Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Coming Wave

This is a picture of my friends Nancy Bavor and Julie Silber in the sewing room of my friend Bonny Morley. Bonny was stricken with Alzheimer's Disease a few years ago and is now in a long term care facility. When Bonny was making quilts she was one of the most organized and involved people in the quilt world. An early member of the American Quilt Study Group, Bonny was deeply knowledgeable in the area of quilt history. She had been making quilts since the early 1950's. As you can see in the shelves behind Nancy and Julie, Bonny kept many binders full of patterns, quilting patterns, magazine articles and quilt ephemera of all kinds. What you cannot see is the papers in the drawers lower down, once again meticulously organized.

Everything in Bonny's sewing room is organized and filed, blocks, fabrics, magazine articles, quilt layouts and patterns, books and all. It is an archive. Bonny, sadly, will never make another quilt. She will never make another quilt diary entry about her inspirations for each quilt. 

Bonny's husband, Dave, asked me to help find a home for this fantastic archive. I am looking for one. It is possible I will find an institution that will take it. 

But in thinking it over and talking to scholars in the field, I am beginning to realize that our quilt world is soon to be hit with a tidal wave of material like this. In any given guild meeting, I am still a young person in the room, at 62. As people of my generation, the ones who saw studying quilt history as an imperative, as we age and pass away, this mountain of material from homemade archives is going to become available, and I fear that no one is going to want it. Our kids do not want it. The few institutions that foster quilt study are already overstuffed. 

The Modern Quilt movement is building another generation of quilters, but so far that generation is more or less ahistorical. Discovering the history of the American quilt was the mission of my generation and those who were my mentors. It is not the mission of young quilters now, nor do I think it should be. But I wonder what is going to happen to the archives and quilts created by the amateur scholars and historians who spent their lives gathering materials and creating quilts of a high caliber. Dave Morley showed me the cupboard with 42 quilts in it. Many of them are masterworks. There are too many for the family to absorb, but they are not sexy prizewinning quilts that institutions would be interested in. 

It is a puzzle. And I think the coming wave of archival material and wonderful, "traditional" quilts will have a difficult time finding new homes.