incredible!

This quilt also served as the image/logo for the entire exhibition.

And if you’ve managed to stick with me through all of these pictures, you’ll see that I saved the best for last, or rather, my favorites for last. It’s interesting that I enjoyed these two the most despite all of the complicated, ornate stitching that I saw – I guess these pictures are proof that I really just enjoy traditional, simple designs after all!
Mariner's Compass - a traditional pattern that incorporates both circular motifs and strong diagonal lines

Maple Leaf Pattern - no adornment, not even a contrasting fabric binding, but still cozy and beautiful

It was a once-in-a-lifetime event and I’m thrilled to have experienced it in person. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

PS: Mom, this one’s for you – this was the ONLY wedding ring quilt that I remember seeing in the entire exhibition!

4 thoughts on “Two colors, infinite variety”

  1. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for sharing this with all of us, and for vindicating me those innumerable trips that you so patiently endured to quilt shows and fabric shops…!!! What can one say about this exhibition…there are not ENOUGH superlatives to do it justice…!! Had I been there, I would have either, 1. been in tears, and/or 2. been resuscitated by your dutiful NYFD medics…! What a wondrous gift to the people of New York and those from anywhere else fortunate enough to be able to see it…THANK YOU for letting me see and enjoy just a smidgen of it all…XOXO

  2. Thanks for sharing this incredible exhibition…so sorry I missed it! Hopefully it will come around again somewhere close by and we can enjoy it together! The one red/white quilt I have (bear’s paw pattern) pales next to most of these, but I certainly do understand her love of red/white designs.

  3. Dee…

    This must have taken your breath away! Spectacular sight to behold and amazing that she was able to collect this variety all in one color scheme…a serious collector with some obviously serious bucks! Lucky lady, and what a gift for the city of New York. I am so sorry that I missed it, but am optimistic that it will return some day to another local venue where I can go to ogle this most incredible collection. I am wondering if the family name of Rose is one and the same attributed to the planetarium? Would be interesting to investigate…
    As a parting thought, what other color could a Mrs. Rose collect??
    Thanks so much for taking these beautiful pics and sharing them. XXXOOO

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