Quilts (Amish)

Folk and Self-Taught Art

Robert Hughes, the astute and objective art critic (chief art critic for Time magazine, 1970 - present) has perceptively addressed the lack of aesthetic respect given the Amish pieced quilt in The Art of the Quilt,1990 (the book which accompanied the exhibition of the Esprit Collection of historic Amish quilts at the San Francisco Museums of Art). He states, "In their complexity, visual intensity and quality of craftsmanship, such works simply dispel the idea that folk art is innocent birdsong.1 They are as much a part of the story of high aesthetic effort in America as any painting or sculpture."2 Hughes goes on to say, "Most of the finest works of art made by women in the late Nineteenth Century came from people who had no idea at all about a career as a professional artist - including the wives and daughters of Amish farmers."3

“In particular, community and conformity play a strong role in Amish quiltmaking, in both the act of quiltmaking and the resulting visual design. The quiltmaking practices of friends and family members influenced Amish quiltmakers. Daughters made quilts using their mothers’ favorite patterns, sisters used the same shade of peacock blue, and friends shared their love of the latest wool batiste or rayon crepe. Communities of quiltmakers in Ohio made variations of the Ocean Waves pattern over and over. And Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, mothers have made Sunshine and Shadow quilts for their children for many decades. The intricate stitches forming whirligigs, ferns, and countless feathers that hold together the three layers of a plain quilt, were likely quilted collectively by mothers, daughters, and sisters sitting around a quilting frame, making swift work of this time-consuming task, simultaneously serving their community members, while enjoying the company of one another.

Amish quilts do not announce their makers’ spirituality in bold commandments or searing symbolism.  Instead, quilts whisper the tenants of Gelassenheit, reflecting the faith through shared patterns, communally favored colors, and graciously given stitches.”

Janneken Smucker

PhD, History of American Civilization, University of Delaware

 

 

1 Robert Hughes, The Art Of The Quilt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 36.

 

2 Hughes, p. 36.

 

3 Hughes, p. 19.

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