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. 

15 comments:

  1. I don't know about the physical quilts but the paper archives should be digitized and saved online. Nobody wants tons of binders.

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  2. Yes, the Moderns choose to think that they invented the log cabin. Anything -- pattern, quilt, fabric -- older than a few years is ancient & dead history. I trust you & Julie will fine a proper home for these things. My 'archive', such that it is, is slowly going into the recycling.
    I am sorry for your friend's decline, Alzheimer's is a cruel disease.

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  3. What about all the non-traditional quilts as well? The dawning realization that I have a pile of art quilts unlikely to ever find homes has slowed me way down.

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  4. I agree with Andres that the paper archives should be digitized. University libraries and folklife organizations will be more apt to make space in their digital archives than in their physical plants. I would hate to see the loss of these materials, and I'm sure many historians and folklorists would as well. Really, a nonprofit needs to be established to digitize and find homes for these materials.

    Frances Dowell

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  5. It is a sad dilemma. I find that I am starting to make quilts that I think my children would like - rather than following my own muse. And that is because I'm hoping they will want what I have made when I'm gone... That takes all the joy out of it. Also your post has made me rethink the patterns and info I am storing. I was going to clean my studio anyway but I think a few more things will go in to the wastebasket now.

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  6. Fortunately for us in Northern Ohio the Mennonites will take our left over debris and turn it into quilts that they auction and use the profits for their nursing homes and other charitable endeavors.

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  7. Sorry to hear about this quilter and what was one of her life's passions. I started quilting in 2001, then life got in the way and I started again 2007. With my first and only child being born in 2009, I went on quilting hiatus again until my father passed in 2011. I threw myself into quilting to ease my stress and strains.... learning quilt history is on my "bucket list" but just not possible with an almost 6 yr old. What a treasure trove of information to have at your finger tips. I hope it finds its way to a good home! As a younger quilter at a mere 44 yrs young, I plan to continue my passion and one day learn what others did before me to "pave the wave" and create one of the biggest passions of my life :-)

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  8. This legacy needs to be preserved for future generations of quilters. I for one would be fascinated to look at it.

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  9. You are so right Joe. My kids have informed me they do not want my STUFF! They do want whatever quilts I have made. They wear them out by using daily! I did so love your 10 questions for The Quilt Show!!

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  10. I am happy to say that the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska has decided to accept Bonny's archive and preserve it for us all. It's a great thing.

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    1. That's the first place that came to mind as I read this. 1/17/16

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  11. That is such good news. I see bloggers cranking out the latest patterns with the newest collections, and I wonder where these will be donated. A shelter? SPCA? I have a few treasures but most of mine will go to donations and so I now only quilt for myself.

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  12. I feel every quilt I make has "something of my heart" in it; I am not a specially talented quilter, but I love working with fabrics. Wherever my quilts end up I hope they can bring comfort and warmth to the owner(s)...My Mom has Alzh and is in a nursing home, she made one quilt --a Sunbonnet Sue that I just cherish as a legacy of her meticulous hand applique....I hope one of my granddaughters will cherish it too...hugs, Julierose

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  13. Mmm.. good to be here in your article or post, whatever, I think I should also work hard for my own website like I see some good and updated working in your site. melange yarn

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