Quilts as Story
All art is about story. The Mona Lisa? There's a mystery in her smile. Michelangelo's David? He's standing there with his sling, ready to slay Goliath, fearless and determined. Art evokes emotion. Art puts ideas into the viewer's head. Quilting may not have the status of painting or sculpture, but it is still art. Even the humblest of quilts tell their own stories.
|Remembering my Dad's service in WWII|
Certainly, quilts began as something primarily utilitarian, merely a means of warmth. But over the centuries, quilters have elevated that means of warmth to an art form. Even those basic utilitarian quilts tell a story of their own. Why did the quilter choose this material over that one? Was it all she had available? Was it longer lasting or more economical? What appealed to him about the pattern or the layout? What sort of personality did the quilter have? Reserved? Traditional? Iconoclastic? Meticulous? Whimsical?
|For my favorite team: The Dallas Stars!|
But, beyond those quilts that served as warmth and love for the quilter and his or her family, there are quilts that deliberately tell a story. Quilters often design their projects to tell about someone's life, a special anniversary or birthday or other memorable event, a hobby, a cause, or a political point of view.
|Prosperity is Just Around the Corner|
One of my favorite "political" quilts is Fannie B. Shaw's Depression Era quilt, "Prosperity is Just Around the Corner." When asked about it, she said, "Every time you picked up the paper or heard the radio, (President Hoover) would talk about the good times just around the corner. He would make it sound so good. I wondered if I could make a picture of what he was saying and what he meant. I couldn't get it off my mind."
The quilt shows people from all walks of life (even the Donkey and Elephant from the major political parties) peering around the corner, looking for those good times. And in the middle is the farmer (Mr. Shaw) working hard to keep feeding the nation. Now that's a story quilt!
|A Friendship Quilt|
Back in the days of the pioneers, when going west meant it would be a long time (if ever!) before loved ones were reunited, friendship quilts were popular. Quilters made blocks with space for signatures and quotes to be inked or embroidered on them to remind the recipient of the family, congregation or town he left behind.
|Crown of Thorns Block|
Similarly, the fabrics used in a quilt could tell a story in themselves, especially for immigrants from Europe and beyond. "This was your great aunt's dress. Your cousin's shirt. Your grandmother's wedding gown." And, with those fabric reminders, the story of that great aunt or cousin or grandmother could be recounted and passed down.
And, of course, quilt blocks themselves can tell a story. There are many based on Bible stories, like Garden of Eden, Crown of Thorns, Jacob's Ladder, Job's Tears, or Joseph's Coat. No doubt, little girls being taught to quilt were also taught the stories behind those block names. And later, when they wrapped their own children in the quilts they made, they would tell those stories again and again.
So next time you look at a quilt, ask yourself, "What story does this quilt tell? What ideas does it put into my head?" The answers might surprise you!
Of course, we are here to celebrate the release of a story about quilt (which no doubt has a story of its own!): Jennifer ALlee's A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, the latest from Abingdon Press's Quilts of Love line. Congratulations, Jen!
Are you a quilter? Or do you have any old family quilts? What stories do your quilts tell?